I drove almost 1,000 miles, starting in Los Angeles and driving across California, through the bottom corner of Nevada and the top corner of Arizona, up and into southern Utah, to Zion, to Bryce, to Capitol Reef and then up, up, up to northern Utah, almost all the way to Idaho. Alone in the car for that many miles, I played the same 13 songs on a loop, mostly Lord Huron, Manchester Orchestra, Joni Mitchell and Nathaniel Rateliff. I listened to just three podcast episodes and the radio only when my rental’s bluetooth refused to recognize me or my phone. I thought a lot, mostly about love, a little about loneliness.
I’ve been single for more than a year and a half, mostly by choice. I like me. I like spending time with me, being alone with me and traveling with me. As I healed from my last relationship, leaning into me was exactly what I needed. I didn’t know how much of myself I’d lost until the end, until the final death rattles of that relationship. I needed to get back the parts of myself that I’d given up, needed to rebuild what had been destroyed. And I did. I turned inward, generally shunned the idea of another relationship, and focused on me and all the things I wanted and needed. I had to fix me first, that was important.
In L.A., during a tarot card reading, a witch told me she sees me dressed in armor, completely shielded. There are people knocking, she said, but you’re locked up, confused, wondering what it is they want from you. She told me I was a bad flirt, that I wasn’t clear about my availability.
A few hundred miles later I thought about this some more and wondered, am I protecting my heart or my solitude?
Driving those 1,000 miles I looked at the passenger seat a few times. Mostly it was filled with my traveling life, with lip balm and sunscreen, a half eaten bag of popcorn, gloves, a water bottle or two, the bra I took off while driving into Mojave National Preserve. I wondered briefly what it would be like to have a romantic partner sitting in that seat instead of all of my stuff, how it would change the love I feel for the wild, how it would change me. Would it take away the magic, would I sensor myself, would sharing the experience diminish it? If I had to go at someone else’s pace, if I wasn’t the only human for miles around, how would it change the experience? What would I gain, what would I lose?
When my Lyft driver dropped me at the car rental office in L.A., he was astonished that I was going camping and hiking alone in Utah. Utah, he kept saying, wow, in his Eastern European accent. He said he couldn’t do it, was astonished that I was. All by yourself, he kept saying, wow.
All by myself is how I like it. I like having the freedom to listen to the same 13 songs over and over. I like the freedom to stop or keep going, to linger, to rush. I like being able to race up a hill or sit on a rock and contemplate the weight of the world. I like being the only one around, I like that feeling, the way the wild feels when you’re the only one in it. I like sinking into my thoughts, getting lost in daydreams. I like taking full bites out of a block of cheese, not worrying about how many spiders are in my hair or how many days it’s been since I showered. I like being alone.
But – there’s always a but – sometimes I wish I wasn’t. Sometimes I get to the top of a trail or turn a corner or top a hill and it’s so beautiful and perfect and lovely that I wish someone else was there to see it. Sometimes I wish sharing the view wasn’t a thing reserved for later, for when I post a photo online or push a reel of vacation photos on my friends. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t alone in the tent at night, sometimes I wish there was a shoulder to lean my head against, another person to curl up next to as the moon rises. But only sometimes.
Here’s the real truth: I’m afraid that if I start to date, if I find a partner, if I fall in love again, I’m afraid I’ll lose the wild. I’m scared I won’t ever get to go alone again, that I’ll do the thing I do and devote too much of me to another person. I’m afraid they won’t want me to go alone and, because love is an infectious disease, I’ll say ok. I’m afraid I’ll lose this whole part of me, my most favorite part, the part that loves setting out into the woods or the desert alone, who plots and plans these solo adventures that cover whole great swaths of our country and I’m afraid, more than anything, that the independence I’ve fought for, that keeps me warm at night and pushes me to push my boundaries, to test my limits, I’m afraid it will be taken from me, snatched up and given away.
I know that’s not how it has to work. I know that I have a voice, know that I have a say in the matter, that I’m smart and brave and ferocious and that my independence has come to define a huge part of me. I know, logically, that should there ever come a day when someone tries to squash it or take it, I would walk away, straight into the woods, with two middle fingers raised over my head. I know that, I get it, but that doesn’t stop me from worrying about the stupid shit my love-wracked self would do.
During my tarot card reading, the witch kept telling me to be myself, to not stifle who I am. I didn’t understand. I pushed back. I told her I am who I am, that I rarely filter myself. I am a live out loud sort of girl, I told her. She rephrased.
“Don’t be afraid of being too much,” she said.
Oh. That. I’d spent a not insignificant amount of time thinking about that. I’m afraid I’ll have to give up my wild independence and yet, in the same instant, I am afraid it is too much, that I’m too much. That doesn’t make any sense, I know. I love my wildness, love who I am and yet I worry it will keep me alone, even as I am loving being alone.
I don’t know what the future holds, not really. I don’t know if I’ll devote more effort to dating, if the desire for a partner will eclipse my fear of losing my wildest self. Maybe there’s a person who doesn’t think I’m too much, who will encourage me to go alone into the wild, who will come with me when I ask. Or maybe there’s not. That’s fine too. I just know that, no matter what, I’m going to stay wild.