Pilgrimpace's Blog

solitary walking – 1

In Clear Waters Rising, Nick Crane – who I find more honest than anyone else about the joys and difficulties of long solo walks – muses about loneliness:

I knew that I was never lonely because I had once known its true meaning.  Years earlier I had lived on my own in a single room in the centre of London.  On bad days the room felt like a bare cell in the vortex of the spinning world, itself a centrifuge of mixing and merging urban atoms that I could not reach from the still, dead centre where I sat despairing and immobilised by exclusion.  That was loneliness.

I have been reflecting a bit on walking – especially solo – and the effects it can have on us.  When I walked across southern and central Spain for a few weeks on my own a few years ago, I was lonely some of the time.  I was generally happy when I was actually walking, but there are only so many hours a day it is possible or wise to do this.  My Spanish was good enough to find the way, find accommodation and the like, but it was not enough for any in depth conversation.  I thus spent far more time on my own than is usual, resting in rooms by my self, wandering round towns, sitting in the corner of the bar.

As Crane reminds us, this was very much a temporary loneliness; I knew I only had to reach Toledo and I would meet friends; at some point in the next couple of months I would reach Santiago and go home.  Despite this, those three weeks were still very hard.  Yet I would not swap them for anything.  There was a chance to explore those bits of life which are usually covered up by living with other people, I which I hide with the distractions of everyday life.  Here there was the opportunity to learn some important things about myself, God, the world.

Monica Furlong wrote this very counter-cultural piece about the nature of clergy.  It echoes my thoughts and experience of that Spanish sabbatical very much:

I am clear about what I want from the clergy.  I want them to be people who can, by their own happiness and contentment challenge my ideas about status, success and money and so teach me how to live more independently of such drugs. I want them to be people who can dare, as I do not dare, and as few of my contemporaries dare to refuse to work flat out and to refuse to work more strenuously than me. I want them to be people who dare because they are secure enough in the value of what they are doing to have time to read, to sit and think, and who face the emptiness and possible depression which often attacks people when they do not keep the surface of their mind occupied.  I want them to be people who have faced this kind of loneliness and discovered how fruitful it is, as I want them to be people who have faced the problem of prayer. I want them to be people who can sit still without feeling guilty and from who I can learn some kind of tranquillity in a society which has almost lost the art.

I will post some more about the transformative effects of solitary walking soon.  Here is my constant companion under the scorching sun of La Mancha:


5 Comments so far
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I completed a solo trek of The Long Trail last fall. It came at a time of tremendous change in my life, after the death of my father, the end of a 25-year relationship and the loss of my job. Like you, I found myself lonely some of the time and it was hard, but I also never felt so connected to my memories of my family, my past and God — the latter being something I can’t define but could somehow connect with in that outdoor solitude.

I’ve since gone on much shorter hikes with others, and, while the company is enjoyable, I feel somehow cheated out of solitude.

Comment by FreelanceTrekker

Thanks! Yes, there is something very important about walking alone, very different to walking with others, although I think many things to be learned and enjoyed in that too.


Comment by pilgrimpace

[…] A reflection. […]

Pingback by Hiking Solo | freelancetrekker

Reblogged this on Lavender Turquois.

Comment by safelake

thanks for the reblog

Comment by pilgrimpace

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