Sometimes you have to get away from your life to realize what you have – or don’t have. A couple of months ago I decided to take a solo road trip. I had never taken a trip like this alone before. Sure, I’d traveled alone before – taken extended work trips or traveled to a city to visit a friend – but I’d never driven for half a day on my own to a destination where I hadn’t planned on meeting up with anyone else for the entire trip. This would be a first for me.
I’d made the decision to do this for a few reasons. First, I felt the need to get out of the craziness of the city after the incredibly violent summer we’ve had here in Chicago. Next, I wanted to take a trip to celebrate completing my first marathon – a goal I’ve had since the age of 25. Also, I knew couldn’t afford to fly anywhere for the remainder of this year so if I wanted to get out of town, I’d have to drive. The fourth reason, which introduced the idea that I may have to go it alone, was that when I considered asking various friends to join me I realized none of them would be able to go on the dates I’d planned to go. And finally, the reason that cemented the fact that I actually needed to go alone on this one, was that I wanted to reconnect with myself physically and mentally, and spiritually reconnect with God.
When I began to think about where I might like to travel, I considered more than a few different locations that I’d never had the opportunity to explore. I checked into drive time, looked up Airbnb rentals, and researched things to do. The finalists ended up being Toronto, Canada, The Smoky Mountains/Asheville, NC and New Haven, CT. All three would have been great choices considering my goals for this trip. Ultimately, I decided on The Smokey Mountains/Asheville, NC. This particular destination offered a manageable, straight-shot drive and the opportunity for beautiful pristine wilderness along with the option for an urban vibe.
I drove about 1800 miles over this four and a half day trip, listening to audiobooks for the vast majority of my time in the car. By the way, I highly recommend The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber. The drive from Chicago down to North Carolina is rather boring. More than half of it is flat, uninteresting, Indiana farmland. By the time I reached Kentucky and Tennesee and the landscape began to fill in with hills and trees, it had grown dark. Thank God for audiobooks! The drive back was much better, partially due to the fact that the more interesting landscape came during the first half of the drive, and partially because I left quite a bit earlier in the day and so journeyed with daylight the whole time.
While I was in North Carolina and Tennessee I covered many more miles traveling to various hiking trails in The Great Smoky Mountains and venturing further south to Asheville, NC to bum around for an afternoon. I actually hiked about 20 miles over 3 days. The breathtaking beauty of this national park offered the perfect setting to accomplish one of my goals – reconnecting with myself and God. I can’t express enough how wonderful it was to get away from so much of the pressure of my life and simply ‘be’. I stayed in a lovely one bedroom Airbnb rental about halfway between Asheville and the Smoky Mountains. Each morning I was able to cook a hearty breakfast. In the evenings, tired from a full day of hiking, I made a delicious meal, journaled and either read or watched something on my laptop. Isn’t technology is awesome? Even way out in the sticks we can get a strong wifi signal.
Reaction from friends and family when I told them of my plans prior to embarking on this trip were largely negative. I can think of only one person who had anything positive or encouraging to say about my plans to drive nine and a half hours to hike alone in the mountains. In fact, a couple of them tried to dissuade me from even going with warnings of freak accidents, attacks and other potential dangers. But something inside me refused to be deterred, and for this, I am tremendously grateful. The time spent wandering through forests and among mountains, beholding the beauty of God’s creation, and contemplating my infinitesimal place in the universe was an experience I hope to hold for all my life.
As I move through life, I want to learn from every experience. One important insight I’ve taken from this one is that my current day-to-day life is completely out of sync with my natural self and a change is needed. Another is that the unknown can be a wonderfully positive adventure, and fear of the unknown is limiting and a hindrance to freedom. These are terrific lessons to take from this trip and I truly believe that more will continue to reveal themselves over time.
My first solo road trip was a fantastic and self-affirming adventure. I hope to be able to make it an annual event!