Even though it has only been three days since I set off on my own to take this journey across the country, I have already started to notice things about myself as a solo traveler as well as how it feels to travel alone.
The main thing I have noticed is how exhausting it is to travel alone. However, it is more than just the obvious answer (since I am alone I do not have anyone to split the burden of effort/work put into travel like driving, purchasing things, making plans, etc) that is behind this exhaustion. It is the feeling of being in the world, but not of it; feeling like people are talking at you and not with you essentially, but it is the city, the places, and the people all figuratively talking at you while you have no in into the conversation to allow you to actually take part. When you have someone to do things with it feels like no matter what happens in the day, at least you have one another for entertainment/enjoyment. However, when you are alone it is just you confronting the world so even normal everyday things like getting a cup of coffee at a cafe becomes a battle to engage with strangers, act friendly, and act as if everything is normal when everything is new, different, and strange. At least for an introvert like myself, it is hard for me to deal with small talk and polite smiles, which results in me wanting to have as little contact with people around me as possible despite the fact that I am lonely and really do want to be around people and make friends. Every day events become exhausting because I no longer have the buffer or the comfort of my friends or family to ease my interactions with the world around me, it is just me and the rest of humanity clamouring towards me with an overload of information and sensory input that I just do not have the current capacity to handle. As a result, I have found that when I travel alone I wind up avoiding people and try to remain alone rather than branch out and make new friends.
In some ways this is hard for a road trip like this because it is hard to go so long without really talking to anyone, but it also results in me seeking out nature instead of humanity, which leads me to some truly amazing places in pursuit of natural solitude. I may be anti-social or maybe just really overly introverted, but either way I have realized my own tendencies towards self isolation, but I have not yet decided whether I like or dislike these tendencies. To be determined…
Today was one of those days where these reflections were extremely apparent because for the first time I didn’t spend my entire day out in the wilderness. Instead, I dedicated today to exploring Boulder and learning the streets as well as the happenings of this bustling town.
… But I had to fit a hike in there somewhere. The iconic backdrop of the city are the Flatirons, a series of giant rock slates slanting towards the sun and rising high above the cityscape of Boulder. I decided to check out these wonderful mountains with a hike in Chautauqua Park.
I hiked a series of loop trails on the adjacent mesas that provide sweeping views of the mountain range as well as the city of Boulder down below them. I hiked through Ponderosas and up steep hills lined with breezy grasses and rocky trails up to the top of the mesas.
There was an astonishing array of landscapes on the four miles of trails I traversed which made for an interesting and ever evolving experience of the nature in Boulder.
I managed to only get lost once and then some how actually helped some other girls who were visiting the park for the first time as well find their way after getting lost. I suppose that is one good thing to say for getting lost, you can advise others not to follow your trail. But when I finally finished my hike I had a firm grasp on the baseline trails around the Flatirons.
After my healthy dose of nature I was ready for some city experiences. Luckily I was in Boulder for one of my favorite things to do in any city that I visit, farmers’ market. Boulder Farmers’ Market was a fantastic way to ease into high density human interaction after having spent so much time alone for three days straight. Everyone was so friendly, talkative, and helpful at the market even though I was slightly lost and aimless amongst the crowds.
The market was huge so I wandered up and down the stands for quite some time before going in for some conversations, samples, and small purchases. My first stop, naturally, was at a local bakery’s stand where I got an amazing almond croissant to eat as I wandered around with big hungry and fascinated eyes.
I visited two produce stands where I bought some tomatoes and carrots for the road tomorrow. One had a stunning array of colorful turnips, beats, and carrots while the other had a beautiful selection of green veggies like kale, swiss chard, and many other delectable items.
The second stand had an incredibly sociable and kind staff, which led to an encounter in which my inner introvert ran away screaming while I was left laughing awkwardly on the outside looking for the nearest and socially acceptable place to go hide. It was a stupidly simple interaction that caught me totally off guard and unsure of how to respond it went like this:
Me: What a beautiful stand!
Farmers’ Market Man: Look at how beautiful you stand.
He didn’t break eye contact, I couldn’t tell if it was a joke or a genuine compliment so I just awkwardly laughed as the rest of his coworkers began to laugh too and then I slunk away into a corner and died a little. Awkward muffin time.
So naturally I went and spent some time smelling flowers at a stand clear on the other side of the market that was full of Dahlias and sunflowers (two of my favorite flowers).
Finally I rounded out my time at the market with some fresh tamales from the Amaizing Corn Tortilla stand. Get it, aMAIZing. May or may not have been the only reason I decided to try them out, but you will never know.
Then I wandered down the incredibly popular Pearl Street Mall, which is a long expanse of street closed to cars and filled with shops and plenty of street performers. Everything from bango players, clowns with balloons, mimes, and performers balancing on rollers while hold fire could be found on the couple of blocks that make up the Pearl Street Mall.
For the rest of the day I jumped from coffee shop to coffee shop writing postcards and working over delicious cups of coffee from Boxcar Coffee, Ozo and the Laughing Goat again. The mochas at Ozo are to die for, I may have to go back before I leave early tomorrow morning for one for the road.
I also took a drive around a section of Boulder right next to the university dubbed The Hill where all the college students roam in hordes. I was somewhat appalled by their conduct and quickly left after driving through blocks of street covered in shattered beer bottle glass, red plastic cups covering frat front lawns, and drunk students literally face planting in the middle of the street in front of moving traffic. I got out of there fast when droves of drunk students began wandering the streets, possibly after a football game got out? I hope it was an event, because if this was an every day occurrence, I would be genuinely concerned for this school.
After another long day alone I returned to my hostel for some more alone time because, ironically, after so much time alone, what I really wanted and needed was to be even more alone. So I set up my hammock on the river after slacklining alone for a little bit. That is how I finished my day. That is how I finished my time in Colorado. Tomorrow morning I leave this wonderful state to continue eastward.
I find it funny that in many ways I am doing Jack Kerouac’s journey backwards, moving west to east instead of the other way around. I am so glad that I decided to pick that book up from City Lights back in San Francisco before I left my beloved Bay because never have I read a book more applicable to my current state of being. I too have found myself exclaiming to the wild and dark night
“‘And here I am in Colorado! …Damn! Damn! Damn! I’m making it!'”
And now that I am leaving Colorado, I too am passing the center dividing line both in the continent and in my life, except the reverse of Kerouac’s, where his east is my west.
“I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future.”
Funny how the world works out and the road rolls on, I wonder where my future will find me.