By Alumna Taylor Sinason, Instructor Development Course, 2016
After a long night of relentless rain, my crew mates and I lowered the bear-hang in the first morning light to share one last breakfast together. The presence of solo was looming in the air. Though it was easy to joke about, there was an unspoken tension, for we knew how strange it would be to be apart. The opening circle was thoughtful, and after our instructor shared a quote, a quiet fell upon us. Walking away from camp, I took note of the lightness of my pack, practically weightless in comparison to the preceding days of backpacking. The silence was heavy.
I wanted to call out a goodbye each time one of us was appointed our site, though instead I said nothing. Understanding nods were exchanged as we went along our own path. One by one, our line shortened until I was a parade of one. I arrived at the last piece of pink flagging tape. I knew this was my stop.
The wind was moving faster than I’d ever seen or felt, due to a hurricane hitting the North Carolina coast. After setting up my tarp and cairn, I paced. I stood up and sat down. I did pushups and yoga and tried my best to calm my busy mind. Eventually, I simply lay down amongst the fallen leaves and pine needles. The sky was blue, cloudless. It was a welcome contrast from the preceding 24 hours of rain. Trees danced around me, and I listened to them creak and groan as the wind whistled and whirred. The air was autumn crisp. My senses were filled, and I was at peace. For the first time in 37 days, I was completely alone. Our watches had been collected, so I was never quite sure how much time had passed. I wondered if it even mattered. I built altars out of bits of nature and honored these woods which had become my home. At night, my sleep was illuminated by the full moon. As I slipped in and out of a dream state, the forest was bright, blanketing me in a luminescence. I sat alone with my journal, with my thoughts, and the words flowed freely. Everything I’d learned in the days leading up to this began to articulate itself with perfect diction. For the first time, I asked myself what I stood for and knew the answer.
How often do we get the opportunity to be alone with ourselves? Even when we are physically alone, the presence of technology is never far from our fingertips. We have access to endless modes of contact, constant streams of information. There are plenty of distractions to be found in our day to day. We can let our eyes glaze over, fixated upon a screen, or keep so busy that we hardly have time to look within. We can avoid the hard questions, such as “what is my purpose?” or “am I happy with who I have become?”. Left alone in a shelter I built, with nothing but a notebook and the open air to breathe, there was no turning away. I found myself reflecting on what life will look like on the other side of course. The growth I’d been experiencing and the lessons I’d been learning would not allow for things to be the same as they were when I left them. There was a great responsibility hovering over me to show up as the person I have become. Outward Bound introduced me to a strength within me I had never met before. Looking out into Pisgah National Forest, deafened by the silence of my own solitude, I recognized what I am capable of. This new knowledge redefined the standards to hold myself to.
After living and working with my small crew, many dynamics of my existing relationships came to light. I knew that if I did not integrate into my relationships the communication skills we’ve been practicing and allow them to set the bar for ones to come, there would be a resounding dissonance. During solo, I made a commitment to these standards- to address conflict as it arises, to give constructive feedback, to take ownership of my actions. It can be difficult, especially when it affects the people closest to you. When life is reduced to the bare bones of survival and community, these are essential. Enforcement of such quality is not possible without the personal embodiment to stand behind it.
The pillars that hold up my own foundation feel sturdier than ever. No matter how many answers to my questions I find, there will always be more unknowns. An important lesson solo left me with is that I am ready to walk boldly toward them, to set goals high and strive to reach them, and to embody the values I stand upon. The journey can be uncomfortable, discouraging, heart-wrenching- some days I wonder if I have it in me to live up to that potential. But when I return to that place, where I finally listened to what my heart was trying to tell me, there is no doubt that my biggest limitations are within my own mind. When left alone with myself, forced to face my doubts, I watch as they disappear.