Is Solo Travel Overrated?

I didn’t mean for it to be a solo trip, but it’s sometimes hard to convince people to run 13.1 miles over and back the Gap of Dunloe. And that was the whole point of a four hour bus ride to Killarney for the weekend.

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“My heart is quite calm now. I will go back.” ― James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Strange Things That Happened:

  1. Slept in an 8-bed dorm in the Killarney Sugan hostel. 1 bed occupied…mine. It is probably cozy and bustling in summer. In November, cold and empty.
  2. Finally started Dervla Murphey’s memoir/travelogue which I picked up at a little market in Dublin in September. A Place Apart tells about her cycling trek through Northern Ireland in 1978 and, although sometimes too minutely detailed for my taste, gives an honest and openly biased portrayal of Irish culture at the time. Over the top of the book’s pages, I glimpsed the only other people in the place, a German couple who spent more time with their hands on each other than anywhere else.
  3. Bus toured the Ring of Kerry. Camera died after my first picture. Bus tours are for taking pictures. Remembered why bus tours make me uncomfortable. Do I really know the Ring of Kerry if I stared at it?
  4. Made a traveling friends (***a traveling friend knows you completely in the moment and may change your life, but will forget about you as soon as your shared traveling experience is over) with the woman next to me from the Czech Republic. She’s working at a tech company in Dublin which is apparently the next big techie center. Proof of this from the Independent!
  5. Drank a latte and ate chocolate muffin in a coffee shop while writing ferociously in my journal. Still haven’t looked back at what I was so eager to get out of my head.
  6. Didn’t sleep.
  7. Got a ride up to the Gap of Dunloe bright and early for the start of the Gauntlet. He was bald, had two kids, and talked about times and training like all good runners know how to do. I admitted I had no formal training program, had no idea how long it would take me to finish, and wasn’t running competetively! He switched to talking about the weather.
  8. Ran the Gauntlet, the pilgrimmage/race/torture device of a half marathon. A winding road led up into the white mist of a sunny morning. I passed 5 deep blue lakes, the winding River Loe connecting them, and went over the Wishing Bridge which I forgot to wish on. I slipped between 2 of the tallest mountains in the country, 1 Gap of Dunloe, and descended and ascended the 8 miles of the Black Valley.
  9. Chatted to a buggy driver in Killarney after the race about his 5-year old horse named Padriag.
  10. Half-slept in the way you do on buses, all the way back to Galway.
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Heading Into the Black Valley. “When I’m running I don’t have to talk to anybody and don’t have to listen to anybody. This is a part of my day I can’t do without.” ― Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
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The 150 people crazy enough to run the Gauntlet standing at the starting line. I had no idea what I was in for!

Traveling Alone

I remember a conversation with my sister when I wasn’t sure if I would hike the AT with her. I didn’t know if I was ready, if it was the right time in my life, or if I was the right person to go with her. I asked her if she would do the hike without me. “No. I don’t want to see all these great things and not be able to share them with anyone. It’s like that what that Into the Wild guy wrote when he was like, happiness isn’t real unless it’s shared,” she said.

I didn’t believe her. I said yes to the trail, but I still thought experiencing things alone was the best way to do it. No distractions, no need to talk to anyone, nothing complicated. Real romantic, real transcendental. I like being alone.

When I stood at the top of the Gap of Dunloe, I wanted to yell out to my sister or my mountain-loving friends and family about  the clarity of a blue sky and green valley after emerging from the depths of the Black Valley. But my only option for conveying my thrill of the moment was the uber attractive water stop guy. So I shared my runner’s high with him in a stream of consciousness, ecstatic exclamation while gulping down warm water from a plastic cup. I don’t remember what I said and it probably made no sense. I haven’t seen him since, but there’s always the chance a random conversation in the middle of the mountains will lead to a few drinks or (even better) plans for a good hike.

photo courtesy of The Gauntlet
The site of the water stop encounter at the top of the Gap. Photo courtesy of The Gauntlet

Point In Case

I never would have talked with water stop guy had I been running with a friend. I never would have been able to run the Gauntlet had I waited for someone to decide they also wanted to run. The solo trip is necessary at times and does encourage encounters with new people and experiences. But I think my sister and Chris McCandless were right. When good things happen or we feel ourselves change in some way, it’s important to share that with other people. And while I don’t want to share everything all the time, I’d rather have the option to do so than not.

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“Don´t hesitate or allow yourself to make excuses. Just get out and do it. Just get out and do it. You will be very, very glad that you did.” ― Christopher McCandless
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