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Hebrides

It took me six months to go away for a full week this year, which is quite out of character. I don’t know what happened. Being on contract. Not really feeling like going alone. Something like that. But by the time the end of June came around I desperately needed it. I was in the middle of the process of buying a flat, work had been nonstop all year, and I’d unsurprisingly taken on far too much in terms of swing dance organisation.

So Holly and I planned a week of (mostly) wild camping in the Outer Hebrides. We hired a car, booked some ferries, and left the bits in between to be determined as we went along.

We invited the rest of our usual crew, but people were busy with other summer things, so we went on our own. I think this is part of what made the trip amazing. I love a good group trip, but we were able to faff around as much as we wanted without worrying about holding anyone up. Decisions were easier and there was precious little organising to do, which is precisely what I needed.

Also, you get a bigger share of wine when there’s only two of you.

The only thing about the trip that was a potential minefield was the fact that I was driving. I passed my UK road test in January after about 3 months of lessons driving manual. Then I didn’t drive again til I picked up the car we hired. About 5 months later. I stubbornly decided that I needed the practice and so insisted on being the only driver. I was fairly certain I was, at best, going to destroy the car and our holiday.

Thankfully this did not happen. I can’t say I was a pro, but I didn’t get us killed, and I at least provided some entertainment ¬– I managed to pull off a total boy racer wheelspin coming off the ferry between Berneray and Harris, where we’d been parked right at the back on a terrifying incline. (Holly and the ferry attendant were laughing. I was mortified.)

Despite the occasionally questionable driving, it was one of the most relaxed holidays I’ve had in a very, very long time. The Monday I was back, I remember thinking, well, shit, now I have to pay attention to time.


We somehow picked a week with the most bizarrely incredible weather. Conditions that would, in mainland Europe or any more accessible beach-type destinations, cause people to swarm. But in a lot of places we saw absolutely no one.

It’s a bit of a trek to get to the Western Isles, so I suppose this is unsurprising. We drove 4 hours from Edinburgh to Mallaig to catch a 3.5 hour ferry to Lochboisdale on South Uist. The ferry back to the mainland from Stornoway is 2.5 hours, and then another 4.5 hours drive back to Edinburgh.

You could fly there, but I feel like that’s cheating. You’d miss out on the drive through the highlands and the CalMac ferries. And who doesn’t love a good boat?

Training at sea.

On the way out, we saw dolphins and had a chat with a GP who was going to work for the week in North Uist. On the way back, I took a bit of a nap only to wake up to an announcement that the helicopter I saw hovering right in front of the window I was lounging in front of was a coast guard helicopter and would be doing some training exercises off the back of the boat for the next 30 odd minutes. They then proceeded to drop a guy onto the boat, send a stretcher down and back up, and then pick the guy back up. You certainly don’t see that if you fly.


When we drove off the ferry on South Uist, there wasn’t a whole lot going on. I mean, it was a Sunday, but even if it had been a Saturday night, I really don’t think we’d have seen the secret bangin’ nightlife of the Western Isles.

We found an almost unfairly amazing spot to camp on Eriskay (of Whisky Galore fame). Our only company was some sheep, who were completely uninterested, if not slightly annoyed by our presence. We had some beer and pies from the legendary Mhor Bread in Callander that we’d picked up on the drive up, watched the sun set over the sea, and poked around on the hill a bit before going to bed. Because of our latitude, the horizon was glowing all night long.

I ended up waking up around 3 in the morning (because: beer) and unzipped my tent to see the moon setting right in front of me. A sunset and a moonset in the space of about 5 hours! I’m not even sure I’ve watched a moonset before or even considered it was a thing. Both made me feel a bit strange about being able to see the speed at which the planet moves.

I wondered if I wasn’t quite able to perceive it properly, because it seemed to skip at some points instead of running smoothly. Surely the Earth should move in analogue, not digital? And I did not have THAT much beer. But perhaps my mind was playing tricks. There we were at the edge of everything, in a place quiet enough to give focus to how fast can seem glacial when you’re very small.


Most of our days were spent crawling our way northwards up the island chain. We weren’t ever in a rush to find a camping spot because the sun wasn’t going down until 10.30. So for the most part, we took our time getting up in the morning, making epic poached eggs on rolls (Sometimes with salmon! Sometimes with black pudding!), and plotting out a course, or the start of one.

We had coffee in a totally deserted hotel pub, made friends with a particularly inquisitive wild pony, visited smokehouses (all of the salmon) and craft shops, wandered along all kinds of stunning beaches, turned down random roads that led nowhere in particular, then turned around and tried other roads, all of which gave me ample practice at dealing with passing places.

We bought Harris Gin and Harris Tweed and whisky from Abhainn Dearg, the westernmost distillery in Scotland, where I watched the woman working there label and seal the bottle I ended up buying as we walked up to the counter in the workshop. I probably won’t buy a lot of bottles like that in my life. The whole place smelled incredible.

We had lunch in a community cafe with epic cakes and the best damn black pudding and egg roll I’ve ever had. We overheard mums talking to each other in Gaelic then turning and talking to their kids in English and back to Gaelic seamlessly.


The day it got so hot that I thought I was going to lose the plot was also the day we dropped ourselves into a completely remote town on the coast looking across to Skye and I brought my core temperature down by snorkeling (badly) in my new wetsuit in a freezing cold tiny bay among the rocks while a seal or two bobbed around nearby keeping an eye on us.

It was also the only night of midges we had. And the only night we didn’t take a picture of where we camped. We put up with the flying terrors and cooked and ate through our midge nets because the sea was so flat and the moon was so big and the view was so amazing we couldn’t bear to give up and spend a night inside a bunkhouse.

After we’d gone into our tents, we heard an incredible rumbling noise that started at around 12.30 and just got louder and louder. I started to think an apocalyptic machine was going to come roving over the hills and end the day like some mechanical Langolier.

The sound soon revealed itself to be an enormous boat, lit up like a Gatsby party, slowly crawling down the bit of sea between Harris and Skye. And then in the morning we looked down from the top of our cliff into the crystal clear water to see a lion’s mane jellyfish solitarily blobbing along like an alien menace. It’s possible we were in someone’s sci fi novel rough draft offcuts.

When you look back at such a collection of things that happened in the space of less than 24 hours, it seems unlikely that anyone’s real life can contain that many curiosities, even on holiday.

But the very next day included wandering around some rocks at low tide that were absolutely covered in mussels at least 2 feet over my head. And then having the haar quite literally sneak up on us in about 5 minutes to transform what could be mistaken for a tropical island beach to a strange ghost-story moor where you couldn’t see further than 50 or so feet . The sounds of dogs barking and the odd far off car motor and the water itself were impossible to place because being in the middle of a cloud makes everything sound like it’s coming from everywhere.


I think I’ve made it obvious in the past how in love with Scotland I am, but after everything I’ve written about far-flung countries, it may seem strange that a holiday where I live could be at least as exciting. Parts of this country often feel like completely different planets though. So many odd, unexpected, wonderful little things happen on the trips I’ve taken within our borders. Planning something foreign is exciting, sure, but even on those trips, it’s the weird stuff you don’t plan that makes them awesome. So why should someplace a few hours away be any different?

Wild

I went back and forth on whether I should watch Wild on a plane at all. I was tired and kind of broody and very much looking forward to home. I pretty much knew it was going to make me emotional, and I didn’t know if I was prepared to be emotional in a very full A380.

But I really wanted to see it, so I charged on. I nearly passed out when she ripped her toenail off in the first scene, and I’m pretty sure I got a little verklempt about 5 minutes later and teetered there for the rest of the film.

It’s been at least 2 years since I read the book. My sister gave it to me after she’d read it with a glowing recommendation, but I already knew about it after having stumbled across Cheryl Strayed’s formerly anonymous advice column Dear Sugar in a period of pretty severe personal angst and depression.

So I already wanted to read it. I wanted to love it despite always feeling slightly ill-at-ease with Strayed’s advice writing style. It’s bare and clear and at sometimes beautiful. It’s also at times almost TOO eloquent, perfectly-formed, and inspirational for my style – which I might label eternal optimism perpetually tinged with realistic-yet-humourous bile – but it’s often very good advice nonetheless.

Her writing style persisted in Wild, and while I did enjoy it and was immensely appreciative of the story she was telling, I still felt a little off about it. I’ve been trying to figure out why this is for a long time, and I think part of it has something to do with the fact that she had so many tangible, terrible things to run away from or deal with and I just… don’t. My parents are still together and my family has all sorts of normal problems and drama, but nothing on the horrendous end of the scale. I was not abused or neglected by anyone. The hardest drug I’ve done is pot, which I don’t even like, and I feel a bit naughty when I have my one cigarette a year. I’m sure I could go into other horrible things I have not experienced, but suffice to say I’m lucky and privileged and relatively well-adjusted. And I am  very much aware of this.

This doesn’t make my problems less problematic by any means – everyone’s got valid issues in the context of their life. It also doesn’t make me less likely to want to get away from things. Because clearly I’ve gone right the hell away from where I came from, and I know for me it was an excellent decision, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to tell you why. And I know I want to leave everything behind again, just for a few months, but I’m not running from anything. I’m probably looking for something. As was Cheryl Strayed. As are most people who read and think too much.

The other part of my unease may lie somewhere in Strayed’s ability to make everything sound so well-considered. Almost as though it was all just waiting to be a lesson. This sounds a lot harsher than I mean it to be, because she’s a really good writer and deserves that acclaim. But occasionally I just feel like everything there has the polish of hindsight, and I need things a little rougher around the edges when it comes to reflection.

Anyway, I always feel like I should have liked the book more than I did. I certainly love the intent behind it and I don’t need a matching motivation to understand a shared outcome. But I think I liked the movie more than the book because the story was filtered through screenwriting and cinematography and music that I never felt were too… whatever it is that rubs me the wrong way about the writing sometimes. Of course the darker elements of her story are still there, but the focus is much more on the trip, both for its own struggles and as a vehicle for working shit out. And it’s so nicely done.

There’s a lot there that you don’t see on film enough, like some of the challenges of being a woman on a solo trip of any kind – particularly in the way that most people are NOT a threat, but you sometimes have to interact with them as though they are to protect yourself (which I realise men have to do too, just in very different ways, and not as often). The various states of being alone are captured in such honest and intimate ways; Sometimes you’re scared shitless and you just have to ride it out. Sometimes you figure stuff out on your own and it doesn’t matter that no one’s around to congratulate you – hell, in some cases, it’s better. Sometimes you feel completely ridiculous. Sometimes you ARE completely ridiculous.

It may be this film’s fault that I got no sleep on the flight because it set my brain into overdrive thinking about travel and home and what I want to do and why stuff is the way it is. But I will forgive it. It’s pretty great, as is Reese Witherspoon. And her massive backpack (another in-built lesson to us all, perhaps).

And if that weren’t enough, it ends with this absolutely brilliant First Aid Kit cover of Walk Unafraid, which is one of those film closing music choices that is so spot-on you almost feel things have gone the other way and the movie was written to lead into the song.

 

PS I also have to point out that Art Alexakis pops up for all of 3 minutes in this movie, which mostly no one else will care about but was HIGHLY unexpected and incredibly amusing to a former completely devoted Everclear fan. I nearly audibly said ‘NO WAY!’ and threw my airline dinner bread roll at the screen.

PPS If you liked Wild, here’s my review of Tracks, which I truly, truly love, writing and all. The film is good. The book is stellar.

On your own

I was talking recently to someone I work with about the Trans-Siberian and how it’s the seed my solo trip is growing out of.

He said, ‘I have a friend who did it once but I don’t see the point.’

To which I asked, ‘of doing the Trans-Siberian or doing it on your own?’

And he said, ‘both.’

Then I tried to explain myself, but I’m not sure it made much difference.

I totally get that sitting on a train staring at a frozen landscape for the better part of a week is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. I like trains. But what’s more I like seeing the planet, because it’s pretty amazing. I’ll be more than entertained watching the Siberian wilderness chug by because who gets to do that every day?

Plus, being confined to a space where I can do little more than read, write, eat, and talk to people is like a creative mission. It’s like life editing – putting constraints on a situation forces you to get much better things out the other end. And with what I imagine will be zero mobile or data reception plus low hope of recharging any kind of electrical devices, I’ll be left to what I’ve got in my head and on paper. Which is precisely what I want.

So, not for everyone, but that’s the appeal to me.

As for the doing it on my own bit – that’s trickier. Ten years ago when I was like ‘YES, this Trans-Siberian Railway? THIS I MUST DO.’ I wasn’t thinking, ‘This I must do. ALONE.’ No. Never. In fact, nearly none of the traveling I want to do is conceived as something I want to do by myself. It’s more a matter of I don’t have much choice.

Everyone’s got partners and babies and careers and commitments and other priorities, especially the older I get. It’s ridiculous to expect anyone else to drop their life in favour of accompanying me on a trip of my own mad design. If I had some fantastic boyfriend who magically had the same travel wishlist as I did (applications open, *ahem*) or a friend whose holiday allowances and budget and circumstances aligned perfectly with my own, hell yes I’d be going on this trip WITH THEM. But these things are a tall order.

I could wait another ten years to find a plus one, or I can just get on with it.

When I got home the night of this particular conversation, as if the universe knew I needed more writing fodder, a link to this article popped up in my Facebook feed: IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Traveled The World Alone And It Sucked

I think it’s totally important to have this point of view available online, that you can go do something like take a massive trip alone and decide you kind of hate it and that’s absolutely fine. You don’t have to love everything you try, and a solo trip around the world is difficult stuff. But she put all this crazy pressure on herself and her trip. I’m going to be brave because I feel like I HAVE to. I’m going to find my own artsy subculture clique and become the next Kerouac (which, ugh, why does everyone want to be THAT ASSHAT, but whatever).

No one lives in a novel or a movie. Meeting people takes time. Coming out of your shell takes adjustment and work. More of this for some than others, but it doesn’t just HAPPEN. I don’t remember being particularly scared before I went backpacking when I was 20. I think knowing less about the world meant I didn’t think about all the crap I think about now. But it was hard and lonely at some points, and I didn’t really hit my stride with the being alone and figuring out how to talk to other people thing until about 2 weeks in when my trip was nearly over. I had a lot of nights in, reading alone in bed or in the hostel bar.

But I also didn’t have the expectation that I was going to waltz into Europe and make all the friends and have all the stories to tell. If you’re not doing that shit in your normal life, like hell you’re going to suddenly do it in multiple foreign environments where you have to spend a lot of energy on basic things you barely give a second thought to at home.

So. Less pressure on yourself helps. And perhaps being good at being alone to begin with before you go do it in the big bad world.

This trip is going to be a lot like the rest of my life, just condensed and sometimes slightly more confusing. It takes me a pretty long time to adjust to new situations. But in the confines of an existence focused on travel, that timeline will shrink a little. I will force myself to make awkward and uncomfortable steps a little earlier than I normally would because what the hell else are you gonna do when you’re sitting in a train compartment across from a Russian lady who’s gonna be your roomie for the next 2 nights?

I’ll get used to it. Sometimes I’ll be restless with loneliness and that will suck just as much as when it happens at home. Other times I’ll meet some awesome new person who is bizarrely easy to talk to and it will rock just as much as when it happens at home.

It’s not for everyone. But maybe you can see the point.

Tracks by Robyn Davidson

Rick Smolan’s photo of Robyn Davidson on the cover of the May 1978 issue of National Geographic.

A few months ago I wrote about various stories of solo female travel and mentioned I’d seen the film version of Robyn Davidson’s memoir Tracks. I’ve finally got round to reading the book now, and it’s even better than I hoped it would be.

This book feels more honest than almost any other personal story I’ve ever read. It has a line, but there are also moments of stream-of-consciousness wandering from that line that remind me of my own frantic scribbles in my notebook trying to capture moments and knowing that no bit of writing really can.

Davidson herself says that her own journal of the trip is made of of letters never sent and random bits of fact sprinkled among longer passages, sometimes thick and fast, and sometimes lacking entries for over a month. It’s the first time I’ve felt like I was getting a true view not only of the bits of an experience someone could remember properly enough, but of a realistic writing process. You don’t get the sense anything’s being hidden here. She doesn’t care what you think, and at times she barely knows what she herself thinks, which she’s straight about every time she notices it happening.

There’s a lot in the book about being so far from humans and societal norms that it’s shocking how fast the need for those conventions fades, and how difficult it then is to grasp when you need to reinstate them. She did a lot of walking around the desert naked and talking only to camels and her dog for ages at a time. She talks about how refreshing it was to not have to worry a lick about being pretty or attractive or anything else typically associated with being a woman because none of that mattered. But regardless of that, once she was back in a city, she realised she couldn’t function in society as though she was in the desert, and it’s kind of crazy to try.

In the afterward in the edition I read, written in 2012 presumably right as they were working on the film, Davidson says she doesn’t recognise the person in the book. That after writing the story and releasing all of it into the world, the memories started to fade and she can only hold on to bits and pieces of something that was so long ago and so far removed from most everyday experiences. I find this to be true of just about every experience I ever have, whether or not I write about it.

The difficulty in writing a travel blog for me is that I don’t ever think it will communicate my actual experience of a trip or a time or anything. What it’s really like is so tied up in the myriad of things that have happened to me before and the current personal dramas and demons running through my head while I’m in a place that what the experience of a trip does to me or means to me is just not something that comes out in words. (I mean, why do you think I write so much about food? At least that’s a thing that everyone can experience tangibly.)

This website is part exercise in self-discipline (it is incredibly difficult to stick to a self-imposed writing schedule, but it’s also good for me), part learning experience, part personal record, and part ongoing motivation to take the first step. As Davidson says, that first step really is the hardest part of anything. It’s so easy to talk myself out of things when I live most of my life inside my own head. I am reasonably strong-willed when I want to be, but writing about all this and telling everyone I know about my plans is probably the main thing that prevents me chickening out.

I was talking to someone I’m only newly friends with in the pub the other night and when it was time for a subject change, he said ‘So, is your trip planned yet?’ which caught me way off guard because I’ve been waffling about what I want lately. But this is why it’s one of the first things I ever told him about, and why it’s something every one of my friends knows I’m thinking about. Because that kind of question is what keeps me straight. It takes the whole thing out of my own head and makes it real. It gets everyone pushing me through the first step.

As for Tracks, I really needed the mental push it’s given me. I needed reminding that I can do something for myself that may turn out completely differently than I picture it, but life will still go on on the other side of it. I highly, highly recommend reading it. (And if you’re not completely in love with camels by the time you’re through, you’ve probably got a heart made of concrete.)

Here’s a few images from the real trip and the film on National Geographic’s website, and some of Rick Smolan’s chat about photographing the trip. Worth a look.

Figuring it out. Or not.

The summer sky at home

A view I won’t easily give up

It’s sometimes hard to feel like you’re progressing in any way when the few things that are really important to you are the ones you cannot, and will not ever be able to, control.

I often feel like I am living out a spectacular comedy of errors. A hilarious, shifting, personal disaster in which I think I know what I want and what is going on right in front of me, but the universe, like clockwork, reminds me that it’s not so and never will be.

Humbling as that may be, it’s hard to learn it. It’s hard to digest that you are not the only one feeling this way, or being awkward, or not understanding what you might actually want all the time. Even if, as I’ve been trying to do more, you consciously remind yourself that the people sitting in the room with you are probably feeling as conflicted and chaotic and drained and ecstatic and turned-around as you are – in their own world, it’s just as weird.

You can read books or listen to songs or watch movies that feel like they are speaking directly to you about your current state of mind on love, life, politics, animals, technology, whatever. And those things come from actual humans and you know that. You can have a conversation with one of your friends in which you feel he may as well be speaking off a record made of your own brain tissue because he’s perfectly articulating how you feel about work at the moment, even though he’s telling you how HE feels about HIS work. You can have a discussion with another friend about travelling alone as a woman that reminds you why you’re doing what you’re doing, and why other people are bold enough to do it too, and what The Point Of It All is.

These things can happen and you can recognise that you’re all in it together – one big boat of humanity (I’m on a boat!) – and everyone is doing their best with it. But despite all the evidence, you just can’t get inside it, so it’s sometimes hard to make yourself believe you aren’t slowly going mad in your own little bubble.

I know everyone has their own personal internal battles with what they hell they should be doing and where they should be going. Sometimes knowing that helps me with my own. But it’s a lot like having a certainty that there are countless parallel universes that you can’t even fathom – it’s comforting to imagine, but none of them will ever beam you the answers.

I don’t know where I want to be most of the time. I can’t pick a side. I exist on this spectrum in between things. In work I can’t define what it is I’m best at, aside from connecting the things other people are best at and hopefully making them better. (Hey hey, liberal arts education at its finest!) But it’s pretty hard to articulate that. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have picked a track, like doctor or lawyer or something, and know that that’s me for life. Mostly. I know that’s not how it usually plays out forever and ever, and I know most people are actually like me in that there’s not one thing they’re just MADE to do. And that’s fine. This isn’t really a complaint – it’s standard human frustration.

I like the idea of job security, but I have absolutely no desire to be on any kind of career track and I get restless pretty easily. (I feel like that should dovetail pretty well with my wanderlust.) I just want to learn. Make stuff. Make stuff work. Fix stuff. Figure stuff out. But it doesn’t always particularly matter what kind of stuff. I don’t need to be in charge or get any kind of grand recognition, I just need to see things happen. Results. Ticking things off the Big List. Even tiny ones no one else particularly cares about.

My motivation to plan or DO shit has a slow-motion, tsunami-sized ebb and flow. When things are moving, they are moving big and fast, but when they’re not, it’s hard to fight the drain. And then it’s easy to start questioning the work I’m meant to be doing or the thing I’m trying to make work.

It’s the same with all these travel goals I have. Sometimes I’m all over the planning, and sometimes I just think: WHAT. This list is getting out of hand and I would like a nap now because I am too exhausted to picture the end result.

The idea of going of on some never-ending trip is appealing in a sort of romantic sense, and some days I think it would be amazing. But I also really love home. I love my flat. I love Edinburgh. I love feeling like I am where I belong. Finally. Which is slightly ridiculous because I can’t even stick with just one nationality, but then that is the pull of the world on me.

I have been looking at the year ahead, the finite amount of money and time ticking away, and I’ve been having trouble placing definitions on what it is I want to do. I know I’m not alone in this, but when you have the conviction to start an entire blog about shifting your life to accommodate a particular travel goal, it seems somehow more important to keep public track of your continuous internal dialogue on the matter.

(And if you’ve got this far, it’s an awful lot of dialogue, eh? So, I salute you. We’re nearly there.)

I have a personal absolute minimum goal of spending at least a month on this trans-Siberian adventure. Life shifts, goals and budgets and all manner of other things change, but that much I know, and I suppose that’s a lot more than I can say for any other area of my life. Beyond that, I’ve been trying to come up with the maximum I’d like to shoot for. Or even that I can handle. (On my own at least.)

The more I think about it, the more it creeps in around the 3-month mark. Somehow this is disappointing to me. Perhaps because I feel like I should want to be away for longer. But I’m finding that I just don’t think I do.

Starting over is hard. So. Fucking. Hard. I have lived in the same flat for nearly 8 years and I love it to bits. It is practically a part of me. I moved around so much when I was little and I’ve lived in a lot of places that never felt like they were somewhere I or my family truly belonged. The places I have the strongest attachments to are the places where people have installed themselves. The places my grandmothers still live in, and maybe my favourite house in the world, my parents’ friends’ house, which I recently got to see again after over a decade. They still live there and it still feels like the homiest home I have ever been in.

I really want to own a place. Eventually. But the place I am now has evolved with me and the minute I go start over and buy somewhere, I start that nesting period over again. That’s a different kind of adventure, and a worthy one, but a sense of home is a hard thing to let go of when you have it for yourself for the first time. I do also think when you have a partner, another person can be home, but right now it’s just me, so it becomes about a physical place because making it about just you – being complete and sane AND being your own home – is too much of a burden to put on yourself.

If you’re travelling indefinitely, you have the option to not think about permanence for a while. But I want to think about it. I want the best of both worlds like I always do. I want to skip off to another country for a month or two and be able to settle right back into my own space when I’m tired of that.

There is nothing impossible about that particular lifestyle. It just requires a whole lot of money that I don’t and won’t have.

So as with so many things, this becomes about compromise. And I don’t even have another person to compromise with, it’s just the two sides of me. It’s pretty hard to reason with yourself. I’d much prefer having to sort it out with another human with their own muddle of views and reasons. There might be an argument or two but it somehow seems a cleaner, more defined process when there’s a separate entity involved.

For now, I think being home will tell me why I want to travel, and being away will remind me why it’s so important not to stay away. I just have to figure out how to make that work. In my head and in real life.

 

…and that was pretty heavy, so, yaknow, I’m gonna go eat a cookie or something. I suggest you do the same.

Klara Harden’s Made in Iceland and other stories of solo female journeys

MADE IN ICELAND from Klara Harden

I don’t remember how I originally came across the link to Klara Harden‘s record of her solo trek through Iceland, so unfortunately I can’t properly credit that lead. I saw it around the time she first posted it so there was probably some interweb buzz. And rightfully so. This video has stuck with me. It’s incredibly well done, but more importantly, it makes me feel like I can do whatever the hell I want on my own and it will be totally fine.

This was brought to the surface in my brain again recently because I saw the film Tracks, which is based on Robyn Davidson’s memoir about walking across the Australian Outback from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean with her dog and four camels. Occasionally joined by a National Geographic photographer, but mostly alone. It is FANTASTIC. The actual book is now on my list because I want to read the non-film-ified story. But movie version or not, hearing these stories about women is refreshing because it’s so much more common to see films or read books about men going off by themselves into the big bad world. And these two stories are very different, but they’re GOOD. There’s a lot of truth without bravado.

The world needs more stories like these because the world – unfortunately – often needs to be reminded that women are just as capable as men of having these adventures on their own. We’re all just humans. We can take care of ourselves. We can handle nature and we can do it alone if we want to.

Happily, we’ve got another story like this coming our way. Cheryl Strayed’s (excellent) memoir Wild, about hiking the Pacific Coast Trail alone, has been made into a film. In a recent interview, Reese Witherspoon said:

I’ve never seen a film like Wild where the woman ends up with no man, no money, no family, no opportunity, but she still has a happy ending.

And I don’t think that’s to say they don’t exist, but they are few and far between, and SO MANY PEOPLE haven’t regularly seen stories like that.

I’m lucky in that no one ever really TOLD me I couldn’t do something because of my gender. (My family is great.) But when you’re a kid, you pick up on what’s generally accepted in society for girls without anyone having to spell it out for you. Even if you decide to rail against that, it hangs in the air around you. It’s exhausting enough to do the work required to take your own adventure. The feeling that you’re fighting the expectations of an entire society at the same time just make it that bit more of a slog.

Women certainly face slightly more challenging circumstances in solo travel than men. It’s unfortunate but we have to be a little more careful in general, of the public – of men in particular – and differing cultural expectations. And maybe we always will. But letting the world use that as an excuse or a reason to tell us we shouldn’t do something is frustrating and self-perpetuating. By showing more stories of women navigating extraordinary journeys on their own and for their own reasons, we help create a world where people see that as just fine because they see it working. And, importantly, working independently. Not in relation to a man.

I don’t know if I’ll ever walk and camp my way through Iceland or somewhere equally amazing by myself, but these stories make me want to. And they remind me that I can.