After a rough, confusing, lonely, and excessively hot summer in LA, I decided I needed an escape. I booked a ticket for Boulder, Colorado, opting for the American Mecca for modern day hippies over my shoebox sized apartment with rampant issues with horseflies and screams from an unidentifiable neighbor. If I could live alone in a big city, why couldn’t I venture to the Flatirons alone? Perhaps this would broaden my horizons enough for me to actually feel a mature 23 rather than like a naive 18; or maybe it’d just make me an insufferable 20-something droning on about her Eat Pray Love moment.
The city, a bizarre mixture of the agricultural Midwest and a childlike artistic optimism reminiscent of Berkeley in the 1960s, welcomed me with open arms and hearty Tibetan food. My time in Boulder was filled with kind strangers who made small talk, apologized for the hazy conditions, and taught me how to paint like Bob Ross–something I’d missed since living in a city full of skittish strangers for the past year. I appreciated the walkability of the city, the calming creek path, and the smallness one felt staring up at the mighty Rocky Mountains just steps away from the city center. In addition to my excursions into the wilderness of Colorado, I was fortunate enough to witness wholesome street performances, run into a delightful farmer’s market, and frequent quaint coffee/book shops filled with Janis Joplin wannabes. I pondered whether I could imagine myself living in a city like Boulder. Sure, the culture was a bit quirky for my taste, but the people seemed genuine and sincere, and I appreciated the city’s feeling of connectedness and the proximity to nature.
But despite the friendliness of the city, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my vulnerability being a young, small woman alone in a city she isn’t familiar with. I remembered each time I communicated with one of my friends or family members about my solo endeavor. Each time one of them learned I’d be taking my trip alone, there was an awkwardly long pause, followed by poorly veiled worry. It was as if telling them I’d be travelling to Boulder meant they’d never see me again since I’d be destined to being sold into sex slavery à la Taken. Initially, I had ignored the concerns that this solo trip meant my ultimate demise, but realized shortly into my trip that these fears had seeped into my own mind.
In particular, the anxiety shared by my friends and family contributed to my own fear of being mauled by a bear on one of my hikes that I took alone.
The first trail I trekked was highly-trafficked, making me feel more secure. I was able to appreciate the greenery and the scenic views while feeling comfortable being surrounded by CU Boulder students, a friendly Kiwi family, and adventurous rock climbers. However, as I ascended a quiet mountain overlooking the city on my second day in Boulder, I came across what I imagined to be bear scat.
Having come across significantly fewer hikers who were few and far between, I panicked at the sight of the scat. I suddenly remembered every excruciating detail of Werner Herzog’s documentary Grizzly Man. I recalled every time figures like Joe Rogan rattled on about how dangerous bears are and stories of young girls being torn apart by fauna. Every horror story I ever read about solo hikers or joggers becoming a hungry bear’s next meal flashed in my mind. I frantically searched my brain for whatever information I had about bears. Does their scat really look like that? I did see a Golden Retriever on the trail earlier… Should I make myself bigger and make noise? Or was that for mountain lions? Would the tiny knife disguised as a key that I’d smuggled through LAX save me? Or was I just destined to be bear food, to have only my Apple Watch and remnants of my blood-soaked pink leggings found amongst the shrubbery?
In my neurotic state, I turned back. I passed by a few fellow hikers, wondering if I should warn them of the menacing bear that may or may not be lurking in the woods. I justified to myself that I was playing it safe, that in telling the story to my friends and family, they’d laud my caution as intelligent and would no longer be worried about my solo adventures.
But then I wondered what I’d be missing by not reaching the apex of the hike. I had travelled 1,000 miles precisely for these hikes, to venture into the wilderness and “find myself,” whatever that means. Was I just overreacting? Or was this the right decision?
As more solo trail runners and chatty gaggles of gals passed me by, I decided to turn around and finish the damn trail. If there was a bear, then at least there would be others on the trail to function as fodder, right?
I scaling familiar rock formations and wove through intertwining trails twice as fast as I initially had. I raced to the point where I’d turned back, not even noticing the scat that originally frightened me. Despite the heat and my fatigue, I persisted, promising myself I’d turn back only if I encountered a legitimate, concrete sign of bear-life. I kept my eyes peeled and my ears attuned to anything disturbing the tranquil silence of the forest.
Eventually, as I reached the pinnacle of the hike overlooking the seemingly never ending Rockies, I slowed down, taking in my surroundings with a deeper appreciation. I took a leisurely stroll rather than speed walking, taking my sweet time and soaking in the majesty of the mountains at every opportunity. Normally, I’d fret over the temporal extent of my hike and worry about missing out on the experience of the city (where I would worry about missing out on the experience of nature). But this time, I embraced that things hadn’t gone exactly to plan, and was pleased with myself for pushing past my perceived limits.
This may not be an epic tale to envy, and it may be underwhelming to hear about a trip to Boulder rather than a lavish Mediterranean or Asiatic getaway. But it contains my biggest takeaways from my first solo trip: that I am much more capable of things than I tend to give myself credit for. Of course, I appreciate the concern of my loved ones, as their concern demonstrates how much they care about me. However, the nervousness in their voices made me feel like they believed I was incapable of successfully navigating a solo excursion. And perhaps that was simply me projecting my own insecurity about my abilities onto them, causing me to misinterpret their concern.
My excursion to Boulder was an opportunity for me to combat my own fears and get out of my own way–that was the whole point of the trip; to explore, to expand my horizons a bit, and ~learn about myself~ in my newfound independent adulthood. The only thing preventing me from completing that hike and the trip as a whole was my own self perception. And just as I was able to scale the mountain and conquer my perhaps somewhat unfounded fear of a bear mauling on a popular hiking trail, I was able to successfully venture to a new place on my own and embrace whatever hiccups came along the way. The experience reminded me that I can do the same in my life at large–appreciate my surroundings and roll with the punches.