On turning 40 and travelling alone

“You don’t have to go, you know,” said my husband as I was preparing for my first solo canoe trip in Killarney.

“I know,” I replied, “but I really want to.”

Good thing he didn’t ask why because I am not sure I would be able to explain.

In books and movies, protagonists usually set out on a solo trip because they find themselves at metaphorical crossroads and feel stuck/confused/lost hoping a solution will reveal itself during those solo nature pursuits.

That wasn’t my story. Apart from occasional detours, the road ahead looked clear if not always level or straight. Sure I was turning 40 but I wasn’t losing sleep over it. I made peace with getting older long time ago. Occasionally I would turn around and think, “Where did the time go?” But then I would look at my children, my husband, my friends, think of all the wonderful things I’ve seen and learned, great trips I’ve taken, and beautiful moments I’ve shared with the people I love and knew: that’s where.

Although, I should say, my 40th birthday did have a role to play in my decision. I felt this important milestone required something bigger and more special than the usual sunrise ritual. So a solo canoe trip it was.

canoeing on Terry Lake in Killarney

And we are back to the question of why. There are certainly many other ways to have a special birthday celebration that don’t entail the discomforts and dangers of a backcountry trip.

I guess I wanted to challenge myself, see if I could do it all on my own. An introvert in me was also craving an experience that was mine alone, away from other people, fully immersed in nature, uninterrupted… I was curious to see what was under all those layers of my various roles and responsibilities and how I would feel stripped of all, or at least most, connections to my everyday life.

canoe on the shore   campfire and tent

Was I scared? You bet. Till the last minute I couldn’t believe I was doing it. What ifs kept circling in my head. What if I run into a bear? What if the canoe capsizes and no one will be there to help? What if the wind picks up and I won’t be able to paddle back to shore on my own? But once I arrived at the campsite and relaxed into the usual camping rhythm, I felt reassured: I’ve got it, I’ve done it all before and paddling a solo canoe is not that different or hard after all. I thought I’d be afraid in the dark but by the time the sun dropped behind the horizon, my senses had already readjusted to the forest sounds and sights – I felt at home.

sunset over Terry Lake in Killarney

What I wasn’t expecting was that at first I would keep thinking back to the Killarney canoe trip we’d taken a couple of weeks ago. Or that it would take me most of day one to stop imagining what my family was doing back home and thinking how much they would enjoy this campsite. Was I selfish to want this experience all to myself? Those layers are sometimes hard to shed.

feet in the water   sitting by the fire

Another thing I wasn’t prepared for was an explosion of thoughts in my head, constantly buzzing, fighting for a spot at the front of the line. Were they always there and I just couldn’t hear them through all the distraction and noise?

overlooking Terry Lake in Killarney

There was one theme I kept circling back to – women travelling alone. A lot of people thought I was brave/foolish/mad or all of the above to venture into the woods on my own. I wanted it to be seen as normal.  While the number of women adventurers has been growing lately, ‘wilderness’ is still perceived as a (usually white) man’s domain, especially when it comes to solo pursuits. (Just look at the twelve Woods explorers selected this year.) So my hope is that the more we see women travelling by themselves, the more safe and confident the rest of us will feel to undertake solo camping trips. Not because of despair or because we have no one to go with, but simply to spend some uninterrupted time in nature.

overlooking Terry Lake in Killarney   view from the Crack in Killarney

I know this story will not make a best-seller list or become an award-winning movie, but that was never the intention. I wanted to have a special birthday celebration and I certainly got it. I welcomed the morning of my fortieth birthday watching the yellow ball of the sun breaking through a shield of clouds, accompanied by a distant call of the loon.

sunrise on Terry Lake in Killarney

self-portrait in KillarneyI had a fancy do of oily and messy hair, an elegant manicure featuring black stripes under my broken nails and a unique perfume with overpowering notes of sweat and smoke. And I felt beautiful, strong and happy. If this is what forty feels like, then I’ll take it.

I am not the one to make long-reaching plans and wishes, but if I can still pull off a solo canoe trip forty years from now, that would be pretty awesome.

*Read the full trip report here.

 

19 thoughts on “On turning 40 and travelling alone

    • Wow, a partial thru-hike alone! That’s quite an undertaking but I am sure it will be amazing. Hiking or canoeing alone is experience like no other. I would love to hike the AT or PCT one day but will start with something shorter. Thank you for stopping by and good luck with your travels!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Gayle! Yes, it was very special. I had my doubts but in the end it turned out amazing. Have a feeling that it will become an annual tradition. Hope you are having a fun, adventure-filled summer!

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  1. Happy birthday lady! Such a great post! Congrats on the solo and welcome to the 40 club! I am very much looking forward to the full post! Thanks for helping us inspire single women trippers and for doing it with such finesse! 🙂 You are fabulous! Happy adventures!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Christina, for the birthday wishes and the kind words! You are pretty inspiring yourself!
      I am working on the trip report. Just a sneak peek: I stayed on Terry Lake in Killarney. I remember reading one of your earlier posts about camping there. Hope you are having a great summer!

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  2. Hello! I saw your blog posted on Waboose Adventures facebook page. I almost feel I that I could have written some of this, as I relate to so much of the sentiment.

    I turn 40 in September and have been working up to my first solo trip. I took my 2 children (5 & 6 year olds) into Algonquin last week, as a buffer to going alone.

    I’m glad I read this, my paddling circle is small of like minded women with similar goals. You are a motivator and inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Jess! So glad to hear from you. It’s always great to find like-minded people and learn from each other.
      Wow, going with two kids on your own, that’s brave. A solo trip will now be easy 🙂 I really hope you will do it because it is so different from all the other camping experiences. I really enjoy backcountry camping with my family and occasionally friends but it is a completely different feeling when you are all by yourself. For me, it’s the best way to reconnect with nature and yourself.
      I look forward to hearing about your trip when you come back. Do you know where you will go?

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  3. Pingback: Paddling my own canoe: my first solo trip in Killarney | Gone Camping

  4. Fijne verjaardag en tof dat je het doet..Maar 40 klinkt anders maar is het niet.Hoe je je voelt heeft niets te maken met j een getalletje dat opschuift maar met de instelling tegenover jezelf.Ik ben 71 en kan nog blij zijn als een kind en sta open voor alles.Kijk wel met bewondering naar je op en kijk uit naar de volgende foto’s en belevenissen.

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    • Thank you for your kind wishes and inspirational words. Had to use Google translate but I think I can now understand most of the message 🙂 It’s inspiring to see someone being able to enjoy and appreciate life so much no matter the age. As I said in post, my only wish is to continue to be as excited about nature and enjoy as many trips as possible even as I get older. Thank you for reading and happy adventuring!

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