“So we shall let the reader answer this question for himself: who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?”
― Hunter S. Thompson
School is back in session, so unfortunately my summer of near constant travel is over. I spent my last few free days camping in Aspen — one of my absolute favorite places. Before I left town I visited a hot springs right off the road on a river outside town. I love hot springs of all kinds, but natural and primitive are the best. Usually.
Some couples came and went and then others came. We had great conversation and it was a beautiful day. When one couple was about to leave a man I had seen earlier in the bushes came out of nowhere. He sat right behind me, with a big jug of something and just a creepy vibe. I've been trying lately not to think someone is "creepy" just because they're alone — I'm always alone. Or "creepy" if they seem to live in their car/a tent — I'm sleeping in a car too after all.
But I've also been making an effort to listen to my body. When something doesn't feel right. Trusting my infamous women's intuition. So I got out of that hot spring, no goodbye to my new Polish friends, ran up to my car shaking in my bikini, and headed straight home. I was seriously scared. Literally shaking.
I do a lot of things alone and generally feel very safe and capable and all of those things, but I’ve realized there's a difference between doing things you're afraid of and doing things you should be afraid of.
But my problem is how do I know the difference? And how can I keep a situation like that from scaring me away from future awesome riverside hot springs? I don't have any answers, but I have some ideas.
I've been lucky. I travel alone way more than the average person and yet I haven’t had too many scary experiences on the road (thankfully), but there have been a few similar to the hot springs. And they all have one thing in common — they are not in National Parks. Or State Parks. Or hiking trails.
I have a theory for why this is true -- and it starts with Donald Duck (doesn't everything though?)
You know those adults who are obsessed with Disney? They go to the parks for every vacation, without a care to the haters who wonder why. But I think I get it — National Parks/public lands are just Disneyworld for outdoorsy people. Hear me out.
Disney is a bubble. It’s an escape from reality, where everything is spotless, commercialized, immersive, and characters will never break. It’s all carefully curated to take you to another place. Where all you have to worry about is wait times and where you’re getting your next overpriced meal. Everyone is there for the same reason.
National Parks/Public Lands are really similar in some important ways -- everyone who is there wants to be there. They’ve all spent considerable time and effort to trek to some huge swath of land because they love nature. They are my people. No need to be scared.
Even though I’m alone in a park, I want to share my experience. Be alone together. That's why one of the things I always make time for in a park visit (even if I've been there multiple times) is to visit the lodges and visitors centers -- to be alone together. To get the high that comes from being surrounded by likeminded people.
I was talking to a friend the other day about my persona of solo female adventurer yada yada. He pointed out that visiting National Parks solo isn’t actually that adventurous — and he’s right!
That’s kinda the point — it’s Disneyworld. It's an escape. I don't have to worry about being followed downtown and forced to literally run away in broad daylight trying to look at some street art (looking at you Rapid City, SD) or being terrified and pushed out of a roadside hot spring by an aggressive guy. And that's important to me.
But I'm sure you're all wondering, what's the instagram connection (ha yikes). I’ve recently changed my Instagram handle (big news I know) and am in the process of changing my website over to a new moniker — emilyventures. I’ve ruminated for an embarrassingly long time over this — but words are important, remember.
Venture is defined as “a risky or daring journey or undertaking” — and I feel like that ties my ambitions together in a way that my clumsy words never could. I want to lean in to uncertainty and I want to take risks. I want to do things that are daring — just not blindly dangerous.
National Parks — and the outdoors in general — are a great way to do that.
If you need more proof than Donald Duck can provide, well, there isn’t a lot. Information on crime in the outdoors or National Parks in particular is sparse— because there really isn’t much. Backpacker magazine says that despite 46% of men and 56% of women agreeing that its riskier for women to hike or backpack alone, “Your risk of being a victim of a violent crime (murder, rape, or aggravated assault) is thousands of times lower in a national park than in the country as a whole.”
That’s right — thousands of times lower. I’ve always felt safer, but even I was totally shocked by that statistic. Seriously, look at this graph.
People ask me all the time how to hike alone, or how to visit a park alone — but you guys, it’s really not that brave. You're way safer there than you are almost anywhere else. That’s why the outdoors are so freeing — it’s an escape from a world full of real and perceived danger.
So venture. Be smart, but trust yourself. If something doesn't feel right -- leave. But don't let it stop you from going in the first place.