The stars were brighter than I’d ever seen that night. The sky was so open out there and with no evidence of human civilization to obstruct it, I felt suddenly at home, and also beautifully alone.
The road to get there had been crazy for the minivan rental I was driving. I got stuck on a cattle grate and had to floor it over. I was driving sideways in a non-4 x 4 to get there without any cell signal. I admit it wasn’t my brightest moment. But looking back on the highlights of my life, this is kind of a pattern.
I know that especially now, thanks to the ‘Rona, many people are seeking these uncrowded places, which provided you’re prepared, can be a wonderful thing.
I live for these moments. I strive for the places that I don’t have to share, and perhaps surprisingly, I don’t work that hard for it. These places exist all over. You just have to be looking for them.
My recipe is simple: Get out in the middle of nowhere, be resourceful, and welcome what may come.
Isn’t that Scary?
For some I know that being out in the wilderness is terrifying. It would have been for me as well circa 2007, but thanks to more time spent in this environment, for me it has now become addictive.
I’ve never felt closer to the earth than when it was truly just me out there experiencing her beauty. These opportunities are easier to find than you may think. Sometimes you only need to stray minimally from the beaten path.
When I hiked into Coyote Gulch, solo repelled my way down, and hiked around before climbing back out, climbing back into my chariot, and driving onto the next adventure, I was truly adventuring alone, seeing it all by myself. It was so exhilarating. The first American Southwest road trip is still one of the most amazing I have ever taken.
I think it triggered something primal, a human urge to explore and to be one with my environment. If this idea scares you, you’re not alone.
But the more time people spend outside, the more they come to crave it and love it. I’ve been privileged to take dozens of women on backpacking trips now, sometimes in the backcountry middle of nowhere Alaska, and I know that it won’t be their last time in the wilderness. It’s the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
You will get more confident about it when you dip your toe in, let people teach you who already know how to stay safe and survive in the wild, and with each passing trip you will trust your abilities more.
Start small and grow from there.
How to actually find the middle of nowhere:
The handy thing about the United States is Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas abound. This is public land that, provided you leave no trace, you can camp on, explore to your heart’s desire, and enjoy with fewer restrictions and people than national and state parks.
There are millions of acres of it in the American Southwest, and much of it is just as beautiful as the national parks. But nobody knows about it.
People complain that natural spaces are getting too crowded, and I just let them do that, because I know that you just need a car that can handle it and some foolish curiosity to find magical places that aren’t packed.
The best things happened when I wondered what was down that road, decided to get closer to that thing, or met someone along the way who gave me the pro tip.
And this can be in any country.
Many of those places are densely populated and very popular, but I’m telling you, take a side street, move away from the tourist road, stay one town over from the epicenter of action, choose shoulder seasons, and you, too, will find these hidden gems. It’s that simple.
Connections help, too
If you do happen to meet other people on your journey, chances are they know of quite a few awesome places too. I love connecting with random people in these remote places and asking where their favorite places are.
Apart from stumbling upon things and plain dumb luck, this has been my best resource for finding the most amazing places around the world. It’s human nature to share something with someone you connect with – people want to do that when they like you.
And I know that some people fear solo travel is dead, that people will not be receptive to strangers again, but I don’t believe that’s true.
I know those who want to connect are still out there, and I know that I will find them. I trust that my adventures are not over, but only just beginning to test my abilities and limits.
Isn’t that exciting? Isn’t it wonderful to know that, particularly with a 4 x 4 vehicle, almost no road has to be off-limits, and you can see parts of the country that most tourists never see?
How to stay safe in the middle of nowhere
The first thing about the middle of nowhere is, you have to be resourceful.
I get frequent messages asking how one showers and uses the bathroom in the wilderness, and I laugh a bit to myself because the answer is you don’t shower.
Well, not easily. You could bring a solar shower and extra water, or you can do what I do and just accept that you won’t shower every day when having these adventures, and that’s okay.
Often, campsites in the next town will sell just showers, and sometimes so will gyms, or other community centers, provided they’re open.
Bathroom-wise, and driving-wise, it’s up to you to respect nature that you’re in, to Leave No Trace, and to profoundly understand your impact on the world. I think there could be no more humbling experience, but that’s only true if you actually respect it.
Please don’t drive off-road. Stay on the 4×4 track. If you use the bathroom in the wilderness, pack out your toilet paper, walk at least 100 yards away from any water sources, and dig a hole and bury it. If you find a trail, stick to it and don’t wander off. Our impact can take moments to leave on landscape that took millions of years to form. Our impact doesn’t have to be big, as long as we deeply and profoundly respect nature we’re in. Every footprint matters.
So I hope you get to find your wilderness, and I hope this post helped awaken that sense of adventure. Happy trails.