In January of this year, a British woman, Felicity Aston, accomplished an incredible feat for adventure annals: She skied solo and unassisted across Antarctica. She is the first woman — and first human — to do so. Dragging two sleds carrying 187 pounds of supplies for 1,084 miles, she completed the trip in 59 days powered only by her own strength. There were no sled dogs, parasails, or snowmobiles to help her. Although in 2010 an Antarctica expedition team consisting of a Norwegian woman and an American man had skied across Antarctica without kites or machines, Aston is the first to do this alone.
Formerly a meteorologist stationed in Antarctica with the British Antarctic Survey, the thirty-four-year-old Aston is no stranger to subzero treks. She reported, however, that her biggest challenge during her record-setting exploit was dealing with the solitude. Polar adventurers have typically traveled in teams, taking care to watch companions for signs of hypothermia, which is easier to diagnose in others than in oneself. And alone in such an extreme environment, the smallest mistake can prove treacherous, and the mind can play tricks.
But a big part of Aston’s sense of accomplishment came from succeeding all by herself. Luckily, this time, things turned out well. There are plenty of other solo adventures, however, where they don’t.
So, you might ask yourself, do adventures that are undertaken alone prove to be more meaningful, and when are they worth the risks?
One isn’t the loneliest number
It wasn’t that long ago — in 2003 — that Aron Ralston went exploring by himself in Utah’s Blue John Canyon and ended up having to amputate his arm in order to survive. Part of the problem was that he had left no note about where he was going. Aston was more prepared: She used Twitter and Facebook to keep family and supporters updated and to broadcast daily reports online. She carried two satellite phones to communicate with a support team and a GPS unit that pinpointed her location throughout her journey. She also had two supply drops so that she could travel with a lighter load.
What Ralston and Aston both knew was that going alone on adventures changes the whole timbre of your travels. A solo journey demands self-reliance, which, in turn, builds your confidence. And such solitude allows you to step outside of society’s role-playing games. There are no one else’s expectations to meet. That kind of stark independence, sifted through your mind, tends to cause you to remember who you really are and which elements in your life you truly enjoy. The rest falls by the wayside. You find that you really do only need yourself to be happy.
I firmly believe that one of the best benefits of undertaking solo adventures is that they give you time for reflection, which is often missing from travel today. And going solo on a tour allows you to try on a different personality — almost impossible to do when you travel with those familiar with you.
Messy, but worth it
Felicity Aston does admit that being alone during her Antarctica adventure did, at times, get messy. Often, she says, in the mornings in her tent, she’d cry and have a tantrum.
Still, at the end, when the plane was on its way to pick her up, she stated in her last podcast that she felt “overwhelmingly sad” that these would be her last moments alone in Antarctica. The solitude had taught her something important about perseverance. If you can find a way to keep going through whatever it is you’re facing, you’ll discover a potential within that you haven’t yet realized.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “None of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to this whisper which is heard by him alone.”
But to hear it, there can’t be anyone else around.
Do you find that your adventures are more fulfilling when you travel alone, or are they more meaningful when undertaken with family and friends?
Here’s to your adventures, in whatever corner of the world you find them,