For years I have been traveling alone, and for years I have wished that I didn’t have to. During my 20s, I had a great international travel job that took me overseas multiple times per year, to wonderful places the likes of Madrid, Paris, London, or even Costa Rica. These were fabulous opportunities and I took full advantage, exploring as much as I could while there. But yet there was always something missing and I always wished I could share it with someone.
And when it came to love, it just never worked out timing wise that I had a partner with whom to travel and share my adventures. Inevitably I was always involved with someone either too broke or disorganized to get a trip together, or I was involved with someone on the other side of the country; always finding myself in circumstances in which I would end up traveling alone. And after experiencing a string of brutal broken hearts, travel became not only lonely, but sad, as I would find myself thinking of my lost loves, everywhere I would go, thinking of the “what-ifs” and the missed opportunities.
The good news is that experience changes us and time heals all wounds. And the longer we are alone, the more we learn to embrace our solitude, the more we learn to love our own company and to become our own best friend; and the more we come to crave our time alone. That is the place in life to which I have very happily arrived. So when I have recently found myself at a crossroads, unsure of which path to take next, I knew I needed to take a soul-searching journey…and I knew I needed to do it alone.
So I set out on a road-trip down the Pacific Coast Highway, just me, my trusty stick-shift, and the radio; ready for adventure, ripe for epiphanies, and open to whatever might come…
My first stop along the way was at the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, where I set out on a hike towards a waterfall. This was really my first time hiking alone and as I set out over tree stumps and craggy rocks, I contemplated the solitude, consciously taking in all of the beauty around me. I passed a pair of couples who had stopped to take a breath and were laughing amongst themselves. As is always the case when hiking, we greeted each other with a friendly “hello” and I walked by smiling to myself at their obvious enjoyment and laughter.
When I arrived to the waterfall, I scrambled up onto a rock and perched myself against a tree to eat my lunch, with the sound of water flowing in the background. I was immersed in the serenity of nature and I made note of my happiness, in spite of my solitude. As I was eating my sandwich, the two couples made their way to the falls, we greeted each other again and I offered to take their photos. We shared a few laughs and I delighted at the opportunity for human connection with complete strangers.
A few minutes later an older lady arrived on her own. I offered to take her photo as well and then we began chatting. We immediately began talking about the adventures of hiking alone, of all of the other solo hikers that you come across, and discussed how being alone presents such a great opportunity to connect with other people along the way. I was happy to connect with her in such a way and I felt proud of myself for venturing out on my own. I looked forward to whomever….or whatever… I would encounter next.
The encounter that happened next is one that would take my breath away. As I was walking down the last part of the path, almost back to the parking lot, I saw what I thought was someone’s dog, off leash, approaching me. I thought nothing of it. A few moments later, I wondered where his owners were, and realizing that there was nobody in sight, it occurred to me that it may not have been a dog at all. I heard it rustling around in the woods just to the side of me, so I stopped and cautiously peeped into the brush to take a closer look. That is when I realized that I was only a few feet away from a wild bobcat! Now, anyone that knows me, knows that I am not only a supreme animal lover, but I am also a huge lover of cats, having two kitties of my own.
My mom will tell you that as a kid, I was always the one who would stay in the petting zoo for hours, and that I had no fear at all of any of the animals. I was the kid that would constantly bring home wounded squirrels and bunny rabbits, attempting to nurse them back to health with an eye dropper. My mother was of course always worried about me getting rabies, but I never had any fear. I knew that I had a deeper connection to the animal world and that I was attuned to their energies. So when I found myself face to face with a bobcat, once again, I had no fear. This was probably a good thing, because had I been fearful, the cat would have sensed that and would likely have reacted more negatively towards me. Instead, he was cautious and moved away from me slowly, keeping his eyes locked on me the entire time.
I watched him with absolute awe and wonder, observing in him the very same behaviors that I see daily in my own cats. I admired the pointy tufts on his ears and the beautiful spots on his coat, and watched, fully captivated, as he moved gracefully and with great agility, up through the trees and brush and eventually onto the upper ledge of the hill beside me. For me this was an unforgettable moment that I will carry with me for the rest of my life; a powerful moment of connection with the natural world.
Absolutely thrilled with my magical encounter, I got back in my car and headed south down The Pacific Coast, continuing along my journey. Anyone who has ever traveled The Pacific Coast Highway knows that there is no shortage of mind-blowing, breathtaking vistas, all along the way. For that reason, one generally takes their time, pulling off to the side of the road often to take in dramatic views. At one point, while I was driving along, I saw a bunch of people pointing up at the sky. I pulled off the road to see what they were looking at. It turned out this was a prime location for spotting the great California Condor and there was a gaggle of birdwatchers, waiting patiently with their binoculars. I stopped and looked for a while, but after not spotting any, I hopped back in the car and continued on my way.
And then, there it was. As I was cruising down the highway, I looked up and saw him soaring directly overhead, a graceful, powerful Condor. Such majesty, such absolute freedom. I imagined myself flying like a bird, high above the Earth, taking it all in. I felt my spirit once again expand at the great fortune of having yet another beautiful connection with nature. Filled with amazement and gratitude, I continued on my way.
A little further along the highway, I stopped to take a picture at another fantastic vista point. And low and behold, there was the pair of couples from my first hike. We greeted each other again and this time chatted more about where we were from, where we were going, etc. I would bump into these same couples two more times over the course of my three-day journey, and each time we laughed with delight at the synchronicity; each time it confirmed for me the interconnectedness of all beings on this Earth. How wonderful it is to connect with other people, to get to know a little bit about complete strangers, reminding me once again that although I was traveling by myself, I was never alone.
After taking in another marvelous vista, I got back in my car and continued on my way, a smile on my face. I coasted around the windy, curvy highway, having an absolute blast driving my stick-shift, the windows down, the music blaring, and the wind blowing through my hair. I thought to myself, “it doesn’t get any better than this.” A few moments later, I rounded a bend, and in the turn-off to my left, I saw a man with his Great Dane. The dog was up on his hind legs and the man was dancing with him. I laughed out loud… and then my eyes filled with tears… tears of joy.
I realized in that moment that life is not about what we’ve accomplished, how much money we make, or about any of the material things we’ve amassed. It is not about whether we are alone or with another. It is about connection: connection with other human beings, connection with animals, connection with spirit. It is about living in the present moment, and taking in the beauty, the magic, and mystery that surround us at every moment. It is about the experiences that leave an indelible mark on our soul. It is about the moments that take our breath away. It is about living. And it is about dancing with your dog…