Friday, October 14, 2011

On being alone, but not lonely

Warning. This blogpost is just a personal reflection on solitude. You might want to skip it if you're here for Svalbard.

One of the things I miss about Svalbard is being able to hike around on my own. There are some options like using cabins (these are often full however) or tripwire (which we don't really trust up here), but for the most part trips up here are done in groups.

What is it with the solitude that I like so much? I don't think most people really get it and to be honest. Sometimes. Neither do I.
It had been raining almost non-stop since I started to walk two days ago and now the wind was picking up. There wasn't much to see either due to the heavy fog that filled the whole valley. I wasn't really tired, just not motivated. I was cold and wet - my jacket was leaking down the shoulders and I had already gotten blisters. I passed a DNT-cabin and smoke was coming from the pipe, people inside. Still. Stopping there would be defeat. I continued.

Many times I've experienced the feeling of being cold, alone and tired. My legs are giving up and there is just no more motivation to continue. Every step is toward a goal 20meters ahead and for every 20meters you move your goal another 20 meters ahead. Sometimes I play this game for hours.
Just one more cairn... Then another... (Photo: Alexander Hovland)
Then you come home. You take a shower, get some food and put your feet on the table. Then, you realize that you want more. Why? What is it that keep pulling me back everytime?

The tent was filling with steam as the water started to boil. I was lying on my back on top of my sleeping bag just stretching my legs, my arms, feeling the tingling sensation of sore muscles. It had been a long day and I had been walking for hours just dreaming of this moment. Just a few meters more.

There is something special about being able to crawl into the tent after a hard day. You know you've pushed yourself as hard as you could. There is no question, no doubt about it. And even the shittiest cup of coffe tastes better than anything you ever dreamed off.

Some much needed food (Photo: Alexander Hovland)

However, this does not answer why I prefer the solitude of it. Would it not be better to actually share this moment with someone? Sometimes. But I think some of the reward is in that you've actually accomplished this by yourself. Do I need to prove something to myself? To others?

Tired... And wet... Reindeers in the background thought. (Photo: Alexander Hovland)

I tend to think quite a lot when I walk around. About the big stuff, and about the small stuff. It does not take long before I start talking to myself. I am not sure if I do this loud or if it is just inside my head. I am not even sure if it is sane. 
Why? Why Alex? Why the hell did you not cross further down? It is slippery. It will take hours to pass this shit. You're such an idiot Alex. Damn it. Why did you not just stick with the path?
I often argue with myself on longer trips. When you're all by yourself you sort of need to fill all the social roles yourself. You need someone to blame, someone to joke to and someone to talk to. 

It is not that you despise other people. Quite the opposite. There's this special feeling when you suddenly hear other people again. Your heart starts racing, and you listen with every sense. Where are they? How many are they? Did you actually hear them? Are they coming closer? 

You do get very social by being unsocial and it is not hard to talk when you finally meet. You really learn to appreciate these moments. 

Simplicity is probably a good keyword when trying to understand it all. As you wake up, you know what you're supposed to do. You have clearly defined goals which result both in internal and external rewards which reinforce that behavior.

As soon as you introduce other people it gets more complicated. At least for me. I think most people would describe as a sort of lone wolf. It is not that I can't enjoy group-activities. I just prefer not using too much time on it and I prefer smaller groups  rather than big groups. Prefer is a keyword thought and sometimes (often?) I choose not to participate.
Do I ever feel alone on my trips? Actually. I often do, but that is what makes it so rewarding to actually meet people again. It is almost like starving yourself to preserve your appetite for a good meal.

There's an ad for the Norwegian phone company Telenor which is starring the famous Norwegian polar explorer Børge Ousland. Sadly it is only in Norwegian, but I've transcribed it below.

"Loneliness is a strange thing
I remember the feeling when I was walking alone to the North pole... Or the south pole... And did not have contact with anyone for months.
But the weird thing is that I'm feeling exactly the same now. I've forgotten my cell phone at home and I feel more alone then I did on the North pole or the Southpole. That is something new for me. It was not like this before.
What if everyone forgot their cell phone or computers at home for one day?  Then I think we'd have an outbreak of collective loneliness. And it is weird how quickly we've become dependent of being available. Everywhere. All the time.
Not being available has become almost a luxury today. At least it is like that for me. Because it is a bit nice to actually being able to choose yourself when you want to be lonely. "
... and you have moments like this (: (Photo: Alexander Hovland)
There is a huge difference between being alone and being lonely. Being alone does not necessarily  imply loneliness. Sometimes the most lonely place on earth is in the middle of a crowd. 

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