Monday, June 16, 2014

99. Being the Only Humans for Miles

STOP WHAT YOU'RE DOING. Well, don't stop reading this. But if you're doing something else, like petting your dog or eating a sandwich or picking your nose, QUIT IT. I am going to ask you to do something and it requires your undivided attention. Unless the thing that you're also doing is something totally awesome (like petting your dog or eating a sandwich or picking your nose), in which case, carry on.  This doesn't necessarily require your undivided attention. Unless you're driving or operating heavy machinery right now, and in that case, you are being very unsafe. I just want you to stop and really think about this question:

How many people are within a 1 mile radius of you right now?

I can't pinpoint exactly where my readers live, so it's possible that you live marooned on a tiny uncharted island off the coast of Newfoundland, that somehow has internet access, and the only other living creatures in a 1 mile radius are your 17 cats and a barracuda that you have named Phil the Destroyer that continually circles your island hoping you fall in the ocean so he can keep YOU underwater as a pet named Sparky the Skeleton.

But with the exception of that person, the rest of you probably have at least several people within a 1 mile radius of you right now. Even if you live in a small town, odds are there are at least several hundred people pretty close by. If you live in a big city, there are definitely thousands of people in very close proximity to you. You're probably not interacting with very many of them at any given time, but they exist. They're all zooming about from one place to another. Or perhaps some of them are sitting very still. And, as odds and physics would dictate, the rest of them going at some speed in between those two speeds.

When in your life have you had less than 50 people in a 1 mile radius of you?

This is both a rhetorical and literal question. If you HAVE been in such a remote place, please do leave a comment and let me know, because I am very curious. Maybe you took a rowboat to the middle of the Atlantic ocean!? Maybe you've gone to the moon!?

I cannot say for certain that we were ever truly in a remote place along any point of the Appalachian Trail. Even though the trail cuts a 2,186 mile swath out of 14 states, that swath is long, but not very wide. But I can say it's pretty likely that at least once or twice during those 6 months, my hiking partners and I were the only homo sapiens within at least a mile. Maybe it was only for a moment. But it happened.

The funny thing is, inside a bubble of wilderness, it's not quiet. It's just not the same human noise that we've all grown accustomed to. The forest is alive and full of sounds. Breathing, singing, calling, flying and jumping sounds that we can't hear back in our towns because either the cars are too loud or the cars have run over all the critters that make those sounds. There is a language to nature into which, if we're lucky, we can immerse ourselves.

There are many kinds of long-distance hikes, and some of them bring you through villages, towns and cities, while others march you through swamps and deserts (or desserts, which would be WAY BETTER). I hope that at some point you can take yourself on a journey that puts you in the middle of a place where you are the only human for miles. Don't get me wrong, I am a very social creature, and I love being surrounded by a supportive community of people. But as our population gets bigger it feels like our world gets smaller and smaller, and anywhere you stand, there's someone standing just a few feet away.

Voluntary, temporary loneliness: a good way to learn that you aren't really alone.

Photograph by Michael Wilson "Dumptruck"
We can't identify who this hiker is! But he was an AT thru-hiker, class of 2013.

Clever Girl


  1. I'm pretty sure I qualify for the only 2 people in a 1 mile radius, which might as well be the moon. Check this lat/long: 25.937126, -81.004782 as its somewhat close (I don't own a GPS) to the area I backpacked out to on the Florida Trail with a hiking buddy, who I only meet the weekend before. Which in retrospect, maybe not the best life choice (I hope my mom doesn't read this and he's now on of the regulars I hike with). And yes, its was ankle to knee deep mud/swamp.

    I do have to say, not hearing another soul, that far out in the woods, was pretty amazing. And the night was super clear, we could just barely make out the faint edges of the milky way that night!

    1. That sounds wonderful, and so beautiful.

      That's the thing about hiking buddies. Usually you only have to know them for a day before they become hiking buddies. I completely know what you mean!

  2. The most remote place I've been has been the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota. Three trips out of Ely and one out of Grand Marais. Aside from our group, there is a good chance we were the only people within a mile at some point. On those four trips, the most people within a mile of our group was probably fifteen. Ten on two campsites across the lake and another group passing through in their canoes.

    1. That sounds like so much fun! I never even been to Minnesota. Which one of those three trips did you most enjoy?

    2. I don't know if I enjoyed one more than another. Each trip has their own highlights:
      -Watching a meteor shower with no light pollution.
      -Swimming to rescue the canoe which somehow blew off shore.
      -Seeing a northern hit my lure right as I was about to pull it out of the water.
      -Swimming underneath a waterfall.
      -Getting lost on a river of all things. Then racing to get to a campsite and set up before dark.
      -Day trips.
      -Portaging up a big hill/small mountain with a canoe on my shoulders. It was big enough to have switchbacks on the downhill side.
      -Not in the woods, but the freaky crackhead motel in Duluth.

      Both towns are fun to spend time in prior to going into the woods, but I like Ely a little better.

      Each trip has one thing in common. Nothing tastes better than the burger and beer you get when you come back to town after a week in the woods.

  3. My family, Kay, my wife and kids, Laura and Clint and I have taken a couple of fly-in fishing trips to Northern Ontario,Canada. We drove from our home in Ohio, thru Michigan, crossing into Canada at Sault St. Marie. From there we drove north east to Chapleau and met our floatplane and flew north for 45 or so minutes into the wilderness area where there are many lakes, no roads and a railroad snaking thru the area. Our plane landed on a lake where there was only the cabin we stayed in for a week. The pilot was the only person we saw during our stay; he came back mid week to check on us and came back to pick us up at the end of our stay. I'm sure there was no one close to us and other folks were on lakes in the area but not within a mile of us. We did hear the sounds of the train going through the area a couple times during the week. It was a great trip.

    1. WHOA, that is no joke, you were absolutely in the wilderness. That sounds like it was a gorgeous place, and a perfect adventure.

  4. My hubby now (BFat the time) spent a few days (2008) in the Otter Creek Wilderness area in West VA. We walked 10 miles into the forest and only saw a few people on our way in. We had a wonderful, grassy campsite by Otter Creek and it poured on and off for a few days while we there. Needless to say we got real chummy in our Hubba Hubba. Nude potty breaks to save our clothes, middle of the night deck card memory game and trail mix tummy designs. I think those few days were the moment that we knew we were made for one another. The silence was magical and frightening all at the same time but also a since of freedom and relief. We never saw another person again until we made it back to the jeep and drove 10 miles. One word - Xanadu.....