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The Dirtbag Adventures: Episode 3 - Reflections on Aloneness (or some zen hippy crap)
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The Dirtbag Adventures: Episode 3 - Reflections on Aloneness (or some zen hippy crap)

The Dirtbag Adventures: Episode 3 - Reflections on Aloneness (or some zen hippy crap)

In Matt’s most recent post, he reflects on the nature of talking to strangers while driving around in a big white van, and the risk/reward balance of aloneness and putting oneself out there. Keep up with all of the Dirtbag Adventures here.

When living in a van, I spend a lot of time alone. I'm alone in the car, on the trail, and in a noisy small-town dinner trying to yank words out of my brain and smear them onto this page. Aloneness has momentum to it: the more time spent by yourself, more difficult it can be to reach out and connect with others.

All across the west I've been hiking, climbing, and driving, alone. At times, I love the freedom of it, and the sense of satisfaction that comes from total self-reliance. On this trip, I started top-rope soloing, which allowed me to safely work on hard climbing routes and perfect specific movements by myself and without driving a climbing partner crazy. On hikes, I was able to pick an objective and go at my own pace, pushing myself for a workout or being incredibly lazy based on my mood. It’s great, but the more time I spend alone the more comfortable I am with it, and the less I feel inclined to try and make friends out of strangers.

dirtbag adventures
Me top rope soloing in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

When I pulled into Vedawoo, WY, it was evening and I had a full day to kill before meeting my Sara. I expected to spend the next day alone, scrambling around the area or bouldering to get a feel for the local rock. Vedawoo is beautiful, with odd, bulbous granite formations and wide cracks nested among rolling plains. I felt fine spending twenty-four hours alone, but tried to keep an open mind to meeting new friends.

I circled the campground and spotted three guys standing behind a rusty Volkswagen bus, racking up their climbing gear. I pulled up slowly, considered driving past them, then cast a nervous greeting out the car window while emotionally preparing myself to flee. I don't remember exactly what was said but it was something like:

“You guys going climbing?” Phrasing an observation as a question is a mediocre way to greet people.

“Hell yeah, where you from? There's a campsite right next to us, come on over, have a beer!” The three guys welcomed me right away. My fear turned to relief and excitement in seconds.

After brief introductions, we grabbed some gear and scrambled towards the nearest outcropping's summit. We watched a burning Wyoming sunset together and started swapping stories with the familiarity of old friends. Alan shouldered a full pack of gear "just in case" we needed to rappel something. Sean cracked jokes and told me stories as if he had no secrets in the world. Matt charged ahead, leading the way despite a broken toe, fueled only by pure stoke. That night we sat around the fire and carried on well into the night. Those three characters invited me in as one of their own.

dirtbag adventures
Alan and Matt climbing in Vedawoo, WY.

It is scary, but often chatting up strangers pays off. In the first month of cruising around in a van by myself, I talked to a couple hundred people, and it almost always paid off. There were a few moments when people responded to me with indifference or downright rudeness, which didn't feel good but didn't kill me either. And in many cases, like with Alan, Sean, and Matt, the payoff for taking to strangers was huge.

We spent the next day at Vedawoo climbing together, and a few days later I met up with them again in Jackson, WY for the Fourth of July. Matt had rigged an American flag to the roof of Hank the climbing bus, his green 1978 Volkswagen. and the three of them sat on the roof to watch the town "shoot out”. I had just rolled into town and they were rolling out, but we made loose plans to see each other again in Oregon, or Colorado, one of these days.

dirtbag adventures
Hank the Climbing Bus parked in front of the Nautilus in Vedawoo.

That night I drove up into the National Forest on the east side of the valley. There is a lookout there that showed the whole valley floor and an amazing view of the hulking, intimidating Tetons miles to the West with the sun setting behind them. A dozen or so other travelers were gathered there, and while I was tempted to crack a book and sit alone in the van I was soon chatting with folks from LA, Bozeman, Milwaukie, and New York.

dirtbag adventures
The sunset over Grand Tetons National Park.

There are moments when being alone seems easier, or when the constant turnover of faces feels melancholy. These people come and go in my life, I come and go in theirs, and it is fleeting. The more time I spend alone the more comfortable I am alone, and the more people I meet the more tempted I am to hold back from making a meaningful connection. However, as I meet all these amazing folks I'm left feeling more hopeful than sad. There are honest, kind, friendly people behind every corner, and I'm filled with joy at the thought of sharing the road and this world with them.

Read all of the Dirtbag Adventures!

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