The Art of Solo Expeditions

The romance of solo canoeing stems from the idyllic environments one might encounter while travelling on the land. Photo/ David Jackson

If you’ve ever wondered why iconic paddlers often speak romantically of their time spent solo, it might not be those moments of mirrored lakes and moonlit fires that have them spellbound. The subtle truths of going alone on the land are riddled in opportunities to experience heightened senses as they relate to personal accountability. We spend time testing our strengths and we learn to adapt our weaknesses; when we are alone, our shortcomings are prudent reminders of lessons we need receive. While we dream on the beauty, a solo trip is the secret to becoming a better, more reliable team member down adventure’s winding road. Here are a dozen photos to illustrate the nuances of venturing out alone:

Every portage takes a paddler deeper into their journey, a vestige to the fleeting relationship we hold with ourselves. As we tread further into natural environments alone, we listen and operate with heightened senses.

As our senses adapt, we become further receptive to the signs of safe passage and tend to heed warnings from the land. An eagle gliding ahead on your path might urge you to keep moving, while wind high on the treetops might motion you to safe harbor.

Alone, one must calculate risk and be aware the danger of incident. While traveling up a river, some rapids might best be attained by lining the edges, others, we portage.

Romance is everywhere when on the land, but the charm is always different. Nights alongside glassy lakes on sandy beaches, no bug buzz as it’s fall time, is as romantic a scene as a solo paddler can dream.

Romance, however, is overshadowed often by the will of the land. A rain storm might help wash the wrinkles from our soul, but the secrets exists in the lessons learned from myriad weather. The deepest experiences on a trip reside in the moments which follow adversity.

Being alone has inherent risks no-one can avoid, but technology softens the barrier to going out. Devices like an InReach will not only provide you with SOS support, they allow you to send texts and locations to the people who care for you. Even if you’re a purist, it’s on the solo traveller in 2018 to keep family and friends informed.

The hardest part of traveling alone is recognizing the gravity of our vulnerability. Accidents made could be our last and many a travelers go out to never return. Scars are reminders of our lessons.

The finest joy of any trip might be the days and weeks we spend paddling and portaging up rivers. Each time we wade up a swift, we’ve stood at the bottom dreading the task ahead. But patience is a muscle and rivers are elaborate puzzles. Each time a rapid is gained, we’ve proved our deepest doubts meaningless against the weight of our resilience. Understanding ourselves is to go up a river so that we may go down it.

What a solo trip can cultivate in us is the ability to be a better team member across life’s winding trail. Traveling alone means the culmination of all skills from cooking to camp prep, critter deterrence to harboring happiness. We rely on ourselves to create our own environments for success, which makes us a stronger asset during a team venture on the land.

Often times the stars are beacons of connection. We can wonder about the people we love and if they are looking at the same sky, or we can reminisce of journeys passed. The hardest of nights alone are the ones of deep silence, where no wind rustles, every breaking twig gives our stomach butterflies, and the deepest reveal of our vested fears dance in the shadows and twinkle in the stars.

In the mornings after a long night, we can live out our dreams. The fog is rising, the world is quiet, and the romance of our solo foray is the fruit we’ve picked.

When the stars align, traveling on the land is the freedom to roam. We slither along rugged shorelines, we dance through paintings, and the calculations of our burdens equate to our existence in ephemeral magic.

— Last year, C&K Contributing Photographer David Jackson canoed 2/3 of the way across Canada while photo-documenting the efforts of repeat cross-Canada voyageur Mike Ranta. Then he paddled solo from Lake Superior’s north shore back home to the Ottawa Valley. Check out more of Jackson’s canoe tips and correspondence with a searing look into how paddlers protested at Standing Rock, a photo essay of Canada’s oldest canoe manufacturer, and coverage from 2014’s Waterfall World Championship.

The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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