There’s this thing about traveling by yourself that invigorates the soul. Last weekend, I went on a last-minute work trip to San Saba, Texas, population 3,100, for a story in an upcoming issue of the magazine I work for. My job Thursday evening through Saturday morning was to soak in the town’s atmosphere and experience anything they had to offer for tourists. Basically, it was a mini-vacation. Not too shabby in terms of work assignments I’ve been given.
I invited my boyfriend initially (the folks who set it up said I could bring him), but with his work schedule and some other things happening, he wasn’t able to go. So, naturally, I invited my best friend next. She could go at first, but then some time conflicts came up with her, too, and I was left packing up my car Thursday afternoon by myself and getting on the road with a couple podcasts to keep me company. I’m not going to lie; I was kind of nervous.
I’ve taken road trips by myself — I drove myself home from my summer in Nashville a few years ago, which is a lo-ooong drive, but I didn’t mind. I actually enjoy time alone in the car with my thoughts or mellow music, getting to take in the scenery and speeding as much or as little as I’d like without commentary. So it wasn’t the drive itself I was worried about because, usually, anytime I’ve done a road trip on my own, I’d meet someone I know at the destination.
It was more the feeling of uncertainty once I got there that made me anxious. I had a vague itinerary: a couple wineries to visit, a hiking spot to some waterfalls, shops to browse around in. But I knew no one in this little Texas Hill Country town and would be staying in a hotel room on my own for, I think, the first time ever. I wasn’t worried about my safety whatsoever (minus the slight possibility that the historic hotel I was staying in might be haunted). It was just a bizarre feeling, I guess: calling every shot, finding my own way, and embracing the choices that come with exploring a new place. And there are many.
The strangeness, but also beauty, of my alone-time trip hit me when I went on a hike to the Gorman Falls in Colorado Bend State Park. More accurately, it was getting to the park, rather than the hike itself, that posed a couple dilemmas. I got in the car at my adorable six-bedroom (and not in the least haunted) hotel in downtown San Saba, plugged in “Colorado Bend State Park” to Google Maps, and trusted the technology maybe too much as I got on the road for the supposed 52-minute commute.
After 30 minutes driving down undulating two-lane roads through some of the greenest and most beautiful scenery, the map advised me to turn onto a unkempt one-lane dirt road. I hadn’t seen a sign yet for the state park, but down the gravel road I drove on my happy way, singing along to country songs and getting way too excited over every cow and goat and horse I passed. (I was raised in a city, so yes, wildlife makes me very giddy.)
After a few more turns down dirt roads, the path became bumpier with potholes and unevenness, and the trees had dangling branches that scraped against my car. I started feeling unnerved as I realized a road to a state park would probably have more traffic (I hadn’t seen a soul since turning onto the first dirt road) and wear to it than the place I was driving. And then the road abruptly ended with a gate flat in front of me with extra-large “TRESPASSING” signs covering it. Definitely not the state park. (Thank you, Google Maps).
Apparently, the hill country does not have the best cell phone reception. I parked my car to get my bearings on where I could possibly be, and my map would no longer load. When I tried to pull it up, it just showed me, a dot, amid a screen of gray nothingness. The corner of my phone read, “No Service,” and that’s when my hands really got clammy.
Y’all, I’m known for having a terrible memory. I knew I’d probably turned down four or five different dirt roads over the last 20 minutes, but whether I could backtrack them was up in the air. But I didn’t really have an option, so I turned around and tried my hardest to remember certain landmarks. After a few minutes, thankfully, I had one bar of phone service and was able to look up the accurate route to the entrance of the park. (Somehow, my route led me to the backside of the grounds, way farther than I ever needed to go.)
You know that scary, guttural laugh that only really comes out when you’re alone and something truly terrifying or embarrassing (or both) happens? One of those escaped from my stomach as I wound my way through even more verdant landscapes. I probably looked slightly psychotic, but luckily, I was alone. And I did it! I had no one to lean on or ask for help in those few moments of being lost, and finding my way out of it and on the right path was so gratifying, which made the hike all the more lovely (once I finally made it).
The rest of my trip had moments like that, albeit less dramatic — moments where I was uncertain about what to do or say, and so I’d leave it up to my gut to make decisions for me. I have always felt like a strongly independent person, but I think we all have our crutches in life, whether it’s a routine or a significant other or different familiarities. Getting away from all of that really taught me to embrace a little uncertainty and unknown, which, frankly, I could use some more of.
When has life made you feel a little lost and outside of your comfort bubble? I’d love to hear in the comments below.