Two kinds of loneliness

Is it wrong to feel lonely?

Text and drawing by Frits Ahlefeldt, Hiking.org

illustration of man sitting by a tree alone on a hill with cars all around him down on the road around the hill
Two kinds of loneliness illustration, by Frits Ahlefeldt

In surveys more and more people states that they often feel lonely and have no close friends. This is especially –  and a bit strange – a growing problems in the large urban centers, where there are people all around. On the hiking trails and in nature solo-hikers can feel lonely as well, but I wonder if it is a very different kind of loneliness, even though it can be as challenging

Two kinds of loneliness

In the city you have too many options of relating, so many that you have to ignore 99% or more of them. Ignoring that you are surrounded by thick and steady stream of others, in their cars, in the buses, in the elevators, escalators, shops, windows etc.

On the hiking trails solo-hiking is ( in most places ) very different. Most of the time you will be alone, with zero options of relating to other people. You will have the landscapes, the stream of your own thoughts and the rhythm of your foot steps to relate to. Then occasionally another human being will appear, you smile, say hello, maybe talk for a minute, walk along or hang out, as long as you feel like. Then you will be back alone.

City loneliness vs Trail loneliness

But this way of being alone seems in many ways to be different from the way you will be alone in a crowded street, in rush hour back in the city. Somehow it almost seem like it is more difficult to deal with or escape loneliness the more people you are surrounded by.

Hikers on remote trails sometime tell stories of how their loneliness got too much, how they really wanted to get back into a city, just to sit with a coffee on a small cafe’  and watch people for a few hours.

But when doing this, then after a few hours ( or days ) they are often ready to head out again, back to being alone on the trails. No doubt that most of us need both chances to be alone and to be with, meet and enjoy relating to other people.

And many of the most successful hiking trails invite hikers to a balance between walking alone and resting with other hikers.

In the city you are more likely to spend your days walking among countless other people, in over crowded places, or resting alone, passive in your own apartment. The exact opposite situation from life on the trails. And maybe that is why people in the cities can experience  a very different and chronic feeling of loneliness, instead of a moving and shifting loneliness-balance between being with people and alone on the trails

So is it wrong to feel lonely?

If the thoughts here make sense, it depends on what kind of loneliness.

Chronic loneliness is not “wrong”, it is very real and a fast growing problem – especially so in the most crowded places and cities, with the most humans around.

But loneliness should be a good feeling, a solitude feeling that gives you a chance of social withdrawal, to listen to yourself. But also a feeling that makes you look forward to relate to, laugh and smile with other people again, in a healthy balance.

A balance that people often find outdoors, both solo-hiking or just heading up on the nearest hill, forest, stream or beach, for a stroll, enjoying the feeling of being alone for a moment or a day

Story links about loneliness and hiking:

Link to hikers and their stories about experiencing loneliness on the hiking trails:

Willow Belden on The Colorado Trail:  500-mile-solo-hike-put-an-end-to-my-loneliness
Safarijo: Depression and Loneliness on the PCT  ( Pacific Crest Trail )

Russel Mease  Fear Of Loneliness – The #1 Killer Of Thru-Hiker Dreams