Picture the scene: I’m sitting up against a pile of pillows and my bundled doona on the high bed, in the van. It’s 10am on a weekday –I have to think a moment as to exactly which day it is, which is my goal on any trip. I’ve showered, breakfasted, and washed the dishes. My second coffee steams in a metal mug beside me, the fan stirs the soupy air, and I’ve succeeded in ridding the van of flies (including the bigger, biting flies that are rather too present at this otherwise perfect campsite). I have the poptop roof up with all its ventilation panels open, the rear bug netting down over the open back tailgate, and all the unscreened windows closed. It is a perfectly airy, perfectly bug-free sanctuary. I kind of want to stay here all day.
Later, though, I’ll go back down to the swimming hole in the river, the secluded one that I found by accident yesterday. It’s a bit scary, snake-wise, to get there, along an unmarked and overgrown path that narrows to where you cannot see the trail and you are stepping blindly among reeds and rushes. But once you’re there, it is perfect. PERFECT. The water is clear, cool, calm. The shade trees stand like parasols. The river rocks are textured enough for scrambling but smooth enough for sitting on, sun-lounger-like. Yesterday, unplanned and for several hours, I sat by the river’s eddies, under the trees, lounging among river-rounded rocks. There, I read a sizeable chunk of A Long Way From Home, the Peter Carey novel that’s speaking to my journey, and vice versa, in ways I hadn’t anticipated. (Book review: if you’re even vaguely interested in Australian history or car rallies, you should read this book.)
I hadn’t brought my camera, only my bathers and a sarong to sit on. I’d heard the tinkling river through the trees and I set out to find a way to access it. At the river, I stripped naked and briefly let the sun find my pale, white, rarely sunned skin. Then I pulled on my bathers, just in case, and just because, and for propriety’s sake, even though there was no-one around for miles, and the trail and the swimming hole were not signposted, and skinny dipping feels so fucking fabulous. But I haven’t swum naked for a while, and I’ve rarely done it alone, and I was a bit scared, truth be told, although I cannot articulate quite what I was scared of at that perfect spot.
Was I scared of the potentially snakey path? But I saw no snakes. Was it the deserted, unmarked swimming hole; were there, perhaps, strong currents? No, that wasn’t it. Was I afraid of the fact of being alone, of the practical fear of having left my PLB in the van —so if I slip on slippery leaf litter, say, which is a very realistic possibility as the river rocks under the surface were crazy slippery and I did have to step on them to reach the perfectly shady spot— and if I fall and break my leg, I will be stuck, miles from anyone and with no way of contacting anyone. Rationally, yes, this is a scary prospect, but I did not articulate it to myself at the time. So unless it was an unconscious fear, this was not the reason I felt vaguely but perceptibly scared.
Was I simply scared of the transgression: I was totally alone, and no one knew where I was. Even if nothing ‘happens’ (and it didn’t), was I scared that what I was doing at the very edge of what is allowable, what is normal? I was totally and perfectly alone, having arrived at this campsite alone, as part of a journey I am taking alone.
But solitude is not unusual for me: I live alone. I am un-partnered. My parents live on the other side of the planet and I am estranged from my only sibling, whose wife prefers to keep him on a short leash. (My brother occasionally calls my parents, always from work. Otherwise, his entire world is his wife and his son. To me, this emotionally enmeshed, nuclear-family life, with very little permitted outside contact, seems suffocating. But each to their own.) I am not completely alone, in life: I have very good, close friendships both in Sydney and around the world. This said, two key people have recently gotten very coupled up and two other good friends have recently left Sydney. And so I am starting to feel a bit too alone. And so maybe this is why I feel transgressive, and even slightly scared, when I am so, so alone (as I was at the swimming hole).
As a result, while being alone still feels slightly badass, recently it’s also started to feel slightly, just, bad. I mean: historically, geographically: human beings have never been so very alone. I wonder, sometimes, if I’m a weirdo, needing and enjoying this much time by myself. In some ways, as a culture, we put solitude on a pedestal: our independence is so highly valued. But while I’m still enjoying solo travels, I’m also thinking, ‘mmm, maybe there is an end date, coming soon, to all this freewheeling solitude’.
Anyway, back to the river: I stayed at the swimming hole a few hours, and I swam, and I dried out on the rocks, lizard-like. A wallaby joined me briefly, eyeing me curiously as I spoke to him/her/it in the nonsense voice reserved for animals (‘No, I don’t have a snack for you, and even if I did I wouldn’t give you it because you’re wild, yes, you are. How does it feel to be wild? Can you tell me?’) He/she/it cocked its head, listening, doglike.
By the time I left, my fear had gone and I knew it was a charmed place, a kind of magical and certainly very calming place, a sanctuary. I realise, writing this now but also sitting on the river rocks then, that I’m getting much more tuned in to how things feel: places, moods, moments. Travelling alone is really good for that.
Travelling alone is also good for this: I’m sitting in the van and I kind of want to stay here all day. But later, precisely when I feel like it, I’ll go back down to the swimming hole in the river. I will read. I will strip naked and briefly let the sun find my pale, white, rarely sunned skin. Then I will pull on my bathers and swim, and float on my back, and look up at the sky, and watch clouds change shape, and dry out on the rocks, where I might, again, discuss wildness with inscrutable wallabies. Travelling alone is good for being and doing whatever you want, at your own pace, and in your own way, whether repeating the activities of the day before or constantly reinventing your days anew.
Travelling alone is also good for writing, which I am doing a lot of now that my head has quietened from all the chaos and fury of the scene in Ballina and the too-fast trip up the coast to meet deadlines and catch up with people. I’m also finally relaxing after an exhausting few months of failing to do a big hike, coming to terms with not accessing nature, figuring out that a campervan is the answer, and, so, building one. I realise now that I have been rushing around way too much. At last, I am resting. Now that I am stopped in one place, the words are flowing from my fingertips again. Part of why I am here is to write. Travelling alone gives me the headspace I need to write, to read, and just to be.
I am questioning my mostly-alone ways. I wonder: is it perhaps time to re-enter the murky awfulness that is online dating? In my experience, it is all too often a realm of liars and fakes, a place of so much brokenness. I’ve met too many men who hope that, just maybe, they will meet a woman who will ‘fix them’, a woman who will address all the many shortcomings they perceive in their lives (In other words: these are depressed men who perceive a woman-shaped hole in their lives when they actually need Zoloft.)
All I want is someone kind, honest, and about my age; someone who is together and happy enough in his own skin. It would help if we laugh at the same stuff, that we like enough of the same things, and if he does not need me to be his audience/sidekick but is happy to have an equal. Ideally, he would also be reasonably smart (if not necessarily educated; I have no trouble with someone without much formal education as long as he doesn’t mind or belittle the fact that I did go down that route in life). While I’m wishing, I’d also like to find a man who is a do-er rather than (just) a dreamer: I mean, someone who makes stuff happen and is, as a result, an accomplished adult in whatever he feels passionate about. (I’m not interested in someone still living in a share house who hopes that, just maybe, his band might make it. I want no truck with magical thinking.)
But here’s the thing: single people, by definition, have a 100% failure rate with relationships. Even though I have lived with two men (separately!) and been engaged though never married, I have reached this point in my life where I’m thinking, again, maybe I do need to ‘put myself back out there’ because, after all, ‘it is a numbers game’ and also ‘you might just meet someone!” (Put all of this in the sugar-coated tone of your choosing, as that’s how it is usually said, ugh.)
But my past adventures in online dating have been, let’s say, sub optimal. There was the one who, I later discovered, ingested crystal meth (including sometimes before work! Power tools! Dangerous!) He who was, as a result of the drugs, very paranoid when he overheard my neighbours talking as they walked up the echoey stairs in my apartment building. On his profile it said ‘does not do drugs’. Then there was the guy who felt so bitterly wronged about his divorce that he described ex wife, a woman he must presumably once have loved, as ‘a cunt’. There was the guy in his late fifties, maybe early sixties, who said he was 40, whose profile photo was 20 years out of date, and who evidently thought that blatant lies were a good strategy (or possibly he thought he was such a catch that women would overlook his blatant misrepresentation; what an idiot). There was the guy who seemed implausibly awesome but who ghosted out of my life when I said, no, I’m sorry, I cannot lend you money. I simply do not need any of this crap.
I’m consciously enjoying the headspace and freedom that comes of travelling alone. I’m reading, writing, and letting time slip by as I watch clouds and swim in perfect rivers. Zero bickering has marred my trip: there have been exactly no squabbles about whose turn it is to drive or who finished the chocolate. My campervan is built for one, and I am comfortably travelling alone. Plenty of grey nomads do exactly this.
But one day, perhaps one day soon, I hope to acquire a queen-sized air mattress to install in an awning tent. And in this way, perhaps, I will travel and camp and hang out by perfect rivers with someone who is special (in a good way). But until I can find that special someone, and while most of the men I meet online are awful in some deal-breaking way, it’s lucky that I’m actively enjoying travelling alone. Human beings who are complete grown ups are remarkably hard to find.