All By Myself – The Tao of Being Alone

November 22, 2007

(Somewhere in the upper reaches of 14,000 ft / Cartenz Pyramids / Irian Barat – The Tallest Mountain in Oceania)

Few know the joys of cycling alone in distant corners of the world – it started for me very much in the way a man pulls a loose thread on his jumper only to watch it all unravel. I first started, soloing about four years ago when circumstances compelled me to ride all by myself in Bukit Timah – usually during the early hours before dawn.

Since then, I cycled in Nepal, through the Khyber pass and right out of the Ukraine and 10 other places, all by myself – can’t describe the allure of soloing, except to say, the experience is rendered sharper and heightened considerably by doing it solo. Maybe it has something to do with the danger, real or imagined, they are considerably amplified when one is all alone. Then again, it may be closer to the imagination.

However when you speak to most folks who ride alone, they all tell about that rich and intensely focused state that one slips into. I know some moments along the trail are stretched, but where extreme concentration is needed, one feels almost like entering some deeply profound meditative state.  

Hopefully, I do come across as really Deepak Choprak-ish. Now I know only too well, what the politics of soloing carries with it : ethos, philosophy, spiritual quest etc. These differences are usually heightened when the soloist comes across a group, it doesn’t matter whether its on a deserted beach front, mountain promontory or even in the trail – the moment, they see you and you see them, it’s like a vampire thing and they just know, you gone bad and you’re too far into the black to ever come back. People who like to knot in clumps have their politics and philosophy – they flesh it out just the same as folks who regularly do stuff all by themselves. Usually it makes for uneasy bed fellows – for one the whole idea of the soloist represents the quintessential rebel or someone who just has a problem with either themselves or the whole world (that could be why, so many serial killers are loners) – I don’t find this view strange, in fact, I even agree with it, only because in my solo jaunts, there are times when I do come across people like myself – usually, these lonely encounters offer the opportunity of camp fire, a hot meal, but more importantly, it’s a mirror that allows me to see myself for who I really am (gives the meaning, talking to yourself an entirely new meaning lah). 

When we meet in either mountain faces or lonely country roads, its usually an embarrassing affair, like two stray cats eyeballing each other – there’s always that uncomfortable lull when one of us feels the personal bubble is suddenly being invaded by another, but eventually, we get to exchange either granola bars or inner tubes or something and that’s when we begin to break the ice, if we don’t end up killing each other. Usually the conversation meanders here and there, then it gets to the meaty part, “why do you do the things you do all by yourself? Hey, don’t you know a man could slip, fall and die here all by himself and no one will even know it?” The last part per-forces the sense of isolation – “all by himself (yourself) and no one will even know it?” Even now it sounds like some secret fraternity for the damned or something – much can be said about why people do the things, they do alone – some are just embattled with their faith, family and themselves – they don’t have a choice, their views about life relegates them to square pegging in a world that only recognizes round pegs. I know the feeling that comes from being different and the sensation of always looking in from the outside. You could say, I am even permeated with that spirit of estrangement and isolation – at first one tries to fit in (usually in the first 20% part of life), but after a while like solitary confinement, that discomfort zone just grows on you and the next thing you know, you need it more than it needs you – usually it comes somewhere when you’re figured out how to make your own money while being able to say, “fuck off” to the world – once you reach that point, there’s no incentive to fit in, not even the slightest impulse to even accommodate, seek approval or even pretend to be nice – you’re just an incorrigible loner and probably a first class bastard by then – damaged goods.  I guess that’s also the point when one can more less indulge in all sorts of meditative states to explain why one should climb, ride or sail alone in the way crazy people start hearing voices or something – it doesn’t take a whole lot of ingenuity either, trust me – I have stood at the edge at the edge of  desolation watching the Russian steppes, seen St. Elmo’s fire as it blazed languidly on the mast turning everything opalescent green and blue, it’s a surreal place that can only amplify everything associated with doing stuff all by myself – it sharpens the dimension to the elements, the trail, mountain and eddies all acquires a vividness that one can only perceive amid silence.  There in the cocoon of being secured there is only you and no one else, one is infused with a sense of purity of thought and action – you don’t have the luxury of bullshitting yourself or even feel the need to negotiate happy terms with your ego. In that place, where one is framed in total isolation, there’s only one over powering reality – if you fuck up, you will die and there are no safety nets here, no 911 rescue calls, that’s as good as it gets  – no point in even flaying your arms or shouting for help if something goes terribly wrong – you made the choice and you’re in the thick of it – and if you find yourself on a ledge running out of rope or having to negotiate a cold front, its just too bad – you’ve got to just suck it in take a quick compass bearing, check off your map and simply make the best of a hopeless situation.  At the end of the day I guess what I am trying to say in a round about way is – as much as I am trying to convince myself and you, being alone is matter of choice, its hardly a matter of choice: it just a way of journeying through life, may not be best way, or even the way, it should be, but once, a way is a way, nonetheless–  and if there is any solace, it is maybe only this : when one is alone, one only gets what one brings to the moment, should you bring nothing of your own, it would all amount to mere rocks and snow piles – that could be the only reason why bringing a good book along goes a long way to take off the edge in those desolate jaunts – the first lesson reading teaches is how to be alone.  

Darkness 2007 

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