Looking up lonely in the dictionary presents several less than flattering definitions. Some will be blunt and define the term as “sad because one has no friends or company”. Others will be gentler and define lonely as merely “unfrequented, remote or solitary”. The adjective is not one we couple with travel often.
Travel is filled with company, new friends, new places and new ideas on the world. Generally looked at negatively, I don’t think I am alone, ironically, in saying lonely travel is not what we strive for on our travels. I want to feel apart of a place and people, not outside of it. The reality for travelers is that we are never insiders. You can try and try, but no matter where you go, there will still be those lingering indicators you aren’t from around here.
Not being one to seek out loneliness, I strangely took a road defined as “The Loneliest Road in America”. Back in 1986, Life Magazine gave US Highway 50 in Nevada this title. The loneliest highway runs for 287 miles with only a handful of major towns in between next to nothing. You can go for miles and miles without seeing a car, building or any trace of life besides a lone coyote crossing this stretch of road. Back when Nevada’s Highway 50 received this title, AAA cautioned drivers to avoid this road, saying they would need “survival skills” to make the trip. I packed up my survival skills, mostly consisting of a cooler full of snacks and headed out to find lonely travel is its best form.
Isolated Stretches Cleanse The Mind
On this lonely road, I would come to the tops of hills and see for miles. No cars. No people. No signs of life. Me, myself and I traveled through this isolation. In a world where there is so much chaos, so much clutter and every inch of space filled, the mind can become clouded. Lonely travel or in essence, finding these stretches of isolation can allow the mind to wander, to clean up and focus without all of the clutter.
Nothing Towns Are Never Nothing Towns
Along Highway 50 in Nevada, there are only a handful of towns, Fallon, Austin, Eureka and Ely to be exact. Driving through each of these towns after miles of nothing, they seemed all the more memorable, all the more meaningful. In Austin, named for the city in Texas apparently, an old hand painted sign welcomes you to the town. I popped in a café where two “cowboys” chatted over a Monday morning cup of coffee. It didn’t seem real, a place with just saloons and a slew of historic old buildings. If you blink, you might even miss the town. Lonely travel can only help the traveler see that in nothing, there is in fact something. Traveling just for the extraordinary tends to cloud our appreciation for the simple.
Chills of Loneliness Provide Connection
The Loneliest Road in America has a few quirky roadside attractions. From a mountain made of sand to a hidden cave of petroglyphs, in the lonely, there is much to see. I had heard about the Old Shoe Tree along this stretch, a lone cottonwood covered in shoes from travelers passing along just like myself. As this stretch of road has very few trees, I was curious to see this roadside attraction. Upon reaching it, I found it wasn’t as it had seemed. Six months ago, vandals apparently butchered the quirky roadside attraction.
It appeared locals and other travelers were trying to start the tradition again of throwing one’s shoes on to the branches of a cottonwood tree. In a ditch right near these two remaining trees, all you could see were fallen shoes. Being the only one around for miles, chills came over me, chills that I wasn’t alone. Like so many others before me, this lonely road was not so lonely. When you can find connections in lonely travel, it is all the more powerful, all the more meaningful. You might be traveling America’s loneliest road or some other lonely stretch, but the connections are still ever-present.
Have you ever tried lonely travel? What are your benefits behind finding the remote and isolated?