As part of an Outward Bound expedition, I lived on a rock jetty off the coast of Hurricane Island, Maine, for three days alone with minimal provisions—tarp, a bagel, an apple, and trail mix. Here’s how going truly off the grid changed my perspective on travel.
My braces were not yet off when I learned the importance of immersive travel and self-reflection. I was on an Outward Bound sailing expedition off the coast of Hurricane Island in Maine with a group of ten girls and two boys—one of whom was devastatingly handsome and looked like he belonged in the Backstreet Boys. In the late 90s, looking like a boy band member was the highest form of compliment, so my moments of inner contemplation at sea were slightly addled by that distraction. Despite my teenage infatuation, though, the experience of going truly off the grid changed my perspective on travel, illustrated the importance of time spent alone, and helped me find ways to remain present during my adventures.
It was the summer after freshman year of high school, and the trip was forced upon me by my mother, who herself had completed several expeditions. Throughout the two weeks, we jumped in the freezing Maine water every morning before dawn, swam laps around the pulling boat, slept atop the oars at night, and used the “head” at the bow of the boat as our bathroom—which was embarrassing in and of itself. The grueling experience was set to end with three days spent solo on a rock jetty with minimal provisions: a tarp, a bagel, an apple, a handful of trail mix, and a notebook.
I’d been dreading the solo portion since the moment I arrived at Hurricane Island. The rocky, forested island off Penobscot Bay had a forbidding name, though not as forbidding as the days alone with my thoughts. I was painfully insecure, so being alone to reflect on my life seemed like my own personal hell. But, actually, it turned out to be an incredible learning experience.
I’d unwittingly revealed myself to be a strong rock climber and nimble on the ropes course, so I was given the most daunting of campsites—a near-vertical cliff overlooking the sharp rocks below. The shoreline was far from sandy, with whirlpools between the mossy, slippery stones. It rained the very first night, and the tarp I set up collapsed on top of me. I spent the hours until morning huddled on a rock, staring out at the horizon until I could finally differentiate water from sky in the blackness.
The second night, I awoke to the sounds of an animal lurking near my sleeping bag. Terrified, I played dead—and wished I was, in fact, dead. (Twenty-four hours of hunger pains induces some melodramatic thoughts.) Moments later, I heard the laugh of a friend of mine. He’d been searching for me from his solo spot on the island—growing just as restless as I was. Though he was not the Backstreet Boy, I was so excited to see a familiar face that I gave him my bagel as a farewell present. A very unwise decision in retrospect, I would rue the loss for the remaining time.
Throughout the three days, I occupied myself by keeping a journal and writing a letter to myself to read when I was twenty-five. I reread it recently and laughed about how so many of my concerns really have remained the same—friends, boys, what am I doing with my life? But the writing became less superficial, less the ramblings of a nervous mind, as the letter went on. I added to it day after day. On the final day, I wrote about how grateful I was for this trip and detailed plans for other adventures to take over the years. I’m still crossing off that list.
Most importantly, I started reflecting on my family and musing about the friends I’d made the past week. In other words, I started to think less about myself: a huge boon to any teenage girl. Ironically, when I stopped my self-obsessing, I discovered something equally alien: self-love, or at the very least, self-appreciation.
I had never felt more thoroughly myself as I did at the end of my solo adventure. Even though this was the Dark Ages before Instagram and cell phones, being away from all the distraction was still impactful on my attention-rattled adolescent brain. It helped me to be self-reliant, and to be comfortable with the self-doubt that plagues you at your loneliest moments. At first, my mind spun with anxiety, but at that age, it was with longing: for more friends, more experiences, to quote Drake, “more life.” Now, as a young adult, I feel as if life is happening—everything is happening—far too quickly for me to truly be in the moment. All these years later, I’ve discovered that such alone time is even more important, because both anxieties require the same remedy: to be still.
Finished with my solo excursion, I ate four lobsters on the final night of the trip. I would later become allergic, but the decadence in that moment was absolutely perfect. I left Maine exhausted yet invigorated. I had discovered that I was tough, strong, brave. And shouldn’t travel always do that? Remind us not just of who we are, but who we can be.
Read more about eye opening travel experiences at Find Your Unknown
Related Links (from Eagle Creek blog):
5 Day Hikes To Check Out In Acadia National Park
How to Plan a Safe Solo Trip
Inspiring Traveler Tales From Around the World