A 500-mile solo hike to cure loneliness

The plan was to hike the Colorado Trail, a 500-mile path through the Rockies that links Denver with Durango. It crosses eight mountain ranges, travels through remote wilderness areas, and climbs nearly three times the height of Mt. Everest. Most of the trail is above 10,000 ft., so the air is thin, the danger of lightning strikes is severe, and nighttime temperatures often dip below freezing. Of the estimated 400 people who attempt the trail a given year, only about 150 finish.

A friend said, “I think you’re nuts. Traveling alone in the wilderness with wild animals and God knows what else sounds daunting. The countryside should be beautiful, but won’t you get lonely?”

It was a good question—one that many friends had asked as well. Americans are lonelier than ever before despite constant contact through digital connections and social media. Studies indicate that one in four Americans have nobody to confide in; 20% are unhappy with their lives because of loneliness; and more than one-third of adults older than 45 are chronically lonely. We are becoming increasingly isolated.

It seemed reasonable to assume that trekking alone for 500 miles, in areas with no cell phone reception and few other hikers, might leave one lonelier than ever. But loneliness and being alone are two different things.

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