The only time I feel free is when I am alone.
But what does alone mean in this world? We can be on our own, yet our phone and computer lures us, tempting us with Facebook notifications, tweets, emails, and text messages.
Despite most people needing solo time to recharge, we’ve become addicted to company. It’s not necessarily the internet we’re addicted to – it’s being in constant contact with other human beings.
Are we that afraid of being alone?
Personally, too much human interaction suffocates me.
Even from the safety of behind a computer screen, too much contact feels like electronic shackles binding me to the world.
So, my only escape is being truly alone – away from people, away from electronics, and away from the internet.
There aren’t many places left that are unfettered by access to the internet.
And I’m on the search for one.
My destination is two hours drive out of Sydney, past suburban and then rural New South Wales in Australia. I’m bound for the Blue Mountains, a dissected plateau carved in sandstone bedrock. It’s part of the Great Dividing Range – the third longest land based range in the world.
I exit the highway and take the scenic route along Bell’s Line of Road. The drive up is as beautiful as the destination, passing the forests and valleys of the Hawkesbury and the Blue Mountains.
Arriving at Echo Point, I’m met with a vast expanse of greenery. The sandstone cliffs drop into dense bushland, and bushland slopes down into the expanse of the Megalong Valley. The sunlight refracts the oils in the native eucalyptus trees, changing the color of the leaves from green to blue.
The air is clear and unpolluted. The locals say the sky changes on a daily basis: one day it’s so foggy you can’t see 50 meters in front of you, the next it’s perfectly clear, perhaps a solitary cloud in the distance. When you breathe in, you smell the scent of fresh gum trees. I feel like every breath cleans my lungs.
The walk I’m taking starts at the Giant Stairway, descends more than 1,000 feet down to the valley, curves its way along the valley floor, and winds back up to the historic railway built in the 1880s for the coalmines.
The first section of the walk is a little challenging on the quads and calves. But my cell phone reception drops out quickly, which is what I’m after. And I’m grateful for my attire – sweatpants and a sweatshirt, with sneakers. Some polished looking Japanese tourists in heels are turning around, realizing this walk requires sturdier footwear.
After a throat-burning decline down the Giant Stairway (more than 800 steps, I’m told), it’s an easy walk along the valley floor.
The foliage changes where the high rainfall and sheltered gully heads have nurtured the wet forest. Tall, open Eucalyptus trees form an over story, and a sub-canopy of Blackwood trees provide shelter for the groundcover of grass and ferns.
Beams of sunlight filter through the canopies. It seems I’m at the right time of the day, midweek, to enjoy this bushwalk on my own.
I have three hours walking.
Three, glorious hours of unfettered alone time.
At first my mind wanders to trivial things. Songs I’m listening to on my phone, recent conversations I’ve had. I’m almost fearful to waste my alone time such unproductive nostalgia.
But, I calm my thoughts.
Exercise is not Zen meditation after all. The very act of being alone and letting my thoughts wander, no matter how trivial they seem, is relaxing in itself, and worth the time.
When I reach the end of the valley floor, and arrive at the historic scenic railway to take me on a steep incline back to the top of the mountain, I realize how quickly those few hours alone elapsed. And yet how far away they already seem.
As I hope back in my car, I’m already planning my next dose of freedom in the mountains.
About the Author: Jessica is a travel blogger, a writer, and a lawyer. She loves the Australian bush and any vacations involving the ocean.
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