Has anybody else run away to live in the woods? A question about the effects of prolonged solitude.

When I was younger than I am now, but not that much younger, I ran away from home and camped out in the woods for a week. During that time I did not see or speak to another human being. It occurred to me later that up to that point I had never gone through a single day without some kind of human contact. Even if that contact was a short phone call or some meaningless interaction with a clerk at 7-11. At the time, my goal was solitude, but I didn’t know what I was in for.
It’s a strange feeling to be startled by the sound of your own voice. To realize that nobody knows where you are and you don’t know where anybody else is either. It was if I had plucked myself out of mankind. In a way, when I was detached from civilization, I realized just how human I was. I have a hard time describing it…maybe someone more eloquent could help me out here?

What changes occur in the minds of men when they are deprived of their own kind?

Does anyone have a similar experience to share?

I read a story a couple decades ago – more a collection of first-person musings than a novel – where the author talked about a friend who moved, alone, to a house out in the desert (NM or AZ, I think). After a few months, she moved back to the city…she couldn’t stand the isolation.

The metaphor she gave was that other people provided a mirror she used to obtain a mental reflection of herself. Without that mirror, and on attempting to remember her time alone, she experienced it as an overwhelming blank. According to the retelling, she could recall the things she did on the basis of “what she had to do to live day to day” (e.g., cook, garden, bathe, etc.), but could not recall any specific event at all. Worse, as she expressed it, she had difficulty evaluating her emotional state, so tied-to-others was her personal worldview. A clever metaphor, I think – lack of the external mirror also removed her capacity for internal reflection (introspection).

Personally, I don’t find that to be the case for myself. Perhaps it is exactly because the above is such a different perspective from mine that it made such an impression on me.

A Cambodian girl who disappeared aged eight has been found after living wild in the jungle for 19 years, police say.Her plight came to light when a villager noticed some of his food had been taken and staked out the area, which is 350km (220 miles) north-east of Phnom Penh.

From BBC.
From wikipediaarticle on her.

On 25 May 2010, Rochom P’ngieng fled back to the jungle. Her father said that she went to take a bath in the well behind their house and did not return.[13] Early June she was found in an outdoor toilet about 100m from her home after a neighbour heard her crying, Sal Lou, the man who claims to be her father said.[14] “She was discovered in a 10m deep toilet. It’s an unbelievable story. She spent 11 days there,” he said, adding that her body was soaked with excrement up to her chest. “We are still wondering how she could get into the toilet” which has a small entrance hole covered in wood, he said, adding that she had been admitted to hospital following the incident.
In September 2010 it was reported that she was being taught health habits and social skills by members of the Spanish mental health organization Psicologos Sin Fronteras.

Sounds thrilling! I don’t have an experience like this yet, but I plan on trying it someday!

It can be said that too much ‘alone time’ was not a good thing for Ted Kaczynski.

As part of an Outward Bound program I spent a few days alone deep in the Colorado mountains one March maintaining a shelter and foraging for food. Frankly, I really enjoyed the solitude, isolation and time to reflect. However, I think the point you’re at in your life, the responsibilities you’ve undertaken to date, play a large part in your utilization and enjoyment of the time. One person in the program got to feeling so guilty about the family he’d left behind that he quit early and had to be ferried out.

A week though? That’d be a bit more taxing. I’ve been in places in the Yukon and far northern Alaska where there was no one within 40 plus miles but always had a pick-up place and date set beforehand. I loved that isolation and the self reliance it imposed but, again, it did not meet the duration you mention. Always dreamed of doing something like that, in a cabin over winter for instance, but have waited too long now and will never have that degree of freedom again. Pity, think of the reading you could get done.

It seems like the nature of the solitude would matter.

  • A week alone in a one room cabin in the woods (with a good pantry, reliable shelter, etc.) and no electric/electronics 400 miles from another person

as opposed to:

  • Just not leaving the house for a week, but keeping the movies, music, Xbox, books, garden, model airplane kit, cats…

Honestly I could probably do a couple months in the second scenario. The first? I’d either be really happy or really not happy. It sounds good in theory, but it seems like for every person who says the experience was wonderful there are 10 others who describe it as hell.

I’ve been out an about by myself.

I like the solitude (not that I don’t like nice company either most of the time).

Sometimes I’ve also been out an about by myself doing things that are generally frowned upon as solo activities (like scuba or rock climbing).

One thing that really strikes me when I am out there by myself (even just doing simple camping or hiking) is the “don’t fuck up or you could well die from something simple” subroutine running in the back of my mind. Not that I am any more fearful or it makes the experience less pleasant. But that feeling is certainly there the whole time. Now maybe you youngsters that are used to cell phones, GPS, satellite phones/emergency beacons, and crack search and rescue teams ready to swoop in and save your behind don’t think like that, but at least back in my day I did.

My family owns a log cabin in Northern Quebec (my granddad used it as a station to study forest insects). It is quite remote from human habitations - it is on an island in the middle of a remote lake. I’ve been up there a few times on my own, without contact with others for days on end.

First thing I noticed is that I had not really overcome fear of the dark. Going outside at night is something I really had to force myself to do - my imagination peopled the night with all sorts of terrors.

I enjoy a good stretch without seeing anyone else whether it’s kayaking, hunting, or just house-sitting. There’s a huge difference between being truly alone and having a cat or a dog around though.

Some people seem to really crack up without other humans about. I just watched a series about a Scottish guy who decided to camp in Alaska for a few months, he cried on every single episode and had imaginary phone conversations with his girlfriend, it was unbelievable.

I don’t think I’ve ever gone more than a week without seeing someone else though so maybe I’d crack up a bit too.

I wonder about the world of today where folks are born into and live with nearly constant exposure to news, enertainment, and are able to communicate with other persons easily and nearly continously.

Will the vast majority of these folks be as afraid of the wild and being alone as someone who can’t swim and has never been around water before and is now in the middle of lake in a canoe by themselves?

When I read the thread title I immediately thought of Ted Kaczynski, who built that tiny hut in the wood and seemingly only stepped back into society on rare occasions to put bombs in the mail.

I was in Anaktuvuk Pass, AK, which is approaching about as remote as you can get. I thought the only way in was a several hours flight in private plane from Fairbanks as there are no roads and you’re a hundred miles from anything. Then this worn, haggard guy shows up in camp, having wandered along the river for 7 weeks until he stumbled onto us. He was recently discharged from the Austrian Army and decided to live off the land in Alaska for the summer. The last 3 days a grizzly had been stalking him so he was exhausted from a lack of sleep. He stayed in camp for 2 weeks, eating our food and rebuilding an old, discarded boat abandoned along the river edge. We visited with him most every afternoon and he seemed social and normal enough, he just had some inner need to test himself that went far beyond anything I’ve ever had cross my mind. He finally took off again in that POS boat with little more than an old pistol, a compass, a few well worn clothes and a poncho that doubled as a tent. I suppose he made it, but then again who in the world knows where his ‘it’ would have been.

Would a grizzly stalk for 3 days? Or is it at least as likely he was losing track of his marbles already?

He said stalking, at least following him though and when a grizzly follows you for days it ain’t out of curiosity. There are sure plenty of them in the area and flying in and out daily we saw what probably was it.

Did you catch the thread about people’s irrational fear of rural driving? I was flabbergasted at the number of people who didn’t leave home without a cell phone and GPS and most people in that thread were still terrified of getting lost. Unpaved roads kept coming up, as though dirt or gravel roads are scary and unnavigable.

City people are freaking strange. I’m utterly blown away by some of the things folks say on the Dope. Live and let live, I’ve got no problem with people going their own way but it really bothers me from a voter/public policy standpoint that so many people are completely divorced from my reality.

That’s a really cool story!

Fella named Henry David Thoreau did this, but nobody took much notice.

Two recollections:

  1. The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, which I used to be a member of, has cabins up in the Blue Ridge. They’re fairly pleasant, given that they’ve got no electricity or running water, but almost all of them involve a hike in with your stuff, and some of them are quite isolated.

My favorite cabin in the system is fairly close to some other PATC cabins, so if you’re there on a weekend, you’ll almost always see other people. But back then, at least, staying there during the week meant solitude. And I did do one Sunday night to Friday morning stay at that cabin, when I’d just had a breakup with the woman who had been going to accompany me there. It was enjoyable at first, but the solitude got old by the end of the week.

  1. A few decades ago, a friend and I had been going to do a car trip out west and back. He backed out at the last minute, so I did the six-week trip by myself.

I didn’t have any instances of going days without speaking to anyone: when mobile, I was driving a car, which necessitated stops for gas, and when stationary, I was generally in a National Park, state park, or National Forest campground, which meant that I usually saw somebody each day. But aside from those brief contacts, and aside from a few days along the way where I stayed overnight with relatives on my route, I was by myself for just about all day, every day.

There were some moments, particularly in the evenings after cleaning up after supper, when I really missed having someone to talk to. But that was true only a few evenings in all that time. Most of the time, I was fine with it. That trip is still one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

Years ago, my folks had a vacation house in New Hampshire, and I spent a few solo weekends there – no contact with any other humans whatsoever, except for listening to a little transistor radio. I really enjoyed it … I felt like I got out of the artificial rhythms of society and into the rhythms of nature … everything kind of gradually shades into everything else, in contrast to the clearly defined boundaries we’re used to.