Why is this interesting? - The Solo Edition

On nature, parenting, and solo adventures

John Peabody (JP) is a creative strategist at The Atlantic and a freelance writer. He publishes the Hand & Eye a blog and weekly newsletter. - Noah (NRB)

John here. I’m all for the Dutch tradition of “Dropping” where pre-teen children are left in the woods at night and tasked with finding their way home. And while I would have also pitched this story to the New York Times, I probably wouldn’t have called it “peculiar”. Dropping reminds me a lot of my “Solo” on Outward Bound, which was a defining moment of my teenage years. Like a dropping, I was left on a remote piece of the Maine wilderness to survive and just be for three days.

Why is this interesting?

The Solo has been a capstone piece of the Outward Bound experience since it was founded by Kurt Hahn some 75 years ago. He believed that regular intervals of solitary silence were key for growth in learning. The Solo is also a bit of a tradition in my family. My mother went on Outward Bound and did her Solo on Hurricane Island, where she ate snails for sustenance (I opted for the optional food ration on mine; a peanut butter and jelly bagel and some trail mix). 

Before my Solo, I doubt I’d ever spent a night alone. Maybe I was left alone at the house for one, but the fridge was stocked and a phone nearby. On the Solo, you’re by yourself. You don’t have a phone or any technology. It’s just a sleeping bag, a tarp, some water, and a small food ration if you like. I realize today what a privilege this experience was. How rare is it to actually get to spend multiple days by yourself alone in nature? 

When I was dropped at my site it began pouring. I didn’t have a tent, but I quickly strung a tarp up between some trees and tucked into some rocks underneath it. The rain came down hard and there was thunder and lightning for hours. I felt exposed, but also secure because I was dry and warm. If you’ve ever been in a dry tent during a deluge you know the feeling. I was so exhausted from weeks of hiking the Appalachian trail, I fell asleep right in the middle of the storm and woke up the next day by myself in the woods. I learned that night I could pretty much sleep through anything.

During the following days, I wandered the area, read a little, and spent hours with my thoughts. It was at times meditative, relaxing and boring. In the end, when my instructor came to tell me I’d completed my Solo, I’d earned a new kind of self-confidence. Combined with the two weeks of hiking we’d done before the Solo, I was in the best physical and mental health of my life and puffed up like I’d never been before.

There’s a term—Snowplow Parenting—that’s gained a lot of popularity recently. It’s like super-charged Helicopter Parenting. We protect our children so much—clearing a path for them their entire lives—that we never teach them to fend for themselves. We’re refusing to let go, which is exactly what the Solo and Dropping force parents to do. My feeling is that these experiences, where we let kids unplug from technology and have a moment to grow some self-confidence in nature, are more valuable now than ever. They’re also probably a harder sell than ever. 

I still think about my Solo frequently and how it helped me grow. How many experiences can you look back on from your early teenage years and credit with making you a stronger human? I know that as a father, thinking of my son alone in the woods on his Solo will offer an entirely new set of emotions, and I hope I get to experience them. Of course if I do, I’m sure I won’t be sleeping as well as I did during that thunderstorm in Maine. (JP)

Chart of the Day:

Drug overdose deaths made their first year-on-year decline since 1990 last year, falling around 5 percent. According to the New York Times, “The decline was due almost entirely to a dip in deaths from prescription opioid painkillers, the medicines that set off the epidemic of addiction that has lasted nearly two decades. Fatal overdoses involving other drugs, particularly fentanyl and methamphetamine, continued to rise.” (NRB

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & John (JP)