• Mary Anderson

The Hunger for Human Connection

Mary Anderson is hiking the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail and writing a book about it. She is within 200 miles of her endpoint.

I’ve been thinking about how torturous it must be to be locked in solitary confinement. After just a few days of not seeing another person I find myself checking my satellite device for messages as soon as I take a hiking break. I do this even before I pull food out of my pack, no matter how hungry I am. Even when constant hiker hunger has set in, as it has now that the temperatures have been dipping into the thirties, my bigger hunger is for human connection.

I’ve come to appreciate and enjoy hiking by myself. But I miss not having someone to share the spectacular sights with. I want someone to share the majesty of watching and hearing whistling swans take off, the retreat of a grizzly bear, the pristine turquoise and orange hot springs and a flock of over thirty bighorned sheep. I want to share the deep dark night sky with meteors streaking by at a rate of at least one per minute. I want to share the grunt of a long climb, the pain of a steep descent, the victory of another day safely in camp. And so I turn to writing. It is a way I feel less alone out here, thinking that at least some people are aware of what I am doing and reading along. And when i get a message on my satellite device, I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot. I feel renewed energy and hike on, thinking about how I will respond.

These musings all leave me feeling sad not only for those locked away in solitary confinement but for everyone who lives in isolation. I know a lot of older people live alone and have a shrinking pool of friends. I’m not sure how much contact those in some of the poorer-kept nursing homes get. I think even a lot of young people feel alone, especially those who do not fit the popular label in school. Many feel misunderstood and unable to talk with anyone. Would it improve if we insisted on good communication skills as much as we do a knowledge of math and science? It unnerves me to think that now people are using automated apps for therapy.

My connections with people are my most prized “possessions” and help me through my darkest times. I can’t imagine talking to my computer instead.

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