When I was a kid, I had a picture in my mind of how my future adult self would look— a snapshot that never moved or changed. In it, I am driving a Jeep Wrangler with a removable top through a barren desert, Thelma and Louise–style, with a floppy-tongued dog riding shotgun as my partner in crime. I am pictured from behind, with long hair billowing out behind out me as I speed toward the horizon, curlicues of dust rising up above the cacti I leave in my wake.
Twenty years later, I possess neither Jeep, dog, nor long hair. But I have done fairly well for myself in the driving-alone-through-epic-scenery department. In fact, it’s one of my preferred ways to travel, ideally with the music cranked up, in a high-torque car, and several hours of daylight until my next destination. I am, in that moment, completely in control, cruising through remote and sometimes forbidding landscapes, marveling at the natural world and knowing that I—and I alone—get to have this moment.
Traveling alone is a beautiful thing, but driving alone is its own animal.
Lots of people have written about the virtues of traveling alone, but I’m talking specifically about driving alone, especially through landscapes that are probably best described as “epic nature.” National parks, coastlines, mountain ranges, and agrarian countrysides are good places to start. Traveling alone is a beautiful thing, but driving alone is its own animal—all of the responsibility and the freedom is in your two hands as they grip the wheel.
On a drive through a mossy Oregon forest, I played chicken with a terrifyingly large elk waiting to cross the road. Along Australia’s Great Ocean Road, I pulled over to see the beach where Patrick Swayze pursues the “storm of the century” in Point Break. In rural Thailand, I hugged the twisty jungle roads up and over a lush mountain range whose peaks kissed the clouds—bad for visibility, great for feeling the infinite power of nature. Every time, my accompaniment was me, myself, and I. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Driving alone is not always smooth sailing. One night, in the foggy Pyrenees in southern France, my GPS died halfway to my farm stay, and I drove in a panicked circle across a cornfield as night fell, convinced I was heading for a sleepover in the cold backseat (eventually, I found someone who could give me directions). In desert Utah, a turnoff to explore a series of slot canyons turned mildly terrifying when I realized that, should a tire pop on the jagged, rocky road, no one would find my desiccated body for months. (The tires were fine.)
When I’m alone in epic nature, I feel my own power.
Some might think it’s lonely to experience such surroundings without another person. I don’t always travel by myself, and indeed, it’s fun, and memory making, to gaze upon the splendor of, say, the Grand Canyon with a companion. But when I’m alone in epic nature, I feel my own power. I got myself to this place, an exquisite landscape that unfurls itself for me to marvel in private.
I am aware that it is a great luxury to be able to do this. I am able, most of the time, to capably drive across these stunning surroundings without fear, though many of my female counterparts in other parts of the world would not. I have been born into great privilege and possess a sense of independence that I consider inherent when, in actuality, it is learned. For this, I am lucky, and I feel it most acutely when I hit the road with confidence.
I think better when I’m alone—not just in my car but also on the road itself, on empty highways that see no traffic and curving roads constructed, somehow, into places it seems no human has ever been. I always wonder, especially as I’m navigating some mildly treacherous path carved into the side of a mountain, how this road was built. Who drafted this route? Who blasted the raw earth and smoothed the asphalt? How long did it take? How did they know it would work? But perhaps those aren’t the right questions to be asking—maybe the only thing that matters is how I got there and where I’ll go next.