A surprised look. “Wait, you’re going alone?”, “That’s a bit random!”, “But, why?” A few upon many responses I received when I mentioned that I decided to book a cabin in the woods for my birthday, alone.
At first I wasn’t 100% sure as to why I wanted to retreat into nature besides feeling a heaviness of recent stress with thoughts about my future, resulting in the need to just get away and chill. Take a break. I first called it “testing my boundaries”. Booking a cabin without extending an invite felt empowering. I trusted my intuition on this.
I drove a little over two hours to Ona, FL. Population: less than 1,000 (per Google). Nothing but flat land, cow pastures, and orange groves. I was all smiles, jamming to my music while taking in the passing scenery, soaking it all in. I was ready for this.
I turned onto the road leading to my destination. “Dead End”, one sign said. Then, “Pavements Ends”. I continued to travel down the gravel road, taking a wrong turn and running into my Airbnb host, Dennis, at his home. He redirected me, and I followed the path to my cabin. The last cabin in the woods.
I looked around, and quickly began bringing my belongings into the cabin. Once finished, I distinctly remember thinking: “I can’t believe I’m actually doing this.” I felt my survival instincts growing with uncertainty flooding in, but I embraced it and moved through exploration of the cabin. It was BEAUTIFUL, filled with historic roots and a Southern touch.
I realized I had no cell service. Zero. By the end of my trip I found an area where I received 1 bar, but still scarce. The bathroom was built in its own room outside of the main cabin, and the shower was located completely outside (exposed to the world, but hopefully the world wasn’t looking!). The cabin’s electricity also ran off of a solar panel, and without sun, electricity was minimal. It was mildly overcast for my stay. I say these things now because once accumulated, I felt very uncertain. Here I was alone, with flooding thoughts.
The Airbnb host Dennis, an older man, and I spoke before my arrival and I mentioned bringing my bike, and so once I settled in and introduced myself, we went for a 13 mile bike ride. As we pedaled our way around the local areas, we talked and talked as we passed herds of cattle investigating our arrival, rode by orange groves, and even stopped to pick a few oranges for safe keeping. Sour, but delicious.
My first night was interesting. I couldn’t sleep. The nearest cabin was vacant, and the thought of being completely alone sunk in. Every noise I heard, my heart thumped. At 3AM an uninvited guest, a frog, leaped into existence (on my bed), but didn’t stay for long (sorry buddy!). By the time I fell asleep, the sun was coming up.
As I awoke, on my birthday, I was feeling unsure and a bit uncomfortable. It was raining, and so I slowly moved through the cabin, finding little things to do (journaling was significant, as I now write this post using those moment by moment thoughts). My phone was almost dead, and as much as I wanted to view my birthday texts and messages, I couldn’t. Once the weather cleared, I drove down the road to a local attraction called Solomon’s Castle, where I took a tour of this artistic land. After a few hours spent, I retreated back to the cabin. Then I thought, I wanted to go home.
As I was contemplating my decision to leave a night early, a car pulled up, and I soon realized two ladies were staying at the nearby cabin. I felt instant relief. I decided to grab my bike and go for another bike ride, Dennis once again accompanying me. We took a new route, ended up at Herb’s Limestone Country Club (a local biker bar), and grabbed a drink. Once I mentioned my birthday, Dennis invited me for some food by (and on) the fire, and so as we completed our 18 mile ride, dinner was on its way. He also brought his guitar and harmonica, and boy was he a good singer. After all was finished, I was sound asleep on the second night.
As I reflect on this journey, I was welcomed by weeping tears of gratitude. Here I was, journeying out into nature, off the grid, by myself, doing something I have never done before, spending time with someone who I had never met. As much as I wanted to relax, my guard was up. I couldn’t fully trust in the moment. It was too unfamiliar. But as I sit here covered in the safety of my bed, I now feel joy, seeing my growth as an individual, and truly appreciating a genuine soul that crossed into my path. Dennis is a man who lives in solitude and enjoys the face to face interactions of those who decide to stay on his property. I invited him on my journeys, and I felt his gratitude. He made this known to me.
Now I understand. I wasn’t looking to “check out”, like I felt the initial plans were, but to “check in”. What I thought was going to be a retreat for peace and tranquility (i.e. checking out of reality) really showed up as feelings of apprehension at first, to connection and appreciation. I was seeing who I’ve grown to be, but with so much more clarity.
If you enjoy embarking on the journey to understanding your self more, book yourself a solo trip. No phone as a crutch. Notice your reactions, and notice where you mind goes. Step out of your element (routine), and embrace all that comes your way. Hey, maybe you’ll meet a new friend like I did.
I welcomed the unknown with open arms, and I have to say, even as I found myself face to face with a spider the size of my first inside my cabin on my final night, I will always be thankful for my solo trip to a cabin in the deep woods of Florida. I plan on going back (this time, with friends).