Solo snaps: A cold sunset, a year later

NOTE: I started this post nearly one year ago. I have not hit publish on it, because, frankly, I felt some embarrassment about some of the emotions and reactions I described. They seemed foolish upon reading, and it’s hard for me to seem foolish (even though it happens quite a lot!). But a lot has changed in a year, so I decided to give it another look. 

Oh wow, look at that tree…

Sometimes, my favorite photos are captured when I’m rushing, or being rushed.

This snap happened on day 4 of a multi-day adventure in Fall 2018. The trip spanned North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee. I was not solo on this day. I had a good friend to travel with.

He and I travel together 2-3 times a year if we’re lucky. We are often treated like a couple, even though we live three time zones apart; that’s just how America is programmed to see a man and a woman traveling together. I won’t lie; it’s nice for all the reasons that you’d imagine (sharing the long drives, and not hearing the hostess say “oh, just one today?” in a cheery but slightly patronizing voice). It also can make for some awkward moments, like just before I took this picture. But let’s back up a little.

Day 4 of this trip was the first day that we did any hiking worthy of the name. I’m talking about hiking that involves going uphill for any length of time. To make a long story short, the hike we did that day kicked my butt. After a tough and stressful year, I was out of shape, and I live at sea level, so it was pretty much a guarantee that I was going to suck wind on the first real uphill.

We’d hiked to Andrews Bald, a few relatively easy miles down to an incredible view of the Great Smoky Mountains. Here’s a little taste of a photo shoot that had the other hikers laughing as I ran back and forth from the tripod, trying to balance on the rocks. Please note that Shawn has no problem whatsoever balancing on his rock while I’m falling all over the place. He’s annoying that way. 😉

But as we hiked out, the trail that was downhill on the way in became uphill on the way out (hate it when that happens) and there was a moment where I fought back tears of embarrassment as I realized just how out of shape I truly was. I got through it thanks in large part to the awesomeness of my friend who never makes me feel bad for going slow (I do plenty of that myself).

I tell you all of this to say that I was mentally and physically wobbly – in both good and bad ways – as we drove down the mountain and stopped at an overlook. There was that lovely post-hike high…and the nagging low brought on by self-flagellation and fear that surely my friend was tired of hiking with a slug like me. All these emotions were close to the surface as we pulled into the parking lot at the Newfound Gap overlook.

National Park parking lots tend to be amazing places, and this was no exception. The Appalachian Trail was mere feet away. Blue-tinged mountains echoed on the horizon in never-ending waves. The sun had just gone down, and the light was magic. It was also cold, with a mountain wind to sharpen it.


We wandered a bit around the parking lot, snapping photos in comfortable silence. There was something resembling a tower, albeit a short one, at the far end of the lot. Though my weary legs protested, we climbed it. At the top I met the eyes of a round, merry-faced woman who was sitting up on a rock wall. She gave me a huge smile, and I noticed the bearded, red-cheeked man sitting next to her. They were side-by-side, bundled up like Santa and Mrs. Claus, atop a cozy-looking blanket, swinging their feet, and without thinking, I blurted out “Oh, you two are so adorable.” They laughed, and we chatted; they were there to watch the moonrise. I offered to take their picture, which they happily let me do. Then they, like most, jumped to conclusions, and said “would you two like a photo for your family album?”

For some reason, that innocent question immediately got to me. What I should have said was “Sure!” and enjoyed adding a nice picture of me and my friend to my collection. Instead, I got flustered and tried to explain that we weren’t a family and…yeah, pretty soon I beat a hasty retreat back to the car.

And then I saw this photo.

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It happened so fast. “Oh wow, look at that tree…” I was freezing, so I didn’t bother with trying to adjust settings. I just saw, pointed, click-click, and then clamored into the car, the hope that I’d caught something special chasing away all of my other thoughts.

I do wish I’d taken a bit more time, maybe taken a few more steps to my right to avoid that big mass of boring pine trees in the right 1/3 of the frame. But those are small quibbles, and did I mention it was freezing up there?

I love this photo, mostly because while I was taking it, all my insecurities disappeared. I was in exactly the right place at the right moment. Many months later, I want to chide myself for being too much in my head, for worrying to much about my solo status, but that’s not fair to what was happening on that day, in that moment. Yes, I know we’re supposed to fake it until we make it, but sometimes, our insecurities are real and they get the better of us. It doesn’t mean we’re weak or pathetic; it just means we’re human.  If we’re lucky, we have friends and amazing views to help shake us out of it…and photos like this to help us remember the moment.

And best of all, we have time and the option to put in the hard work needed to find, or rediscover, our confidence in ourselves. Those of you for whom that doesn’t come easily can understand why I’m proud of finally publishing this post, even though it makes me sound foolish. I love this photo because it’s gorgeous, but also for how it’s helped me realize how far I’ve come in the last year. Next time, I vow to let Mrs. Claus take that family photo. 😉

PS: Solo Snaps is a series I started to try to capture the stories behind my photos. My original thought was they’d offer some insights on my status as a solo gal (that’s code for therapy I don’t pay anyone for). But I have found over the past year that ruminating on being solo isn’t where I want to spend my time. My favorite photos weren’t shot when I was by myself, it turns out. And even if they were, forcing a “this is the meaning I must find when I’m alone” moment into every photo is trying too hard. So this might be my last “Solo Snaps” post. But it won’t be my last post about my pictures, no siree. You can’t escape that easily, dear readers.  

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