by Jessica Gross
I had traveled alone twice before. In Kampala, for a month, and in Istanbul, for a week, I’d felt lonely and unmoored. There were moments of awe, even joy, but when they cleared, there was that bedrock of unease.
Still, I booked another solo vacation. I could will myself into needing no one, I figured, if only I got the parameters just right. And this time would be different: the trip to Vermont would last only four nights, and I’d be just a five-hour drive from home. Plus, I wouldn’t technically be alone, because I’d bring my dog.
On a Tuesday morning in late March of 2013, I rented a car for an absurd sum of money (yes, please, I will be needing that GPS) and took off from home, Benji panting and drooling in the passenger seat. I hadn’t driven in a couple of years, so I felt a level of anxiety possibly akin to a racecar driver’s. Still, we forged ahead. It had begun to snow, but I am not the kind of person who makes spontaneous changes to plans in the face of safety obstacles, so by halfway through the journey, I was still forging, now through a near-blizzard. My view was for the most part obscured, though not enough to block the thick layer of snow blanketing the road. On the bright side, my anxiety level was now proportional.
The crashes I fantasized did not come to pass, and by the time we arrived in Cambridge, Vermont, the snow had stopped. The bed and breakfast, which I’d found online, was a couple’s home, pretty much as quaint as it had appeared on Google Street View. The images had been taken in summer, but now the field in back, the roof, the front yard all gleamed white.
Lydia stepped out to greet me, and we ushered Benji, only half-traumatized by the journey, into the house. My fantasies of crashing my car had alternated with other, happier images, of the people I’d meet while casually reading in the B&B’s living room or brushing my teeth in the communal bathroom. On my tour of the house, however, I discovered that I was the only guest.
New parameters notwithstanding, the old unease flooded back in a paralyzing fashion. I spent much of the first day holed up in my bedroom, unsure how to proceed. I had imagined, as I so often do, that relocating to a place I associated with quietude would magically quiet my mind. No: I’d failed, yet again, to leave myself behind. I had packed bread and peanut butter, and I made a sandwich for dinner, which I ate on my bed off of a tissue, feeling rather horrible for myself.
In the mornings, Lydia prepared grand feasts that put the empty chairs around the table (all but mine) into sharp relief. Still, it was the best time of day, which I spent reading and completing the crossword puzzle in imitation of a relaxed person. I thrive on routine, so I decided to import mine from home: after breakfast, I snuggled into the couch with my laptop, doing work I was extremely grateful to have.
Then what? Richard, Lydia’s husband, suggested a number of exciting local attractions, but I couldn’t help thinking: “I don’t want to do that alone.” The truth, which is probably apparent, is that I much prefer company. By now, it was becoming clear that no number of parameters would obliterate this fact. I nodded and “Hmm”-ed to indicate that I was seriously considering locking my dog in a crate in my room, renting skis, and driving myself to a nearby slope to go ski with a bunch of happy families and no one to help dust me off after my inevitable fall.
“You could borrow Lydia’s cross-country skis and take them in the back,” Richard said, slicing through my cloud of self-pity.
I ran upstairs to snowsuit up, then walked with Benji out the back door, where Richard had propped the skis against the porch railing. The fenced-in portion of the backyard gave way to a white expanse, bordered in the distance by a river lined with trees. I took off—pumping my arms, gliding my legs—toward the half-frozen river, then alongside it, sweating into the cold wind. Nearby, Benji ran in wide arcs, stopping to stuff his face into the snow and then look up and snort, his muzzle encrusted with snow. I laughed; I couldn’t help it. This was gorgeous, sparkling, glorious.
Still, there I was at night, making a sorry salad with prepackaged ingredients from the local grocery store. The trip wasn’t enough; I hadn’t outrun myself.
And why should I? The next time, I gave in, and went with a friend.
 Name has been changed.
Jessica Gross is a writer based in New York City. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Paris Review Daily, Longreads, and elsewhere.