My wish to do a solo campout had simmered long enough. This was the year I made it happen.
Conditions were right: I had a beautiful destination in mind (important detail to me), I could easily explain my whereabouts to local hikers, and ‘warm and dry’ was in the forecast.
I love to camp but this time was different. I had a purpose. To discover my response to alone-ness in nature’s quiet darkness; would I have confidence and ingenuity to handle unknowns – and what about the wildlife?! I wanted to dip my toes into a practise run for future solo camping: to say I can do this and encourage other women my age to do whatever is the thing they’re wanting to try.
The closest thing to this kind of adventure as a kid, was when my friend and I lugged a blanket to a field midway between our homes in the country when we dared each other to sleep overnight under the stars. Camping much later after that – with my husband and children – was using RV’s that my parents generously shared with us.
Tenting with camping began for me in 2007 when we moved to Nova Scotia. Being closer to our daughter Renee, husband and family who lived in Maine, we were able to discover hiking and tenting with them; eventually joining them for a couple sections on the Appalachian Trail (AT). I discovered the fun and comfort of tenting and sleeping in the woods and the feeling that ‘whatever I need’ I’m carrying on my back. The overall AT experience, meeting women hikers there (some of them going solo), triggered my itch to hike and camp alone.
The most daunting detail for my solo trip was pitching the tent. Crazy but true. I can do it, but where possible, defer that job to fellow campers while I find firewood and water. To build my confidence, the day before my solo trip I pulled out my light-weight single tarp tent and had a practice run on the grass in front of our house. No one was around to observe how long this would take. I reviewed the instructions I had printed out, emptied the bag with those extra cords I’d never been sure what to do with, added some extra pegs to the gear bag and figured out how to use my foldable hiking poles for tent supports. Yay! A successful trial run.
The next morning after confirming with friends where I was going and when I expected to be off the trail, I drove to the trailhead, strapped on my pack, and started walking. The first section was a multi-purpose trail and on that afternoon a brilliant pencil-thin snake and I were the only ones using it!
Pivoting off the wide trail and onto the narrow one through the woods, I watched for scat. I’m not an expert at reading animal poop, but I know what bear scat looks like. I didn’t see any, but there was some smaller stuff, possibly from a coyote. This didn’t make me feel nervous – perhaps living near the woods and being able to spend lots of time there – has helped me respect ‘nature in the wild’, to feel safe. But I did remind myself to “look big and menacing” using my hiking poles if I encountered a coyote, and thankfully I didn’t have to test my defensive moves.
I reached my camping spot with ample time to pitch my tent before dark. However, looking for a flat and brush-free spot was not easy to find on this (beautiful!) bluff destination. There was scarcely a two-inch layer of topsoil under the blanket of scraggly, prickly ground-cover.
Respecting the landscape for my stealth campsite, i.e. minimal disturbance to the environment, and after a couple false starts I found a suitable spot. SO grateful for those extra pegs and cords, I talked myself through it. No need to hurry. Take one step at a time, just like yesterday. Eventually my cosy nest was standing. I crossed my fingers and prayed for a night without wind.
Solitude. Supper sitting on a rock watching the sunset.
I enjoyed the warm evening (about 19 degrees Celsius) in silence, sitting on the smooth rocks soaking in nature’s beauty until sunset. It wasn’t late, maybe 9PM, but I couldn’t build a bonfire, so after a final check of the tent pegs and cords there wasn’t anything else to do other than crawl into my sleeping bag.
My tarp tent is a narrow, confined space that feels a bit like a cocoon; with the mesh lining drooping very close to my face, it was beyond cosy, a bit like a coffin! A small solar light provided a soft ambience. I read a book on my phone for half an hour and then it was lights out.
Totally dark and quiet.
Did I lie awake? I normally go to sleep quickly and I did here too. Also normal, is at least one nocturnal visit to use the bathroom, which always poses a challenge when tenting. Sparing some details, suffice it to say on this night I took extra precautions unzipping the tent, absolutely not wanting to bump my poles in their precarious positions holding up the tent, such as it was! That, plus gingerly avoiding the thorny brushes in my bathroom, made this a one-off event for the night. I laid awake for a while after this (which is also normal). Not a sound! I live in the country and with my bedroom window open I hear more wildlife there than I did on this night. No need for the bear-bell I had handy to alert any creatures scuffling about. Part of me was disappointed it was so quiet. In this wooded space, where were the animals?
I woke up at 6:30 to the sound of crows. Yay – there are animals here! The light of another glorious day was showing though the canopy of trees above my sagging, but still standing, tent.
It was such a lovely morning. I made my breakfast of coffee and granola last as long as I could before breaking camp and returning to the trailhead for my expected arrival time.
I will go solo camping again. I think I will stretch the edges next time – maybe go for a longer time and/or distance, perhaps a more remote location. Not that bigger is better, but because I’ve done the practice run and am curious to discover what more I can experience and also learn about myself in going solo.
Friends, I extend the invitation. What is it that you’ve been hankering to try? If there isn’t time or opportunity in 2021, plan ahead to 2022. If you’re comfortable in sharing, I’d love to hear the story.
Love and happy camping, and tenting,