Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Camping Solo or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dark

Last weekend I did something I had never done before - I camped alone.  I started toying with the idea because the sections of the Long Path I have left are about an hour and a half away, which is longer than I want to drive twice in one day.  Mike has gotten into a routine where he brews for 5 hours in the morning on Saturday, and golfs on Sunday morning, and I've been having trouble finding other hiking partners that want to do my miles and camp overnight.  That left going solo as my best option.

I did some research on the internet about solo hiking/camping as a woman before I went and this is the advice I gleaned:

    -Camp somewhere you've been before
    -Make sure someone knows where you're going
    -Camp near a family
    -Tell a ranger that you're camping alone and hope he's not a rapist
    -Camp near the ranger and hope he's not a rapist
    -Tell everyone you meet that your boyfriend is just behind you
    -Carry a gun
    -Never carry a gun

Then the comment section is full of ridiculous arguments about how women should never go anywhere alone because if they do they are just looking for trouble.  This is immediately followed by a bunch of outraged women talking about how they yo-yo-ed the AT 4 times alone, unarmed, and naked and never had any problems because the trail is filled with rainbows and unicorns.  The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

Mostly I learned that most people don't agree on the topic.  Here's my take on it.  You're always going to be a little uncomfortable doing something new on your own.  Most people won't even eat in a restaurant or see a movie alone.  With that being said, it's important to know your comfort level.  The woods is not an inherently scary place for me, and I've done a lot of solo hiking so this was a semi-comfortable next step.  If you've never even hiked alone, camping alone may be a bit of an extreme step.
My bag taking a break

I did follow the advice of picking a familiar trip for my first time out and did make sure Mike knew my route and ETA's (common sense).  I did not bring a gun.  They're heavy and I'm not licensed to carry in NY.  I do always hike with a fairly hefty knife though.  Though I don't go out of my way to lie to random strangers I pass on the trail, I also don't announce that I am camping alone.

I hiked in 15 miles and did a route that was not too hard, but had some great views and lots of water.  I planned out my stops, and picked a route with a bunch of camping options in case something changed.

My hike was nice but uneventful and I arrived at my campsite around 6:30.  Here's where camping by yourself starts to feel different.  All those chores you usually split?  Now it's all you.  It takes a bit longer to get everything done.  It took me about an hour to find a good spot for the hammock (my favorites were taken...), hang it correctly, get the sleeping bag/pad set up, and hang the bear bag.  Most of that time was spent trying to get the hammock even because I was in a bit of a weird spot.

After I got set up I cooked my dinner and sat on my rock to watch the sunset.  In Harriman, you must camp within sight of a shelter so there were 3 other groups near me.  There was a sickeningly romantic couple that took my Hammock spot, and two families with kids.  It was comical to see the contrast between them - one with kids glued to not one but two iPads, and the other with kids playing Uno on the rocks, acting out stories, and climbing on rocks.  You know, actual camping activities.  It was great to see, and they so nicely gave me some bug spray since I forgot mine and looked like PigPen with all the mosquitoes clouding around me.  It was nice to feel like I wasn't completely alone, even though I didn't really talk much to any of the groups.

Dining for One

Night is usually the time that makes people the most anxious.  Camp chores are done, and you're just laying there with your thoughts (and fears).  I found that I'm more nervous in my empty house when my husband's away on business than I was sleeping in the woods.  It's just a happy place for me.  I do have trouble actually sleeping outside whether I'm alone or not.  It's not that I'm afraid, I just can't wind down.  I tend to sleep right away, wake up about 2 hours later, and then lay awake for like 4 more only to doze off around dawn.  I get put on high alert whenever there's a rustle outside which makes for crappy sleep.  For the first time, I brought ear plugs.  They did help a little, but I still was up a lot of the night.  I think I'm just going to start Z-Quil-ing myself to sleep from now on.  

Mostly, I just laid there and basked in the quiet.  As a band director, I spend most of my work days surrounded by copious amounts of noise.  Like honestly, I think I'll be deaf by 40.  Around concert time, I get to the point where I can't even form complete thoughts in my head.  Being out there gives me time to recharge.  Even when I can't sleep, I just soak in the quiet night-noises and revel in lack of drum-banging, clarinet-squeaking, and kid screaming.  (Is it sad that after a really rough day, smelling  that woodsy smell my sleeping bag permanently has a calming effect? (Can someone bottle that so I look less like a weirdo?))

In the morning, I felt the disadvantages of being alone again with all the tear-down and pack up.  Lots to do and no one to share the work with.  I planned it so I had an easy hike out and was soon back at my car.  
Saw this little guy on the hike out

I'm planning another solo trip soon to actually knock some miles out on the Long Path and I think I'll be ready.  I will probably be alone in camp this time, so we'll see if that changes my feelings about it. I have found that I feel far more comfortable in a high up, open campsite than a more secluded and woody one.  The later makes me feel claustrophobic.  I think that's the most important factor in the whole process - do what makes YOU feel comfortable and you feel happy.  You need to make smart choices of course, but don't shy away from new experiences just because they are not part of the status quo. (Is this where I #Yesallwomen lol) It was a nice, calming experience and I'm excited to go again.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mt. Washington Epic Adventures

Recently I saw a meme that said not to use the word 'epic' unless a sword is involved - I decided that an ice axe counts.

Our first view at the beginning of the hike

The trip started with some...erm...adventures in driving.  What was rain in Connecticut when we left turned into freezing rain in southern Vermont.  The entire freeway was covered in ice, and even thought it was a main highway it was really poorly plowed.  Luckily once we got to New Hampshire, it had turned completely to snow and was much less slippery.  We got in at like 11:15 and signed into the Bunkhouse and got our gear.  

Surprise #1: Mike met our two hiking partners before I did.  "You always seem to find matter where we go" was all he said when I got downstairs.  Turns out they were from Chesterland of all places.  Travel all the way to NH to find people who grew up 20 mins from me.  Who would have thought.  

Coming down!

Day 1 of the trip was a skills class.  We did a gear shakedown in the morning, and then went out and learned how to use crampons and an ice axe in the afternoon.  Our instructor was great, and we were soon duck walking, French stepping, and toe picking all over the small mountain.  I also got to be the object lesson for why you use special steps in campons - catch your feet on each other and you will fall face first down the mountain.  Luckily it was a flat section so I just looked like a moron but didnt get hurt.  Overall, it was really cool learning, and we got to check out some nice views.  Once we were back down it was self-arrest time. Sliding down and stopping on your back feet first - totally fine.  Trying it head first on your stomach and head first on your back - not so easy.  After the trip, we headed back to the Bunkhouse, drank some beer, ate dinner and rested up for the next day's climb.  

Here's where the adventures in driving continue.  We drove to the mountain-the first time we'd driven since arriving.  Remember all that freezing rain?  Yeah our wheel wells were so full of solid ice, we could barely turn.  Part way there, the car started shaking so badly we had to stop and attempt to break it up with the ice axes.  After much picking, stabbing, and scraping, we got enough off that we could drive without the car smelling like burnt rubber.  

The climbing gets steep

The day was so beautiful and the sky was so blue - like kids-coloring-book-unreal blue.  The winds were calm.  It couldn't have been more perfect.  Until we got off the approach trail which had been so nicely packed down by sno-cats.  A Nor'easter had come through a couple days before and dumped snow on the mountain and only a few people had gone before us, so the hiking wasn't easy.  But the day was so gorgeous that it cancelled out the extra effort.  The steep sections of the winter route up Mt. Washington are steep - really steep.  It's actually not open during the summer because you'd just be climbing a rock wall.  The summer route isn't open in the winter because of avalanche risk.  

All the way up the mountain, we kept meeting people coming back - saying they turned around because of deep snow just before treeline.  Eventually we got to the point where only one or two people had come through - and got to break trail through waist-deep snow.  It was exhausting.  Our guide when first making the initial break, and at times we just army crawled over on our bellies because it was just that deep.  At one point I sank in up to my chest when I stepped in a hollow created by buried trees, but we eventually made it to the wind swept area just before the tree line.  Clouds started rolling in as we arrived at treeline, but just light wispy clouds.  We stopped to each lunch and the views were incredible.   

After lunch, we hiked the rest of the way to Lion Head, a rock formation marking the 3/4 point of the journey.  The weather started to change quickly (something Mt. Washington is known for) while we were hiking this leg.  By the time we got up there, the wind had picked up considerably and the summit was completely socked in.  We took a short break here and met a French Canadian couple returning, saying they lost the trail across the Alpine Garden and had to turn back.  

The guys attempting to cross the alpine garden

Lion Head was where our trip ultimately ended.  The winds had picked up to 40-60 mph and the avalanche risk crossing the snow fields was too high after all the fresh snow.  It sucked that we couldn't make the summit, but it was still an amazing experience.  I had so much fun and learned new skills and we will definitely come back next year and try again.  The highest mountain in the northeast beat us this time, but maybe next year it will let me win.  :-)
Mike and I