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.

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