When I was little, my dad gave me a piece of advice that I really took to heart. “The only person you can count on is yourself.” It sounds a little pessimistic, I guess. When I tell people about it they seem to think it’s a very negative way to go through life. That you shouldn’t trust people at all, that you should be completely exclusive and live entirely on your own. But that’s not how he meant it, and that’s certainly not how I interpret it. To me, it means that you’re in control of your own life at all times. That you can’t blame others for anything, and that you can’t count on others to give you what you want–you have to make things happen for yourself. I firmly believe that. Each one of us has the power to do whatever it is we want to do whenever it is we want to do it. When we don’t do what we want, it’s more than likely because we’re not willing to put forth the effort to do it, and that’s something we need to take responsibility for.
Anyway, so a few years ago I read somewhere that at least once in your life you should go camping alone. Completely solo, out in the wilderness, just for the heck of it. The idea intrigued me. Me, a campfire, a hammock, nature. Not a bad combination, right? But it scared me, too. Me, darkness, creatures, vulnerability. Potential death. (haha, you can say that about anything)
Now, I’ve been camping a LOT in my lifetime. Shoot, I once actually lived in a state park for two months. I’m definitely no stranger to camping. I’ve gone with family, I’ve gone with friends. I’ve gone with a significant other. I’ve even been brave enough to go camping with only my daughters, and we’ve had a blast every time. But completely on my own? That’s a whole ‘nother category of camping, and honestly I wasn’t sure I could pull it off.
The last time my daughters went out of town with their dad I actually looked into this camping-alone thing, but then the $20 to $30 a night fee seemed outrageous for just one person, because I mean, really. It’s not like they were providing clean linens or complementary coffee. Anyway, I used money as an excuse and I didn’t go then, and after that I kinda pushed the whole thought to the back of my mind. But when I found out the girls were going out of town for Spring Break this year, guess what. The thought came back! This time I got online and did a little Googling. Didn’t really find any advice I didn’t already know, but I did find out that it’s actually something people do. Even women. And heck, if they can do it, why not me?
So I wrote down my list of essentials and got all packed up. And what are my essentials, you ask? These:
GEAR: tent, sleeping bag, blankets, tarps, hammocks, rope, hammer, lantern, flashlights, batteries, firewood, charcoal, lighter fluid, lighter, knife, stove, gas tanks, cookware, utensils, cooler, coffee percolator, trash bags, aluminum foil, paper towels, toilet paper, cell phone, charger
FOOD: water, fruit, snacks, fajita meat, four potatoes, rice (that I had made a few days earlier), coffee, sugar, milk, canned ravioli, spices, cooking spray
PERSONAL ITEMS: toiletries, clothes, socks, undies, pjs, hair bands, my blood pressure pills
ENTERTAINMENT: notebook, pens, art supplies, magazines, books, Rubik’s cube
I made a quick Michoacana run for the seasoned fajita meat (2 pounds, yumm!) and a Wal-Mart run for some apples, grapes, crackers, yogurt, tortillas, water, ice, and a small bottle of milk for my coffee.
Then I headed out to the nearest state park, which happens to be Cedar Hill State Park, less than an hour away. (Because the idea was to survive the actual camping on my own, not a full-fledged road trip.) At Cedar Hill, there are basically two camping options: all or nothing. I went with all, meaning water and electricity. I could have easily done without electricity, but I opted out of “primitive” camping because I wanted access to water and to my car… plus, it was just me lugging everything out there. So two nights of luxury camping cost me a whopping sixty bucks. It hurt a little, I won’t lie. But I was determined to do this, dammit.
The lady at the office was sweet and friendly, especially after I told her I was there alone. “I’ll take care of you,” she said with a wink. Yeah, that sounds kinda creepy now, but I’m pretty sure she was just being nice. She kind of took on a motherly role after that. She assumed I would want something by the water (with overnight lows in the high 40s to low 50s I didn’t think I was gonna be doing any skinny dipping, but whatever) and chose what she said was a GREAT site for me. (I made sure to ask for the office number in case I changed my mind and wanted to choose a different site, no offense.) Then I pointed to one of the hiking trails pictured on the general campground map, and she got this really worried look on her face. “Oh, no. That’s a biking trail,” she said, shaking her head, although on the map the trail was clearly marked as being for bikers AND pedestrians. “You don’t want to hike there, those big strong men go flying by at 50 miles per hour, nearly run you over! Your best bet is the Duck Pond trail, over here.” She tapped her finger on a tiny little dotted line on the map. Obviously this well-meaning lady had the wrong idea about me, so I nodded politely and thanked her for her help, then headed out.
Before I even got to the site Ms. Overly-Cautious had selected for me, I knew it wasn’t gonna work. That whole stretch of park was covered in low shrubbery, which in early spring is nothing more than a layer of thin brown twigs. Most of the sites were completely out in the open. Safe? Maybe, but absolutely no privacy. And yeah, there was access to the water, but what did I need that for? I don’t have a boat. Besides, it was crowded there, families and groups of young people, already starting to hoot and holler. I was looking for quietude. I headed back onto the main road and turned off into the next group of sites. This one was far more to my liking. Actual trees, more secluded sites, fewer people. I chose one particular site up at the top of a low hill. Good strong trees for shade and hammock-hanging, and the only site anywhere near it was hidden by a good twenty feet of thick shrubbery. Perfect. The only flaw was that the entire site was on a bit of a slope, but I was okay with that.
I called the office and switched the assignment, then started setting up my stuff. Tent, check. I remember the day I bought that tent at Academy–I was trying to choose between this one and another bigger, fancier one that happened to be a beautiful blue. Some random guy was looking at camping gear, too, and advised me to go with the one that was easiest to set up. “You’ll thank me later,” he told me, and I’ve been thanking him ever since. Got the tent up within ten minutes, including the rain fly. Then I inflated my mattress and set up my sleeping quarters: two heavy blankets, my sleeping bag, and a pillow.
Next were the hammocks. And yeah, that’s plural, not because I was expecting some late-night visitor, but more as a safety precaution, to make it look like I wasn’t completely alone. After that, I took out my handy-dandy yellow plastic teacher cart, which contained my stove, charcoal, firewood, and lighter fluid, and left it beside the fire pit for later.
Once everything was set up, I decided to go on my first hike. I was tempted to start off with the big, scary bike trail but decided to leave it for the next day since by this time it was already 5:30. But I didn’t do the Duck Pond trail either. Instead, I did an equally easy one, a little further north. I took water, some grapes, and a couple of apples with me. I went ahead and threw a compass and flashlight into my bag, too, just in case, and even though I had sworn off my phone for these two days, I changed my mind at the last minute and grabbed it so that I could get some pictures. So it was a camera I took along, not a phone. Just to clarify.
The hike was nicer than I expected. On the map it said the loop was two and a half miles, but I’m pretty sure that’s an exaggeration. It was nice and secluded out there; I only ran into a total of about five people on the trail. There were lots of places in which I could have stopped just to sit and enjoy the sounds and smells, but I continued on my way. I was beginning to get hungry by this point, and the thought of those fajitas had me pretty excited. I did take a little detour route to get to a “scenic overlook” just as the sun was beginning to dip toward the horizon. There was a family there when I reached it, so I talked to them for a little bit, then hung out a little longer after they’d left. Finally got back to my site around 7 and started making dinner.
Which. Was. Spectacular.
Yummm. Two pounds of fajita meat sounds like a lot for one person, I know. And it looked like a lot, too, when I spread it out on the grill. And it was a lot, truth be told. But I ate it for dinner that day, breakfast and dinner the next day, and breakfast again on the last. All I came home with was a tiny strip of it, about two inches by three, if that. Anyway, I used my little gas stove to boil the four potatoes and heat up the rice. I warmed up the tortillas on the grill, and everything was delicious, holy hay. I feasted for a good thirty minutes, and afterwards I cleaned everything up, putting everything that smelled of food back inside my car. Then I added a couple of logs to the fire and sat “around” it for about an hour. (Kinda hard to make a circle with only one lawn chair.) By this point, the sun had set and it was getting downright chilly. I took out my blanket and draped it over me and just enjoyed the crackle of the fire, the breeze rustling through the bushes, and uh, the sound of the highway a couple of miles away. If I closed my eyes and used my imagination, it sounded kinda like one endless ocean wave that never really crashed. Hehe. But it was nice. The moon, even at half-mast, was pretty strong. I didn’t need a flashlight to see my way around. When I looked up there were a few stars twinkling, but really nothing more that what I would have seen from my own back yard. I was just too close to town for all that. But it was still relaxing. I swung on my hammock for a little bit, but by 9:20 or so I was ready to crash.
And then about two hours later I was up again. Brrrrr, it got cold! I woke up no less than five times overnight, even though I was wearing my warm pjs, a sweatshirt, and extra socks. I wasn’t shivering, so it was bearable, but between the cold and the over-squishiness of my mattress every time I turned over, I wasn’t getting much sleep. Still, I was able to get a couple of weird dreams in there, so I know I did get some rest, even if it wasn’t ideal.
The next morning I woke up around 8 but stayed in “bed” until almost 9:30 writing, daydreaming, just putting off going into the cold. When the sun finally knocked on my tent, I got up and began the day. Heated up some leftover meat and potatoes from the night before, and made some coffee. Ahhhhh, hot, fresh, sweet, delicious coffee. I was so excited to have it that I even offered some to my neighbors from across the way as they walked by my site, but they turned me down on account of being “non-drinkers.” Poo.
That second day was full of hiking and hammocking, and not much in between. I probably put in a good seven miles of hiking in one day alone, including the terrifying bike route, which was really nice and a great little workout. I did not get run over, as the signs clearly stated that hikers were to travel counter-clockwise, opposite the bikers, and I was able to see them with plenty of time to get out of their way. It ended up taking me almost an hour to complete the entire 3-mile loop, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Some places were covered heavily in trees, which darkened the trail, made it nice and spooky like a fairy tale.
And others were bright and cheery, already starting to show signs of pretty spring.
In the early afternoon I just swung in my hammock and read my magazine–Cosmo, of course, the staple of every truly independent woman–and ate my yogurt and crackers. It was soooo relaxing!! Not having to worry about anybody else but myself was absolutely amazing! No activities to plan, no schedule to adhere to, nobody else to feed or bathe or please. It was liberating, man. It was “me time” to the max.
In the evening, however, things took a turn for the worst, if only slightly. See, a family came and set up camp in the site right next to mine. A mother, a father, a mother-in-law, and children. Loud ones. Ugh, I can still hear them in my head. They arrived just as I was having my dinner, and no matter how hard I tried to tune them out they still managed to infiltrate my happy place. The mom was the worst, with her Northern accent (Minnesota, maybe?), all whiny and nasal. She was—ugh, I really don’t want to speak badly of her, but let’s just say that her camping trip and mine were complete opposites in every possible way. A cranky husband, out-of-control, demanding children–three of them–and a mother tagging along who was accused of f-ing up the entire trip. Way more information than I or the other campers within a two-mile radius cared to know. Anyway, they stayed up until after midnight and I think the last of them finally passed out around one. Peace and quiet for a few hours until around 8, when they all started up again. I stayed inside my tent for a long time trying to tune them out. Got some good writing done, read a little. Finally at 10 I got up, went to the restroom, and had breakfast. I had planned to go ahead and start packing up early, since I had pretty much already done everything I’d set out to do. But then I headed back to my hammock instead and got some more reading done… finally finished White Oleander, this amazing book I’d started back in October. (You know it’s good when I was able to get lost in that beautiful writing even over the noise of my next-door neighbors…)
At noon I finally started to pack up, and within one hour I was heading out of the park. A little sore from hiking, a little scraggly looking from having gone without makeup the whole time and having done absolutely nothing with my hair today, but feeling totally empowered. Strong, capable. Accomplished.
48 hours without electronic communication (except for a couple of calls from my daughters), without returning texts, without checking Facebook, my emails, dating websites, or Google. 48 hours of Me Time, without help from anybody at all. Sure, it wasn’t really the wilderness. Sure there was electricity and clean water, paved roads and neatly trimmed hiking trails. But you know, it was roughing it, in a way. Just me, myself, and I.
And who knows? Maybe next time I’ll go primitive.