Q: I love hiking and camping, but not alone. I'm one of those people who think about running away when I hear one stick break in the woods. Is there any way I could mentally prepare myself for sleeping alone in the wilderness?
Submitted by - Logan, Greenville, SC
Q: I love hiking and camping, but not alone. I’m one of those people who think about running away when I hear one stick break in the woods. Is there any way I could mentally prepare myself for sleeping alone in the wilderness?
A: I’m no Dr. Phil, so I can only speak from personal experience.
“First off, don’t get in over your head. Know your limits in terms of your backcountry experience and don’t get too far out of your comfort zone. If you’re unsure of what you’re doing, go with someone who does, pay attention to what they do and how, and take notes.”
After that, I think you just kind of have to take the plunge and do it. My first solo was a 4-day canoe trip in the Boundary Waters about 15 years ago. I was reporting on it for my very first writing assignment for Windy City Sports, a free Chicago newspaper.
I was so stoked about the assignment that I hadn’t given much thought to the fact that I’d be alone for three nights in the wilderness—in bear country no less. By the time I put in and paddled across the first lake, I was freaking out. I practically sprinted the dark, shadowy portage and plopped into the next lake. (I felt safer on the water, for some reason.)
As I reached the far end of the lake near my intended campsite, I heard voices bouncing off the water. A group of about 6 had beat me to it, and I could see why. It was one of the most primo campsites I’d ever seen; out on a nice flat, sunny peninsula, with an elevated tent site and a private sandy beach.
A happy campsite.
I paddled past the interlopers and started prowling the lakeshore for the other sites, all of which were tucked back into the woods. They were shady, closed in, depressing, but it would be dark in a couple of hours so I picked one. I spent the next hour setting up camp, trying unsuccessfully to hang my food bag, jumping at every sound.
Eventually, I decided to paddle my food out to a tiny islet about 100 yards off shore and dump it there. If the bears wanted to swim for it, let them. As I was packing it up to ferry out there, a canoe slid up to my campsite. The interlopers turned out to be a very nice father/son group from Minneapolis. They were curious about a 20-something girl on her own and decided to make friends. I told them how I envied their campsite, and they invited me to share it for the night. That way, when they left the next morning, it would be all mine.
So, I spent my first “solo” night toasting marshmallows with my new friends, and by the time they left the next morning, I was ready. The campsite was so perfect that I ended up spending the next night there, too.
What’s the moral of the story? Maybe you need to ease yourself into the solo experience, like I did. Pick a happy place to go, some place that feels right to you, and have a friend go with you for the first night. Try to figure out the root of your fears and mitigate them. If it’s bears, pack your food in a bear canister and hike it far from camp before bed. If it’s creepy night noises, bring your iPod. If it’s other people, bring mace. And remember the facts: if you’re well equipped, and of sound mind and body, the wilderness is one of the safest places you can be.