The first time I camped alone, it was not planned to be a solo trip. The trip actually even began with another person – my then very recent ex-boyfreind. But then he left me. He was called into work. He didn’t have to go, but he did.
The trip began to fall apart the day before when another friend backed out at the last minute. Not quiet ready to let go of each other, my ex-boyfriend and I decided to still go just the two of us. One last trip to enjoy each other’s company before we moved on.
I was not only dealing with a broken heart but also the fear of my future. I was now in my 30s and had just ended the only serious relationship I had ever had. It didn’t help that I was already overrun with information stating a woman’s chance of having children greatly decreases after 30.
I began to cry as he broke down his tent and packed his things. I tried to hide my face from his so he wouldn’t see. I could have left with him, gone home, and just been angry, but I chose to stay by myself. I could use the time to reflect on my life free from distractions. And the main reason, I thought to myself I needed to learn to be alone.
As nighttime enveloped me, I realized camping alone was not as scary as I thought. In fact I liked the solitude. The moon was full and illuminated the shore of Lake Ouachita, where I was camping in southwest Arkansas.
My dog, Caddie, and I walked down to the bank and I looked up at the stars. All through my 20s, I had a strong desire to be married. I mistakenly thought if I were married, I would never be lonely. But in my relationship with my ex-boyfriend I was still lonely. I began to realize the cure for loneliness is not a boyfriend or husband, but being comfortable with one’s self.
This camping trip alone with Caddie on the banks of Lake Ouachita was comfortable, and I began to feel happy that he left.
I also wanted to learn to camp alone. Because if I wanted to continue my outdoorsy lifestyle sans my boyfriend, I was going to have to go alone. None of my friends are into it as much as I am.
Up until that point, I thought I had to get married so I would always have someone to adventure with. I told myself, there is no way I could go alone. It’s not safe. I’ll be so lonely. And I was already so lonely in my everyday life. I couldn’t imagine being completely alone in the woods somewhere. That would be the epitome of loneliness. At least in my everyday life when it got really bad, I could hop onto Facebook. But not in the wilderness where there is no cell phone service.
But my real problem wasn’t getting over the fear of traveling alone, hiking alone, or camping alone, it was learning to just be alone with myself.
A quote I read in a self help book years ago stuck out to me. It said if you don’t enjoy your own company, why would other people? Did I enjoy my own company? Or did I constantly need the distraction of other people?
Sitting on the banks of the lake with a million stars above, listening to the owls hoot and watching Caddie dig in the sand, I had plenty to distract me. But also the focus was totally on me – how much I was enjoying this, what I would do the next day, how much I loved Caddie … how to make myself happy.
As I watched the waves, stars, and everything around me, I realized this is what makes me happy. I didn’t need another person there with me to make it real. It was real, and I was there.
I thought about the other times I didn’t go because I didn’t have anyone to go with and chastised myself for missed opportunities.
I watched friends hop from relationship to relationship and thought it wasn’t fair that they would always have someone to explore with. But in my relationship with my ex-boyfriend I learned that having a boyfriend doesn’t guarantee you will always have someone to adventure with. Many times I wanted to go, but he didn’t. So we didn’t go.
People fail you. But being self reliant will sustain you. When you backpack or camp alone, you have to be completely self reliant. You have to navigate the way. You have to set up the tent. You have to cook the supper. You have to do everything.
As I lay in bed that night, I tried to remember exactly the proper way to store your food. Arkansas isn’t really bear country, but we do have them. “Was I supposed hang it here?” I thought. I made a mental note to study this in more detail when I got home. If I was going to be become self reliant both in backpacking and in my emotions, I needed to become an expert.
A few years later on another solo backpacking journey I wrote in my journal after I crawled into my tent that I was so glad to be alone that night. Had I backpacked with my friend or my brother, they both would have wanted to build a fire. We would have sat around the fire having deep conversations, which I would have enjoyed. But at that moment, I just wanted to crawl into my sleeping bag and curl up with my book. And the fact that I had no one there to distract me made me happy.
My last road trip, an 36-hour round-trip drive to Colorado, I had the opportunity for someone to ride with me. But I was little relieved when she cancelled. It had nothing to do with her. I just wanted to enjoy my alone time.
That first night camping alone created something new in me. It didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t wake up, break camp, and walk out a different person, but it showed me the path I needed to take to become more self reliant and happier.
It showed me I didn’t have to get married in order to live the life I wanted. I have the power to live the life I want all by myself.
A few years have past since that first solo camping trip. And I have now been on countless day hikes and a few solo backpacking trips by myself. I have also been on a few long-distance road trips – something else I never thought I would be able to do alone.
Spending the night alone on the lake that night pointed me in the right direction. Learning to be happy with my own company and trusting God to take care of my fears showed me I don’t need anyone else to validate my existence.