For the seven years that I stayed in a shitty relationship with Jon, every time I considered breaking up with him, which was, oh, once a week, I stopped myself with the question, “But who will take me adventuring in the wilds?” The underlying belief, of course, was that I couldn’t do it alone. There was some truth in that, given that I was less than fabulous at map reading and navigation, hadn’t taken any wilderness survival courses, didn’t have the right vehicle to get to the kind of remote places I seek, or all the necessary gear….all of which is easily fixable, but these were the things that, at the time, led me to feel that if I wanted to go camping or backpacking in the backcountry, I needed to do so with a man who had the skills, knowledge or gear that I lacked. Frankly, it had been so easy to do it that way all my life, to rely on my man for those things, that I could get away with being tragically female in that area. I justified it with the fact that there were many areas in my relationships, especially with Jon, where he depended on me, where he was tragically male.
I’ve now sold my little Honda and bought a 4wd truck so that I can get into the backcountry sans Man-With-Truck, and I’ve finally started camping alone. As with most things, it isn’t nearly as scary as I imagined it would be. My anxieties were much worse than the reality. And as it turns out, when I have only myself on which to rely, I can read a map just fine thank you. If and when I get lost, I can get unlost, all by my little self. I’m not as clueless as I thought; I’ve learned a thing or two in all the years of backcountry adventuring with Jon or whoever else. I would still benefit from a wilderness survival course and maybe a First Responder course, but in the meantime I’m learning the joy, peacefulness and freedom of camping with just my dogs.
My first time was about a month after Jon and I had finally broken up. I found an amazing spot outside of Moab, the dead end of a dirt road on BLM land where if you kept driving you’d go off a 1500 foot cliff. With the incredible views and isolation, it made for a perfect spot for what I wanted to do: just sit and write and meditate for a few days. My dogs were accustomed to all day hikes and I knew they’d be expecting that, wanting that, and antsy and annoying when they didn’t get it. So to distract and occupy them, I took along some beef bones. They forget all about going somewhere when there’s a beef bone put before them. As I was pulling the plastic wrapper off the bones I realized: the smell of dead, raw meat is going to draw in any predator that is out here, most likely during the night, most likely coyotes, but perhaps mountain lions, oh and bears and wolves and tigers and black rhinos too. Dumb girl mistake. Just putting the bones “away” would do no good. Away meant in the truck somewhere, and it would still be detectable to a predator with a predator’s sense of smell. So I went ahead and gave the dogs the bones and prepared for the herds and hordes of wild woman-eating beasts to start showing up at dusk. My solution, at bedtime, was to put the dogs in the bed of the truck (to keep them from chasing things in the night and possibly fighting with whatever they were chasing and getting injured or running off too far to find their way back to camp) and I put my sleeping pad and bag on the roof of the camper shell – because everyone knows black rhinos and bears can’t reach that high. (It’s too cramped and the dogs are too smelly for me to sleep with them in the bed of the truck and I don’t want them laying their dirty, stinky bodies on my schmancy, expensive down sleeping bag which is what they’d be trying to do all night. They also fart and snort and snarf and generally make it impossible to sleep.) To sleep on the roof of the camper shell, I programmed my brain, the way you can program yourself to wake up from a nap in 15 minutes without an alarm, to be aware of the width, or lack thereof, of the area on which I was laying so that I wouldn’t roll off in my sleep.
The second time ever that I camped alone was on a road trip out to Yosemite to stay with my friend Molly in her cabin for a week. One of the downsides to believing that I had to travel with a man in order to travel was that I never did any vacations/adventures with girlfriends. Now that I don’t have a boyfriend I am free to plan trips with, for example, Molly. On the drive out, I camped alone out in the dry, grey Nevada desert on BLM land outside of some little run-down trailer-park town. I chose a spot that couldn’t be seen from the paved road; I parked my truck facing toward the dirt road I drove in on so that if some truck full of yahoo rednecks managed to stumble upon me and wanted to harass me, I could just climb from the truck bed where I was sleeping through the sliding windows into the cab, and drive away. This wasn’t done in a state of great fear; I was simply being cautious and mindful. While bears or mountain lions are the things we picture in the night every time we hear a twig snap, it’s really truckfuls of drunken shit kickers that we need to be wary of.
My third solo camping trip was, once again, just an overnight on a drive to meet my friend Molly for a week together in Santa Fe. I drove up a 4wd road bordering the Great Sand Dunes national park and camped next to Medano Creek. I got stuck three times in deep sand, despite being in 4wd, but I got out each time on my own, without the help of a man, without needing to be rescued. This was also my first time of camping without my dogs. There is a difference, to be sure, between camping alone as a woman with two or three dogs in your company, and camping truly solo, with no dogs. Even if they wouldn’t actually fend off some sort of attacker, they do deter many people from even approaching you, especially if you let them growl or bark and act like you don’t have the ability to control them – easy to do with my big, 90-pound, block-headed boy who does believe he needs to protect me. I can walk him at night and groups of men will cross the street to avoid us.
I’ve just now returned from my fourth solo camping adventure, a weekend of camping combined with culture, where I camped up in the mountains and drove down into a nearby town to go to a couple of plays at the town’s repertory theater – one of the best in the country, it is said. I spent the first afternoon bumping up and down dirt roads looking for a camp spot – a specific meadow I vaguely remembered from a camping trip with Jon many years before. Not able to find that, I settled for another great little spot at the end of a dirt road next to a creek so that I could hear the rushing of the water as I went to sleep, and my dogs could entertain themselves endlessly in the water. The next day, after a peaceful camp breakfast, I cleaned up in the creek, drove down into town, was able to see a matinee at 2pm, grab some to-go dinner around 5pm and eat it creek-side while my dogs frolicked and splashed about in the creek just outside of town, catch another play that night at 7pm, drive back up to my camp spot for the night, and drive home the next day. The first time I did this it was more about going to a play alone than camping alone. That was another one of my “single girl fears:” going to a play or movie alone. I know many people do it all the time and will scoff at my fear of it, but having never done it before, it was a hurdle for me. I felt more comfortable jumping that hurdle out of town where I wasn’t likely to see anyone I knew in the audience who I just knew would be whispering to each other, “Oh look, there’s [me] and she can’t get a date.” I had such a nice time the first year I did it that I’ve decided to make it an annual cultural mecca. Next year I’m going for three days and three plays, solo of course.