When I posted the seven things about me you might be interested in, almost everyone picked up on the part about camping by myself. This picture was taken in Peru, 1981, of my first tent and Salkantay Mountain behind it. I was not alone on this week-long trip but accompanied by a woman who traveled to Peru with me. My friends could not handle me traveling for six weeks alone and hooked me up with Marla, someone I didn't know, who also wanted to go to Peru. We didn't stay together the whole time, but we did take a week-long hike through the Andes. We took my tent, which is shown above. I loved that tent! It went with me to Peru, through the Colorado Rockies, even accompanied me when I traveled (also with a girlfriend) by bicycle from Boulder to Santa Fe.
During most of the 1980s I volunteered for the Forest Service and worked as a trail host in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. As a volunteer, I and another hiker would camp for two or three days and count people, check to see if the overnighters had obtained a permit, and counted the number of dogs on leash and off leash. (There is a leash law in the Indian Peaks wilderness, but it was rarely followed.) Before long, I became a trainer to teach the new recruits how to be safe, what to do and what not to do.
Once I pretty much knew all the trails really well, I would take off from work for a week and travel from one trailhead to another, a trip of about 35 miles, up over one pass, down into the valley, and up over another pass. I would get a ride from a friend to the first trailhead and then hitchhike home from the other trailhead. Yes, I know: I would never counsel anyone about the wisdom of all this, but I was young, headstrong, and thought I was invincible. Frankly, I never did have any problems with my fellow hikers or catching a ride home. It was the wildlife and the bears, the weather and being unprepared that gave me my biggest scares.
The one thing I was adamant about doing was telling at least two people where I would be, and what my planned route was, and when I would be home. This is critical for anyone traveling in the wilderness alone, because if you get into trouble, someone can't come looking for you if they don't know where to look. For a really gripping story about somebody who didn't follow that rule, read Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston.
One night at 11,500 feet elevation in the wilderness, I remember kneeling on top of my thermarest pad, praying, while lightning crashed all around me, in a storm that almost blew my tent down. When it stopped, and I hadn't been hit, I got out and looked at the clouds as they quickly exited, illuminated by moonlight, as the stars came out, shining like diamonds. And I thought, well, it was worth it.