Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Camping solo

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.


  1. You continue to amaze and inspire me.

    Solo camping has always been on my bucket list, but now being happily married to a husband with whom I like to share adventure, it doesn't seem the right time. The same with a solo sailing passage. Still, the experience calls.

    I never knew these past experiences of yours. The funny thing about skydivers is, you never learn much about your fellow jumpers' pasts. Because skydiving is so in-the-moment, so NOW, it is such the great equalizer that nothing else seems to matter.

    Yet it does. Who we were affects who we are, just as who we are affects who we were. Yes, the tail wags the dog, and vice versa.

    I enjoyed backpacking and volunteering and surviving the storm vicariously through you.

  2. Thanks, Linda! I had to go in and fix a mistake I made in this one: it was the 1980s when I was backpacking, because the 1990s were taken up with, as you know, skydiving! Once I started jumping out of planes, all my backpacking and skiing went out the window (so to speak). :-)

  3. Hi,every time i visit i am amazed at your adventures!YOU seem to be having all the fun.
    Love reading your blog,always something new here.I have awards for you ...check my post on awards.Have a good day.

  4. Lady, you have what that little girl in True Grit had....GRIT. And,I suspect that as your blog goes along, you will continue to amaze us. I love it when women break the mold, and you have. lol

    First off, get me 8' off the ground and I get dizzy. So, no skydiving for me, ever! Ever! EVER!

    I cannot even imagine how marvelous the Peru trip must have been.

  5. I used to spend solo time on a boat on a lake. That time was priceless!

  6. Hmmm, well that's something I would never do! I'm glad you did it though (giggling) so you could tell us all about it. Tell us more about the wildlife and the bears, pleeeeeeeeeese
    Blessings, Star

  7. Charmine, thanks for the award! I have put it on the LHS of my blog and will nominate some people soon. You are just too fast for me!

    Lynn, you don't need to go skydiving, ever! I promise I will never ask, either! And the Peru trip was wonderful. More in another post.

    Lily, you know what it's like to be out there all alone. Sometimes those moments are the ones I think I will recall when I'm about to check out the other side of the Valley.

    Okay, Star. I promise to make some posts about the wildlife and the (one) bear. Big hugs! I also want to know what a bacon butty is! Post! Picture!

  8. Your life experiences are interesting, exciting and sometimes dangerous. Really enjoyed your posts.

  9. DJan you certainly have had been on adventurous trips – you are a hardy soul! I thought I was but I don’t think I would have tried to camp by myself in the wilderness. I went by ship without my parents, to England when I was 13, and came to the USA by myself, hardly knowing anyone, at 21 and traveled in Greyhound buses to 22 states, but that seems easy compared to what you accomplished! I love reading your adventures.

  10. You are very adventurous and I love living vicariously through your blog.

    Thank you Anne

  11. Let me say this about that (two fingers extended in the Victory sign): Sharon, I've become a follower too! Thanks for the word "dangerous" which I myself would never have attached to me.

    And VB: you just don't realize that what you have accomplished is miles more adventurous than mine. Traveling alone at 13 is incredible, and traveling to 22 states at 21? Come on! YOU are the incredible one.

    Ladies, thank you. Humbly. I want to tell you soon about my ancestors, so you can know who they are. Coming soon at a blogspot near you!

    Namaste, DJan

  12. DJan, that's one adventure I would love to try one time. Going alone in the wilderness would be scary for me maybe, a tour guide could help me. I love hiking in the forest there are lots of new things you can discover. Every step and every sweat counts a lot, and I know how it feels being alone in the middle of nowhere while the the weather is not really cooperative. Prayers can move mountains, I believe in that.

    Keep blogging and we'll keep reading.


  13. Uh Vagabonde? I've been on a Greyhound bus. Twice. And it DEFINITELY counts as an adventure...

  14. That was very inspirational. You are amazing. I have way too much fear to camp by myself. I don't even like it when my husband goes out of town.

  15. Way to go, on your own in Peru, what a great adventure. About 1981 I was a camp director and my backpacking was in the mountains of Northern Georgia and North Carolina, not quite as good as Peru but still fun.
    Let's get together over a campfire and compare bear stories sometime.

    A really great post, I'm looking forward to hearing more.

    Sorry to take so long to get over, between a bad internet connection and yard work . . .

  16. Sounds like a wonderful adventure and that you had caring friends! I also love the photos above from your 'luncheon'! =]

  17. Reading Camping Solo gave me the gift of remembering the several times I camped alone when I lived in the West. A three day solo when on a Vision Quest in Death Valley in mid-winter especially stands out. It was then that I received my personal name - Thornflower. The scariest time was when I took off on my 550cc Yamaha bike for a few miles along a fire trail in the mountains until the trail turned into a deep rut and I realized I might not be able to get my bike, loaded with all my camping gear, turned around without dumping it. Without any flat land, how was I to right it? VERY CAREFULLY, and with lots of patience, a little at a time, I made it. Being in that situation taught me never to go camping alone without letting someone know where I was going.

  18. Very cool photo, AND story! thanks for sending me the link! You've had quite the life! I hope I can do half the things you've done! I'll put up a post with all the links soon, thanks for playing!



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