Saturday was National Trails Day and I unfortunately spent the day at work and then most of the evening in traffic on my way home. So I made big plans for my very first time camping alone and spent the rest of the night packing. I’ve only been camping for about three years and never alone. I figured it was better to find out now that I’m a big baby than after I quit my job, bought tons of gear, and flew out to Georgia. I had to pick a place close by since I wasn’t leaving until after work the next day. I set my sights on The Big Thicket National Preserve. The Turkey Creek Trail is 14.5 miles long which I thought would be perfect for my first solo camping trip. Long enough to really feel the weight of a full pack since gear is usually split up between my husband and son, but short enough so that if I found myself in trouble, getting off the trail would be relatively easy.
Things I hoped to accomplish:
- Carry everything myself.
- Hike at least 5 miles with a full pack.
- Try out my alcohol stove.
- Practice hanging a bear bag.
- Use the Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter we bought two years ago and have yet to use. (This is for family backcountry, not the AT.)
- Drive to the Sundew Trail on my way out to photograph some wildflowers.
- Not jump at every single noise in the middle of the night.
Things I actually accomplished:
- Carried everything myself.
- Hiked more than 5 miles with a full pack.
- Secured a spot in the Guinness World Records for most spider webs walked into face first.
Yeah, that’s it. I totally failed BUT I learned a lot of lessons and I’m glad I went.
I started by getting off work late. Turns out it’s pretty hard to predict when and how people are gonna die so getting off work late is a pretty common occurrence. Then I got stuck at a train crossing for half an hour. By the time I got there it was almost dark so I walked as fast as I could and was pleasantly surprised that the metal bridge crossing Village Creek was as close as it was. You can only camp north of the bridge so I was worried I wouldn’t make it there before dark. I stopped to take some pics and, of course, lost the last bit of light I had left. Oops. The forest is extremely dense there and there were very few clearings which were getting harder and harder to see. Once it was completely dark, I panicked and doubled back to a place I’d seen a quarter-mile back but wasn’t so sure about. I took a chance and it turned out to be the perfect place. There were leftover campfire ashes that someone else hadn’t covered when they left. Obviously someone had stayed here and hadn’t died so I took it to be a good sign.
Because it was late, already dark, and swarming with mosquitoes, I decided to just set up my tent and call it a night. I could try out all my gear the next night. Setting up the tent in the dark by myself was a little tricky but I figured it out. I must have forgotten the stakes so I secured the rainfly by stabbing my walking stick into the ground on one end and tying the other end to a root sticking out of the ground. I was quite pleased with my cleverness until the next morning when I found out the bag of stakes was under the footprint the whole time.
Sleeping in the woods by myself for the first time was pretty terrifying. Every single noise was an ax murderer or a hungry animal … or a hungry ax murderer! The idea of getting woken up in the middle of the night is scary. I can’t see without my glasses and even if I had enough sense to remember where I put them, it was pitch black and I’d have to be able to find the flashlight as well … and well … by that time I would have already been devoured by a hungry ax murderer. So I put my glasses and flashlight in the same pouch by my head and covered my ears with the sleeping bag. It took a long time to fall asleep but once I did, I woke up uneaten and in good spirits.
The hard part was over.
Unless you count hiking 10.5 miles with 35 lbs on your back in 90°F weather during mosquito and tick season the hard part … then, no, the hard part wasn’t over. The plan was to split the day in half, hike as far as I could with enough time to hike back the way I came so that in the morning I would be close enough to the car to make my noon root canal at the dentist the next day. I realized somewhere that I’d lost my bug spray so I had to turn around and walk half a mile to find it. Totally bummed out but glad I found it because the mosquitoes were out of control. Most of those pictures were taken at the high cost of about 5 bites per arm. You’re welcome. I brought 3 liters of water in a hydration bladder and a 1L bottle for cooking. I drank all of it by the time I got back to where I’d planned to camp the second night. My backup plan was to filter from the creek but I didn’t know there was a steep drop off to the creek. I would have had to tie a rope to the filter bag and lower it down to the creek. It just didn’t seem worth it because stopping that long would’ve meant even more mosquito bites since I’d used the last of the bug spray to stop long enough to break for lunch.
Sooooo out of water, out of bug spray, and TWENTY-TWO TICKS LATER, I walked right past the spot I’d planned to camp at for the second night and headed for the car. They tell you to avoid ticks by not walking in the tall grass but what are you supposed to do if the trail is made of tall grass??? The good news is that only one of those 22 little shits actually made it to my skin and he was easily plucked off with a pair of tweezers in my first aid kit. The rest I politely flicked off my pants and socks. I’m proud to say that I am no longer afraid of ticks. In fact, not only am I not afraid, but I have developed a healthy amount of seething hatred for the little fuckers.
- Accepting that I may not be able to control when I get to places (I hate being late!) will help my stress level on the AT.
- Earplugs should keep my mind from running rampant at night.
- Figure out a system for my pack and always put things back in the same spot so I can find them easily later.
- The hydration bladder and hose system is super convenient but the downside is running the risk of not knowing how much water you have left.
- Just because someone says there’s a water source doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed.
- Cutter Natural Insect Repellent only works for about five minutes. It says 2 hours. Not even close.
- I like camping by myself. I can eat when I want, sleep however long, and hike however far.
Despite the insane number of ticks and the relentless mosquitoes, I still had a pretty good time when I was moving. It was the stopping that was miserable. Hiking just feels right.
Oh, and I was so tired that I fell asleep in the middle of my root canal. :)