Solo Camping For Core Strength
Updated: Sep 16, 2021
I just finished two days of backwoods solo camping.
It was the most empowering thing I’ve ever done.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had other empowering experiences in my life – most notably, following through with my divorce, going back to school, and re-entering the workforce after an extended absence. But camping off the grid with no one to rely on except myself was a massive exercise in problem solving.
And problem solving is my crack cocaine.
I never feel more alive than when I’m moving my life forward by solving one of my life’s problems, especially persistent ones, with elegant, timely solutions. Everything from “Oh, shit, where are my keys?” to “Oh shit, do I need to call an ambulance?” provide me with opportunities, big and small, to let my mental horses run.
I’ve known about my problem-solving habit for a while. It was a trait acquired during years of educating my children at home and heightened by coping with a sick child. This served to prepare me for the advanced course in problem solving required after divorce necessitated accessing all my mental acuity to keep the lights on and to care for my kids. Others haven’t always recognized my problem-solving skills. Perhaps due to a few less-than-stellar solutions but I prefer to think my inspired plans simply weren’t given enough time to come to fruition :).
But back to the camping…
I’d always spent a lot of time outdoors with my kids and I had camped as a girl. But that was the extent of it. For several reasons, family camping was out – a tent was too small a space for our combustible family. And I liked my bed. A lot. Choosing to spend much of my cross-country adventure inside of a tent was a bit of a stretch.
So, basically, I was starting from scratch.
I dutifully went to REI in preparation for my trip. I imagine there may have been some internal eye-rolling as a perfectly pedicured girl, in her platform sandals, cute dress, and Frye bag, asked a lot of questions. I purchased the requisite tent, sleeping system, and camp stove. I was ready.
Shortly before leaving on my trip, I called to inquire about camping in Quebec Province’s Parc Jacques Cartier. I was told the campsites were mostly filled for my dates but there were some available that would require “a little walk.”
I arrived at the park in mid-afternoon on a Thursday, not sure what to expect, but proud of myself for getting there in plenty of time to set up my camp before nightfall. It was then that the ranger told me that my site was 20 km down the valley dirt road and that it would take me 45 minutes to an hour to get there. That’s odd, I thought. I was still brushing up on the miles to kilometers conversion, but that seemed excessive. It took just few minutes of a roof-rack rattling, crater dodging drive before I understood her comment.
I finally pulled into the parking lot for my camp just as the sun was cresting the mountain, throwing a late afternoon shadow on the river and valley below. I collected my first load of necessities – tent, firewood, water, and started the trek to my site. It quickly became clear that the ranger’s definition of a little walk was vastly different than mine.
Even before I left town on my adventure, I knew this piece of my trip - out in the woods - would be the most personally challenging. Way out of my comfort zone. So, I teared up when I finally came upon tent site number three, my place. It almost felt like an altar where I would test my best self.
Food had to be ported in and out for every meal due to the local bear population. My second trip back to my car included provisions for that night’s meal which got simpler as I walked back to fetch things from my cooler. There were several other families camping nearby that night, so I settled in, got a fire going, and made dinner, surrounded by the happy camp noises of those situated nearby.
The next morning, I awoke to a steady rain. I listened as the slumber lifted and the neighboring camps came to life with French-speaking voices, the clanging of dishes, and the tantalizing smell of bacon. The rain grew heavier. And one by one the other sites emptied. I kicked myself for not checking the weather more closely and I wondered if there was a big storm coming. Without service, there was no way for me to check. My phone was now just a very expensive camera.
As the others left, I was comforted by the two groups that remained. The rain persisted and drove me into my tent. I spent the morning writing and periodically peeking out my tent flap to make sure the others were still there. Finally, just before noon, the two remaining families left.
I was all alone. Out in the woods. Without service.
It was Friday so I felt confident that there would be others arriving for a weekend of camping. However, when I checked in the ranger let me know that the camp staff planned to go on strike on Saturday. Tomorrow. Perhaps the Quebecers knew better than the American and chose to stay away. At that point I did not know what the night held but alone or not, I decided to stay. I hiked the nearby trail that afternoon, the canopy served as nature’s umbrella, careful to push away thoughts of 127 Hours.
In addition to feeding my problem-solving habit, my camping experience provided me with my other craving: solitude. I’d spent many happy years connected to my kids who, because of how they were schooled, were always home. 24/7. For me, solitude was as rare and I soaked it in like water on my parched soul.
Dusk fell and I ported in my dinner. As I started to build the evening’s fire, I saw a headlight on the path. Neither excited nor relieved, a couple joined my sparsely populated outpost. The night passed uneventfully. I lay awake pondering the substitutions and work arounds for the things I forgot to bring or didn’t want to carry in from my car. Living with as few things as possible for eating and drinking proved a delicious dilemma. My self-talk was a rich conversation as I meandered down the neural synapses lit up by the challenge.
I broke camp the next morning, pausing on my way out to hike up to the overlook. Sweaty and bug bitten, I finally headed north, empowered in a new way and completely captivated by the experience.
I imagine there are skeptics who might say that I didn’t end up alone in the woods to know whether I could handle it.
But I plan to find out. Soon.
I’ve always believed that it is good for a woman to be strong. My belief has fueled my decades long workout habit. But my camping experience taught me that in addition to physical core strength, those defined rock-hard abs, there is also psychological core strength, a defined rock-hard sense of self. And I want that for myself. So, now, as I embark on the next phase of my adventure, my plans have shifted as a result of my two days spent in the woods. Destinations such as New Orleans and Chicago are still on my itinerary, but I’ve added other more remote destinations to feed my problem-solving habit, soak in some much-needed solitude, and build a rock-hard inner core.