In 2019, I spent Labor Day weekend embarking on a solo camping trip adventure. I did not expect the wild ride that ensued. I wrote a short story in the memoir class I took this spring, and thought I’d share. This is the beginning of a wonderful transformation in myself…enjoy!
It is no secret that I love and long for alone time. I decided early in the summer I would squeeze in a solo camping trip at some point. It checked all the boxes – affordable, time in nature, and much needed solitude.
However, the entire summer flew by with every week accounted for, so when Labor Day weekend arrived, I knew it was now or never before the weather turned. With zero plan (which is unlike me as a Virgo), I haphazardly packed my things. I didn’t have a campground reservation, which is nearly a requirement these days, I just knew I wanted to explore the Mt. Adams wilderness area.
Equipped with my hiking book and Washington state campground book, I assumed I’d figure it out, and all would fall into place. I loaded the car with my belongings and my 12-year-old Australian Shepherd Jasmine, and drove to the town of Trout Lake in Washington state, about 90 minutes from my home.
I stopped at the Ranger Station on the outskirts of town to ask about permits, maps, directions, and advice on a campground; in which I got a flat toned, “Good luck, it’s Labor Day weekend, and it’s already Saturday.”
I lost cell service leaving Trout Lake town limits, and that’s when the first thought of worry for the weekend crept into my mind. My car didn’t come with a spare tire, and I didn’t have a tire repair kit, as it was used the previous summer when I got a flat, and never replaced. With each mile I drove deeper into the woods, this worry became a little more prominent. No spare, and no cell service seemed like a bad combination.
I decided to drive the loop at the first campground I passed to see if there were any available sites. Much to my surprise, there were four or five. I figured, if all else failed, I would just come back to this campground for the night, but it wasn’t really the vibe I was looking for, so I continued my journey to find that perfect spot.
I spent the next four hours exploring several campgrounds and found zero availability. My patience was disappearing as quickly as my light. A woman I chatted with at one of the campgrounds told me about a large spot near a bridge down the road that was still available earlier in the day. As I drove back down the main forest service road, I spied the spot and pulled over to investigate.
It was a huge area with a dry creek bed nearby, plenty of forest for Jasmine to run around, and a well-built fire ring. The spot was clearly used as a free campsite by many. I was excited about the prospect of not being bothered by anyone. This would be the ultimate alone time opportunity, and it wouldn’t cost me a penny!
However, there was a little part of me that was nervous I would get scared as soon as it got dark. I was in the middle of nowhere, with no cell service…a woman all alone in a site visible from the road.
For the next 15 minutes, I went back and forth, trying to decide what to do. Finally, I let a coin decide my fate. Heads I would stay, tails I would go down the road to the campground that had sites earlier in the day. The flip revealed heads; clearly the universe wanted me to stay. I looked at it as an opportunity to be brave. Plus, there were no guarantees the few spots I saw earlier in the day at the first campground were even available anymore.
It took me about 30 minutes to set up camp, all while thinking, is this the right choice? I just couldn’t shake the scared feeling that was creeping in. Jasmine wanted in the tent as soon as it was set up. This made me even more nervous. Why did she want in the tent? What was she scared of? Did my dog sense danger that I couldn’t see or smell?
Darkness fell quickly, as it does in the middle of the woods, and with it, all the bravery I thought I had. Even after I had a fire going, the thought, maybe I should just pack up and go, crossed my mind at least a dozen times. I kept fighting it, telling myself to be brave, there was nothing to fear.
I made dinner, poured myself a glass of red wine, and did some journal writing next to the fire. With some Pinot in me, I began to relax a little until I heard a ruckus in my cooking area. I flashed a light in the direction of my makeshift kitchen and saw a mouse skitter across the camp stove. It was time to pack things into the car.
After stashing everything in the vehicle, I sat by the fire for another glass of wine and more journal writing. I still wondered if I should stay or pack up and get out of there. I found it necessary to tell myself over and over just be brave.
Half-way through the glass of wine I took a sip, and felt something foreign in my mouth, and a sharp bite on my lip. I looked down with my headlamp to see ants on the lid of my wine tumbler, and realized one of them had just bitten me!
This leads me to worry about having an allergic reaction. What would happen if I got sick, a weird rash, or I stopped breathing! I have no idea what this ant bite will do to me!
I decide it’s time for bed. I was trying to stall as long as possible since I had a sneaking suspicion it would be a long night in the tent, but I was ready to be done with this day, and I was hoping sleep would take over quickly, despite my every nerve being tense with a cloud of fear.
I had a couple things to put away for the night, and when I opened the car door, I saw a mouse run across the back seat. I released an audible “ugh.” I wasn’t going to tackle the mouse problem in the dark, but managed to ensure all the food was sealed tight so it wouldn’t be feasting all night.
I got settled into the tent while the fear inside of me festered at an even greater capacity. By this time, I had several dozen scenarios floating around in my head, all reasons I should be really scared. I knew there were bear and cougar in the woods. What if one was hungry and happened to stroll through my camp? I was thankful for the small sledgehammer I decided to grab out of the car, and held it for comfort.
What’s more frightening than large animals, is other people. The hair-raising scenes in every horror movie I’ve seen crossed my mind. Even worse, were the super strange murders in the news. Those stories are real true crimes that actually happened.
I thought about the serial killer driving by. He probably saw me set up camp and knows I’m alone. Then I started thinking about zombies, ghosts, rabid raccoons and…the big one, you know, the earthquake that could happen any day. There were so many things to fear, it was unbearable.
The logical side of me recognized all these scenarios were highly unlikely, so I told myself to calm down, breathe, try to relax, and enjoy the quiet time I was longing for. I knew the odds were greater that I would die in a car crash the next day, than be harmed by anything in the night, but I couldn’t shake the idea that…things do happen! Really messed up things. I know, because I follow the news, and I listen to murder mystery podcasts. I could be the next headline, all because I decided to camp in the middle of nowhere all by myself!
I was miserable, and I was definitely NOT having fun.
Even as midnight approached, I kept thinking, should I just pack up and go? But then I remember the mouse in my car. There was no way I could pack up and go, because the mouse would probably run up my leg when I drove away, and I’d get in that car accident that is actually statistically plausible. Additionally, there was no way I could go sleep in my car knowing there was a mouse in there. My options were limited, which created elevated fear.
Jasmine seemed scared too, which didn’t help matters. I didn’t know if she was nervous because I was so scared and she was feeding off my energy, or if she was nervous because she sensed danger (dogs know things), or if her nervousness was a figment of my wild imagination that was clearly in overdrive this particular night.
I knew there was no way in hell I was falling asleep anytime soon, so I read. With adrenaline pumping through my entire being, I read for a couple hours, every so often hearing noises outside, and the occasional car driving by, so the fear barometer never eased up.
The book I had was my saving grace as it offered a distraction for me to finally fall asleep at some point around 2:00 a.m. with my glasses still on and the book on my face.
I woke with a start at 3:00 a.m. to hear footsteps outside. My heart was racing, and my panic was now at a 10. The noise was unidentifiable. It could have been deer, elk, bear, a person…or it could have been my sleeping bag rubbing up against my tent in such a way that it sounded like footsteps, or Jasmine moving around to find a new comfortable spot. No one will ever know, but I got some more reading in, because I was wide awake until nearly 4:30 a.m., at which point I was merely counting down the minutes until the sun would save me. I knew everything would be okay, and my overwhelming fear would go away once it was light outside.
I did finally fall back to sleep and got a couple more hours of rest before waking up to sunlight at 6:30 a.m. I couldn’t have been happier. Jasmine was perky too; ready to get out of the tent and explore her surroundings. Thank god that night was over!
I made breakfast quickly, and got my gear into the car with no sign of the mouse. I was anxious to get out of there.
All loaded up in my Kia Niro, I pushed the engine button only to see the “battery dead” icon in the dashboard. First shock, and then anger swept over me as I yelled, “You have to be kidding me!” Trying to remain calm, I took a couple deep breaths while looking for the owner’s manual in the glove box, telling myself, everything will be okay. Of course, the manual wasn’t in the car.
The previous night I blew up my air mattress with the car plug-in, and I must have left the car partially on, draining the battery through the night. The car is a hybrid, so I knew jumper cables wouldn’t work.
Panicking, I hailed down the first vehicle that passed by, a truck full of teenagers heading back to town. A couple of them looked under the hood of my car with me, and we all just shook our heads. We had no idea what to do. The kids were all so nice, and willing to help me. They began clearing out their backseat to provide room for me and my dog to ride into town with them where I could at least use my cell phone.
Right before I hopped into their truck, a memory flashed of the day I bought the car. I learned about a button you simply push to jump the battery! I ran to the car to check it out, explaining to my new friends as I went. Sure enough, there was a button, and it worked. I was ecstatic!
I said thank you, and goodbye to the teenagers that were prepared to rescue me, so thankful they didn’t have to. I let the car run for a few minutes, catching my breath, trying to find a calm place – the whole point of this weekend after all.
I decided to do the hike I had in mind when I chose this area to explore, otherwise the torturous night was for nothing. I drove to Little Huckleberry Mountain trail; a 5-mile round-trip hike with a 1,780 ft. elevation gain, according to my hiking book. The trailhead was only 20 minutes away, and I was filled with glee as I headed in that direction with camp fear in the rearview mirror.
As I pulled into the trailhead parking area, I saw no other cars. Normally this is a hiker’s dream; to have the trail all to herself, but today I’m feeling a little anxious about being the only one here, so far away, still no cell service…what if something happened? Of course, the previous night’s mind wanderings supplied plenty of scenarios for me to worry about.
Deciding to be brave once again, I gear up, grabbing my little backpack to discover the zipper was broken. Really, what else might go wrong?
I let Jazzy run the trail; she was finally a happy camper. Although I was worried about my car starting once I got back to it, and every other possible thing that could go askew, I enjoyed the beautiful hike. It was so nice to be in nature. With each passing mile, my stress and nervousness melted away little by little.
Until about half-way up the trail, I saw a giant paw print in the mud. I didn’t know what it belonged to, but I knew it was a big animal, cougar or bear. For the remainder of the hike up the mountain I sang, clapped and whistled, so not to startle any wildlife I might stumble upon. I felt the cougar stalking me, just waiting for a good time to pounce.
I made it all the way to the top with a sigh of relief; I was still alive! I got to enjoy the whole top of the mountain by myself, which is a rare treat for any hiking trail in the Pacific Northwest. For the first time all the fear of the past 12 hours truly rolled off my shoulders, and I was finally able to relax. Jasmine and I both had some water and snacks.
I wrote in my journal, reflected on the crazy night before, and wondered where all that fear came from, it was so unlike me. I had never been scared like that before in my life. I’m not typically a worrier, I don’t ever think of the “worse-case scenario.” I’m never scared of nature or being outdoors, typically it’s my happy place. Am I just getting older, and as humans age, we worry more?
I didn’t want to be scared to be alone, I’ve always loved being alone. I knew I would have been fine if I had chosen the campground. For some reason, having groups of people surrounding me would have provided the comfort I needed to feel safe. In my search to be “alone” I was finding that maybe I preferred having at least a few people around.
Part of my fear also came from wondering if I can’t be alone out in the wilderness. Maybe I don’t have the grit that it takes? Maybe I’ll be dependent on having people with me from now on, and that loss of independence frightened me. I’ve always wanted to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. How could I possibly tackle such an endeavor if I can’t even handle being alone at night?
After an hour of enjoying the top of the mountain, I began the descent and started seeing people. By the time I got close to the car, Jasmine was back on leash because the crowds were out in full force. I was annoyed with all the people, missing the time I had the trail to myself. The irony was not lost on me.
Feeling rejuvenated from the hike, I decided to explore the surrounding area a bit. My car started without incident, and I went to nearby South Prairie which provided Jasmine a little relief.
I also hiked the short loop at the “Natural Bridges” site.
Now that I felt better, I wanted to check out another area on my wish list. There’s a small primitive campground at the base of Mt. Adams, perfect for a home base to do hikes in the area. I decided if there were camp spots available, I’d think about staying, if there weren’t, I’d consider it a sign to call it a weekend and head home.
I began my drive to Morrison Creek Campground. It was a bit of a trek on another dirt road, causing me to think again about that potential flat tire. However, the view of Mt. Adams was great as I drove, and I felt at ease when I pulled into the campground and saw other people.
One of the best campsites was available, so I snagged it up, made myself lunch, drank a beer, and thought about what I should do. I had cell service (somewhat remarkably) which made me feel safe.
I didn’t want a repeat of the night before, so I spoke with my neighbor to see if she and her husband were planning on staying the night. They were, making me feel even more at ease. I decide I should be brave and go for it. I needed a good night to round out the weekend, and this campsite was beautiful. The creek ran right by with wildflowers all around, and Mt. Adams towered over the whole campground in such a majestic way, plus it was free!
Setting up camp was again quick and easy. I then found the last of the sunshine in the field that occupied the middle of the campground, and wrote in my journal for a while.
When I walked back to camp, I was puzzled by the sound of rushing water. I didn’t remember a creek going through that section of the campground. I arrived back at my site stunned to see the water flowing right through! Rushing water that was not there 30 minutes ago. It appeared out of nowhere as if someone on the mountain turned the faucet on. The group of people camped to the east of me, wandered over in amazement. We were all totally wowed.
I had to find a narrow spot to jump over the creek to get to my tent and picnic table. The natural phenomenon was cool, but… now I had a new thing to worry about. What if the water kept rising and reached my tent? Would I be able to sleep, or would I just be stressing all night about getting caught in a flood? I decide it’s too late to worry much about it now. Worst case scenario, I’d go sleep in the car with the mouse.
Jasmine was ready to get into the tent for the night around 6:30 p.m, but she didn’t seem worried this time. Feeling hunger, I got the camp stove out to heat up soup, but the stove would not work. Learning to take things in stride this weekend, I simply switched gears and made a fire to roast vegetables. I cut up beets, and zucchini and threw the pieces into some tin foil with butter, onion and garlic.
The sky was magical that night. It was clear with all the stars in full force, which also meant it was cold.
I made myself sleepy time tea, journaled for a little bit, and headed to bed. The water in the new creek had only risen a little, so I figured it was probably going to be okay.
I slept much better the second night, apart from being a little cold. When I woke up the next day, I was really happy I decided to camp a second night. This was the kind of alone relaxing time I was looking for. The magical stream that suddenly appeared the evening before was now totally gone.
The stove worked, so I made myself a giant spinach egg wrap for breakfast, and got ready to go on a hike I’ve had on my “to-do” list for many years.
I drove 2 miles to the very busy parking lot at the base of the mountain and headed out to Crofton Ridge on Mt. Adams via the Round-the-Mountain trail. Jasmine and I hiked 11 miles on an epic trail that circled the mountain. I never found the point where I was supposed to turn around (according to my hiking book), but it didn’t really matter as we had a great time.
Jasmine was like her old self chasing squirrels and going off trail like a mountain goat. She had been very timid for the previous few months after we lost our other dog earlier in the summer. It was a heart-wrenching thing for the whole family, and Jasmine was certainly affected. It was heart-warming to see her prance, and run, and appear so happy again; it made the whole crazy weekend worth it.
We crossed several creeks with views of the mountains the whole way. We were hot and tired by the time we got back to camp, and I soaked my feet in the cold creek.
I packed up camp and said farewell to my weekend adventure. Driving along the Columbia Gorge, the moon was bright over the hills; it was the perfect ending to a pretty epic day. I reflected on the weekend and all the fear I experienced. The possible flat tire that never happened, the scary animal encounters that never happened, the scary people encounters that never happened, the flood that never developed, the car battery that was resolved with a push of a button, and I never did see that mouse in my car again. Out of all those potential scary possibilities, the weekend turned out fantastic. I was safe every step of the way.
Maybe I can spend time in nature solo! Maybe I can hike the Pacific Crest Trail! I decided not to give up, I’d keep practicing my bravery.
The following week I told my father the story of the whole weekend, and he asked to see a picture of the animal track I saw on my Huckleberry Mountain hike. He confirmed it was a fresh bear track. He said it was probably a good thing I sang the rest of the way; you just never know…