For my first solo backpacking trip this past weekend, I went to Wildcat Hollow in southeast Ohio. A number of folks mentioned how much they want to do an overnight, but the idea of being out at night alone really freaks them out.
First, I am a HUGE scaredy cat of the dark. Despite my age, my imagination still completely runs away with me at night. Whether in my bed or out in the woods, I can imagine all matters of ridiculousness (and some not so ridiculous possibilities).
It all started many years ago, when I was about 5, when my father would drive down the wood-lined dirt road to our farmhouse. He'd suddenly stall the car and say to lock the doors, the Gamork was in the woods (from the Never Ending Story), and then pretend to not be able to restart the car. Needless to say, it absolutely sparked my life-long creativity and story-telling....and also freaked me the fuck out about the dark.
So how did I manage to get out there and make it through the night? Between Tin Can Man, coyotes, and no fire? And how the heck did I build up to doing it in the first place?
There was a couple of freaky things going on that first night alone in the dark. The most realistic problem were the coyotes. They were really howling. And not too far off. In Ohio, even in daytime, you have to be careful. They'll come right after you - or your dog. Luckily, they just freaked out my dogs (who knew enough to stay quiet), and never got that close to camp. But their yips were definitely unnerving.
I never did get a fire started, I got to camp RIGHT at dusk and all the wood was super damp. It just didn't happen. So it was a dark, quiet night at the beginning.
I was actually doing okay, until....Tin Can Man. It was SO weird. So at like one a.m., there was this weird, scraping noise from the direction of the trail. Like someone with a bag of cans and other, heavy stuff. They'd pull it, then it would stop for a second or two like they were resting. The dogs and I were like WTAF, and I didn't even poke my head out. Lasted for about 20 minutes until it was way down the trail. It was really unnerving. Next day, the ladies at the camp before me passed me on the trail and I asked about it. They were still up. Apparently, it was NOT my imagination, but a dude on the trail with a load of scrap metal from the weird shanty down that sits abandoned deep in Wayne (though there were folks there when I passed it...the ladies said the squat there, but I'm not sure if they were squatters or campers). So there was that. I was glad I had dogs and mace, needless to say.
So how did I stay calm and carry on?
1. (I think this was most important) I wanted to keep hiking over the winter, which with working full-time, that meant night hiking. I didn't realize it at the time, but it really acclimated me to being in the dark and every time I went out, and nothing happened, I got a little more comfortable.
2. It was a full moon at Wildcat, again not planned, but I think it helped tremendously being able to see without a light.
3. I downloaded several books on tape and several t.v. shows, and played them throughout the night, so the weird night noises didn't bug me or the dogs. I did have a battery pack to recharge my phone, and I think without the shows, I would have really just FREAKED out, because my mind would have focused on scary stuff.
4. I found a camp site on top of the valley, so I had cell phone reception. It was comforting knowing I could still reach the outside world.
5. My dogs were freaked out and needy, and I had to comfort them, which weirdly enough made me not worry myself. Cause they NEEDED me. Lel.
6. Sometimes, I would repeat a phrase from Stephen King's book, IT: "He thrusts his fists against the post and still insist he sees the ghost." I repeat it until I stop thinking about whatever it is I was thinking about.
7. And finally, my WANT to get out there, to go backpacking, to DO IT, got me out there. With no end in site for COVID, I didn't want to pause more of my life than I had to, while waiting to go with friends.
So that's it! That's how I got through the night. Seems like a lot, but it all really seemed to help. I don't think I'll ever LIKE sleeping alone, in the woods, and in the dark, but I now know it won't stop me from doing what I want to do. Everyone's different, but hopefully one or two will help get you out there solo!
Did you face any obstacles to your first solo overnight? Any tips or tricks? Comment below!