I've been processing my last solo trip for a little while, which was to Wildcat Hollow in Southeast Ohio. I love Wildcat. It's challenging with elevation, lots of spots to stop, pretty, has bug out points, and is perfect length for a weekend. That's why I love solo-ing there.....correction....LOVED solo-ing there.
The last time I stayed there I was down in the spooky-ass valley. I got there as dusk was falling, the camp I wanted to stay in was taken. So I'm in the mostly overgrown, super creepy camp spot. The ONLY spot I get icky vibes off of. Of course. And it was cloudy. SO ZERO LIGHT.
Whatever, I'm badass and awesome, so I just trundled off to bed with Lucy, my mostly fearless companion....and a book on tape to drown out my own imagination.
Let me say I felt pretty comfortable. I wasn't *super* creeped out, just my own imagination running wild. I fell asleep, feeling good. And then was awoken at 1:30ish to light beaming in my tent. WTAF. WTAF. WTAF. Bear spray in hand, I peered out. First thought was aliens. Second thought backpackers coming in late after work. But I could see them on the trail, about 40 feet away, flashlights in hand and stumbling along, no packs visible. Roads intersect Wildcat and they seemed drunk or high, so I guessed they were out there to party. My campsite was overgrown, and it was very foggy, so I figured they didn't see me (Lucy just crouched low to the ground and stared, not barking for once lol). I waited about fifteen minutes, prayed I wouldn't have to pee, and then snuggled back to bed with Lucy. Quite proud of myself, I'd like to mention.
Then the FUCKING GUNSHOTS STARTED. Two in the morning, and close. Like, it could be the guys kinda close. And not one or two, like 20 or more. I noped the fuck out after that. Lucy was losing her shit, terrified. I was afraid but not terrified, but I wasn't sticking around. I jammed everything in my pack, called my dad to come meet me at a random road, and hiked four and a half miles out.
There were a lot of things that ran through my head - one dude just murdered another and I was going to see a body that night (drug deal gone bad? illegal dumping? all of those things are present down there). Or, more likely, two drunk dudes illegally poaching deer. Didn't wanna run in to them doing that, either. I grew up 20 minutes from there. Not folks you want to run in to.
It was legit scary. But I'll tell ya what - I didn't panic. I assessed the situation, deemed it no longer safe to remain, and got myself out of the situation. And I don't feel bad for bugging out. I go in to every solo (and regular bp trip to be honest) with a solid foundation of what to do if shit hits the fan - what are the ways out of the woods? Who do I call? Do I have a means to get help if I can't get out? Do I have a means to survive the most obvious situations until help arrives?
These are all questions you should ask yourself - and have answers to - every time you go out in the woods, whether to hike or backpack, alone or with others.
In the weeks following my bug out, quite a few folks in my hiking groups have mentioned staying at Wildcat and the significant amount of gunfire they heard while there. Not just me. It's frustrating, but also good to know.
I WILL be solo'ing again, and I'll post some of my theories at another time.
What's the worst thing that's happened to you at night while backpacking? Solo or with others? How did you overcome it?
When I was getting ready for my solo trip to Dolly Sods, the only thing I was actually concerned about was the wildlife. Dolly has quite a few bears, and the frequency of them in camps has been exacerbated in recent months with the influx of folks (new AND old to the trail) not practicing proper food and scent storage. I spent a lot of time reading about black bears while I was getting ready - I kept having this reoccurring nightmare of walking up to a bear's face two inches from mine. While not realistic, it WAS motivating.
As I was doing my research, I was surprised by what you're actually supposed to bag and how far away you're supposed to bag it. Most places say 300 yards! Though, truthfully, I think I ended up about 100 yards away, as I didn't want to be wandering around unfamiliar woods at night with black bears and human shit (that's a story for another time).
So what are you supposed to put in your bear bag?
- The obvious - any food and any empty food wrappers.
- But also anything scented - bug spray, chap stick, gum, sunscreen, etc.
If you're alone, it's even more important to make sure everything is hung correctly (we'll discuss why another time). So what about the lesser known stuff you should hand?
Here's some of the lesser-known items and factors to consider:
- Fuel - Did you know that bears can pick up a scent up to TWENTY MILES AWAY? Yikers. So in my reading I found they'll also check out fuel. So bag that, too, baby!
- Cooking Paraphernalia - Anything you cooked in or ate with, even if washed (which should be down stream and remnants not dumped anywhere near camp).
- YOU - No, you can't fit yourself in a bear bag, but if you can avoid it, don't wear anything scented in to the back country. A lot of folks say to avoid deodorant, washing your hair the day of your trip, and no scented body lotion.
Black bears are curious, peaceful creatures that will rarely become aggressive unless you startle them or come between a mother and her cub. So far, no people have been killed by black bears in West Virginia, which is where I was. However, if a black bear attacks a person, they're automatically hunted down and killed. Even if it was due to the person's own actions - such as improperly stored food, etc.
So please, do your part to keep yourself - and the bears out there - safe.
Anything additional that you store? Any tips for bear bag hanging? Comment below!