Two weeks ago, I decided I needed to get out in nature for a few days on my own. It had been three years since my last solo camping trip, and I knew with a trip to Minnesota for a wedding coming up and some stressful weeks at work, I needed the downtime to recharge and be in my own thoughts.
Honestly? I was scared to go.
This is the constant struggle I face when I go for even just a solo hike or kayak. I’m legit scared most of the time. I really don’t like to talk about it, but it’s true. When I’m driving to any solo adventure destination – even if it’s just the three minutes to the lake behind my house – my heart rate speeds up, my thoughts ricochet off of every possible doomsday scenario I can conjure.
Making a costly mistake and not being able to fix it.
Making a costly mistake, not being able to fix it, and getting laughed at by onlookers… somehow this is worse than the first one.
Needing to face the silence of my own company.
Facing the roaring existential questions in my mind.
Finding myself nose to nose with a mountain lion… a bobcat… or a bear.
Finding myself nose to nose with a human.
Not enjoying myself as much as I “should”.
That’s the thing about being a trauma survivor. Even though I’m now free from the visceral trauma of an emotionally abusive marriage, the pain and fear can still feel very real. And it can creep up in all sorts of situations. Like camping in the woods by myself.
Deep down, though, I know the only way to conquer any real or imagined fear is to face it. And so, sitting at my computer on a hum-drum Tuesday at work, I took a deep breath and clicked “reserve” on a two night trip to Round Spring Campground between Salem and Eminence, Missouri along the Current River. Round Spring Campground is only a couple of hours away from Jefferson City, and the Current River has a very special place in my heart as the very first river I ever paddled. *heart*
However, even just preparing myself to go on a solo camping trip is a chore. First of all, I’m a single mom. And really, I that’s enough of a situation to make me not want to put forth the effort to do nice things for myself. But, in addition to that, I have to make sure I have enough calorie-dense, non-perishable, allergy-friendly food I can eat. I have to make sure I have all the camping and hiking gear I’ll need. I have to make sure I have additional personal protection and first aid in case I encounter any of the aforementioned fears.
Somehow, by God’s great grace and my giant need to get outside, in just a couple of days, I managed to arrange all the details during my breaks at work and evenings after my daughter went to sleep.
Here’s the shakedown:
Food – I decided to keep it simple and focus on non-cooked items that I could fit in my small cooler.
- Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Oatmeal Cups
- Folger’s Instant Coffee packs
- Almond Milk Creamer
- Luna Bars – Lemon Zest
- Live G-Free Wraps
- Red Pepper Hummus Packs
- Roasted Turkey Lunch Meat
- Chopped Tomatoes
- Cauliflower Crackers – Nacho Cheese
- Enjoy Life Sunbutter Protein Balls
- Peanut Butter Packs
- Backpacker’s Pantry Louisiana Red Beans and Rice
- Beef Snack Sticks
- Big Gallon Jugs of Drinking Water (I use these to fill up my Nalgene bottles and hydration bladder)
- Propel Packets
Gear – I really didn’t need anything new. I did buy some spray to treat my tent and hiking gear for ticks and mosquitos. Seemed to work pretty well, especially in the height of tick season in Missouri.
- Tent – I have a (check brand…)
- Sleeping Bag
- Two Camp Chairs
- Backpacking Stove and Propane
- Backpacking Cook Set
- Bug Spray
- Hiking Backpack
- Hiking Boots
- Rain Jacket
- First Aid Supplies
Personal Protection – I hate that I even have to think about this… but I refuse to carry a gun… and since I do feel better having some sort of plan in case I encounter any craziness… here is what I packed with me:
- A Carabiner – I like to hook this through the loops on the inner tent zippers at night to make it harder for someone or something to join me while I’m sleeping.
- Pepper Spray – borrowed this from a friend who found out I was going out camping on my own. I will definitely look for my own can for my next trip.
- Bear Spray – also borrowed this from a friend. Word to the wise – don’t test this near your camping area unless you have a gas mask. Seriously. I might know this from personal experience. Recent personal experience.
- Neck Knife – this was a new purchase. I hooked it onto my backpack while hiking and felt a little safer.
Navigation – I really want to get a Garmin inReach for my birthday that’s coming up in September (hint, hint…). Until then, I’ll have to make due:
- My phone – this was completely useless. Read keep reading to find out why.
- Paper maps – these are so fun… but only on well marked trails. And, thankfully… they were. Why did I use paper maps? Again, keep reading to find out why.
- Asking for directions – my campground host and the staff at Carr’s Canoe Rental were SUPER helpful when I had questions. Why did I have to ask for directions? In case you didn’t hear, you’ll need to keep reading to find out why.
So… I know you’re all wondering… why all the drama with navigation?
Well.. after I unloaded everything at my campsite on Wednesday night, I was feeling pretty proud of myself. Setting up camp was super smooth. And, since I had plenty of daylight left and knew Round Spring was nearby, I decided to take a stroll.
Before I took off, I remembered that I had pepper spray in my bag and should probably take it with me if I’m off hiking around by myself. Reaching into the bag to grab it, I saw that the bear spray was in the bag next to it.
I’ve never used bear spray…
I wonder how it works?
The directions seemed pretty straight forward, but the nozzle contraption looked confusing. I didn’t want to be fumbling with it in the event I actually needed to use it, so I thought… what harm could it do to take the safety off and spray a little into the woods? What if I’m suuuuuper careful?
I’ll tell you what harm it will do.
Lots of burning. Lots of burning and lots of sneezing and lots of CURSING.
Yep. I really did do that. (thank goodness no one saw…)
By the time I cleaned myself up and got my bearings, I still had a decent amount of daylight – and the bear spray fog was still permeating my campsite – so I hightailed it out of there and headed toward Round Spring.
Shaking off the adrenaline and blowing the remaining pungent particles out of my nostrils, I followed the trail to the day-use area around the spring. There was a pool of water where the campground host had told me to watch for otters. So I sat on the bench and watched the watercress bend beneath the water’s flow and entranced by the fog that had settled on the surface. Though I didn’t see otters, there were some very lively woodpeckers overhead.
After a few peaceful moments, I headed toward the spring. The trail leading up to it intersected with another trail, and on further inspection, I saw an Ozark Trail blaze on one of the trees… how cool is that?? That will be good to remember when I continue my quest to hike the entire Ozark Trail.
After a few bends in the trail, I came upon some steps that led to a viewing platform above Round Spring. Most everyone else who had been milling about had vacated and I had the area to myself.
I can’t describe to you how beautiful this water was. It was such a deep gorgeous shade of blue. And in that moment, I truly enjoyed the experience of taking it all in with my own eyes.
Until I got that nagging feeling that maybe I should take a picture. You know… for Instagram. Because if I don’t post it on Instagram… well it probably didn’t happen. And I need the likes and comments to validate that all of this did in fact happen.
Do you ever get that nagging feeling? Ugh. It’s so annOYing.
I carefully pull my phone out of my pocket.
Before I can even comprehend what is happening, my hands are fumbling, my phone is falling, I keep reaching to grab it but it’s vendetta to pierce every rock below me is just too quick for my butterfingers.
There it went. Into what I assumed was the watery blue.
I stood there for several beats just trying to figure out if what I think happened really did happen.
And then I tried to figure out what the hell I was going to do.
Seriously? Did I just do that? (thankfully no one saw it…)
After floundering in oblivion for what felt like five minutes, I realized that I needed to climb down quick to try to rescue my phone, because literally… my entire life is on my phone. I knew the longer I left it down there, the bigger the chance I wouldn’t be able to restore it.
Even though there were several signs telling me not to… I climbed down to the bottom of the spring. Through my cursing, I was also thanking Tracy, my trainer at the Linc, because she literally kills me every day in my workout classes. I got to the bottom and looked around.
I climbed from rock to rock, silently praying it landed on a dry patch instead of diving into the water.
My hope of a successful reunion faded with each passing second, and after what seemed like way too many seconds… I saw it.
Face up with the home screen on – displaying a selfie I recently took with my little girl.
Relief and fear swept over me as I plunged my feet into the icy-blue water (even though the signs definitely said not to) and carefully tiptoed to the phone for a rescue.
Not gonna lie… I really felt like a bad ass climbing up out of that spring… but the elevated speed of my heart palpitations encouraged me to get the phone case off as soon as possible and dry everything out.
I know from previous phone experience, that opening up the face plate after dropping a phone in water is the best thing you can do. Not rice.. not those little bags of silica… get the phone OPEN so it can air out.
I worried and fiddled with it until the sun went down – and then worried and fiddled some more by the light of my headlamp. I managed to get the face plate halfway lifted, and from the looks of things, my screen was definitely not going to recover from the water damage.
So, there I am… no phone… no way to take pictures… no way to navigate all of the hiking trails I had saved on All Trails… and I really let my mind spin about it for some time.
This is why I get scared before I go out on my own. This is why I should just stay home. I’m too clumsy and I make costly mistakes.
Eventually, I had a choice to make.
I could either sit and stew and worry – maybe even cut my two day trip short to get the phone to my repair guy back home – or I could trust that maybe this camping and hiking retreat of mine was truly meant to be a solo endeavor. I could trust in the divine humor I had just received… trust the kindness of my fellow humans… trust myself.
Which one did I choose?
You’ll have to stay tuned for Part 2.