Me and a dog named Zoey

I was so excited to solo camp in Rickett’s Glenn, located in Benton, PA, for the first time!  I had booked the campsite months before and was looking forward to this 4 days and 3 nights of camping ‘how I want’ and it was finally here.  Normally, I would have my husband with me and maybe some cohorts.  Camaraderie would abound as we would all assist in helping get the tents set up, the food prepared, and assigned jobs fulfilled.  This time, it was all on me.  Well, me and my dog.


The forecast for my adventure called for blissfully cooler weather after having a week of 90-plus degree heat.  There was rain expected for Monday, but I was prepared as I had brought along an EZ-Up Shade cover.  I wasn’t sure how easy this would be to set up, but I figure where there’s a will, there’s a way!  There would also be some other campers in the area that I could ask for help from, as well, right?  This is definitely one thing that’s great about car camping.  You aren’t limited to what you can carry and when my husband asked why I was bringing so much stuff, I simply replied, COMFORT!

Another nice thing about solo camping, is that you can really dial down your food selection.  I didn’t want to bother with ice on this trip and scoured the grocery store for food that I can ‘just add water’ to.  Sans the ramen noodles, I purchased couscous salads (add water), Barilla pasta dishes like chicken alfredo (I just emptied the contents into my pot and slowly simmered it on my fuel stove for a yummy meal), and some Mountain House breakfast skillet packs.  Oh, and cookies!  Lots of cookies!!!  Just a tip when heating up meals in your pots, spray the inside with PAM to prevent anything from sticking.  I experimented with, and without PAM, and I highly recommend PAM for easier clean-up.  Also, don’t always fill to the suggested water line or add the full amount of water suggested by the manufacturer.  If you discover you didn’t add enough water, you can always add more and let your meal sit a bit longer.  So much better than having watery couscous, I tell ya!

As I drove the 3 hours from south central Pennsylvania, into the beautiful black bear country of north west Pennsylvania, Zoey was all about comfort mode also.  So much so, that she used my arm as a head rest making it hard for me to shift gears in my truck.  In hindsight, it wasn’t really hard to remove her head from my arm, but I felt bad disturbing her sleep.  Oh, that pit bull has me trained so well!

I stopped at a local firewood trader just outside the SP.  Always make sure to purchase local firewood and don’t bring in wood from another area.  You could introduce something to the area’s fragile ecosystem and that would be a major fail.  Due to the surprise rain that day, the firewood was a little damp.  As soon as I arrived at the campsite about 15 minutes later, I stacked the wood on the bench of the picnic table for maximum airflow in the hopes of drying some of it out.  Don’t pile your wood, always stack it in an opposite direction.  If you start the first layer vertical, the next layer will be stacked horizontal and so on.  Make sure your stack is stable and there’s no risk of anything rolling away and stealing your self-proclaimed Jenga Master Wood Stacker (JMWS) accreditation.

With the campsite set, and Zoey being comfortable with her own mat and sleeping bag (did I tell you she has me well trained?), the last thing I had to do was set up the EZ-Up shade cover.  So, if you saw a person struggling to get up one of these covers, wouldn’t you have offered to lend a hand?  I would have walked any distance if I could see that a person was struggling with something.  It’s the neighborly thing to do, correct?  The couple the next campsite over checked out my burliness and decided that I didn’t need help as I orbited continuously around all four corners of this thing to get it to spread.  Finally tying a dog leash to one leg and attaching it to the picnic table, I was victorious!  In my non-neighborly demeanor, I just wasn’t going to share any cookies with the couple.  So, there!  I know I’m solo camping, but it would have been nice just to offer a hand.  Poor me, I know…I know.  The main point was the EZ-Up was up and I’m sure more practice in the future will take less time to set up.

As Zoey and I went exploring over to Lake Jean and back, we crossed many Saturday night campsites filled with warm fires, warm conversations, and laughter.  After we got our fire blazing, an eerie loneliness came over me and a hot sting behind my eyes manifested.  I was lonely.  I’m not sure if it was because I was the only one solo camping, but I really missed my husband.  What was wrong with me?  I had been looking forward to this solo adventure for a while and now I’m becoming a PMS statistic?  What just happened to my “I am woman, hear me roar” bravado?  Was it because now that the work was over, I didn’t have campfire chat available to me?  I mean, I had Zoey to talk to and she’s a great listener, but I still went to bed unable to shake this feeling of ‘oneness’.  Zoey and I cuddled that night, and she was more than obliging because the temps had dropped from the forecasted 55F to something colder.  Cold enough that I could see my breath at times and this temp set the precedence for the next few nights.


Sunday morning had us bright and early on the hike at 0630.  I didn’t really have a plan other than we would start with the Cherry Run Trail.  The Cherry Run Trail connects with the Little Cherry Run Trail to Mountain Springs Trail making it a nice day hike at approximately 8 miles from the campground round trip.  We did 17.26 miles that day.  Like I said, we started out at Cherry Run Trail and when we got to the Little Cherry Run Trail intersect, we bypassed it to head another 2.6 miles to Mountain Springs Road (MSR is 3.5 miles) and that would bring us to Mountain Springs Trail (MST is 5.5 miles back to campground.  The Cherry Run Trail is a total of 4.6 miles from the TH).  I don’t know what possessed me, other than I felt as if I didn’t want to miss anything by taking the intersect.  We would take plenty of breaks, right?  I knew we had until at least 830pm that night before it got dark and I had plenty of food and water with me.  What’s 15 miles over a span of 8 hours?  Totally do-able!

The Cherry Run Trail hike was an old railroad section with evidence of the ridged path that showed where the rail ties would have been.  Due to the fact that the ground was soft from the previous rain, it was a muddy hike.  Where the ground cover was really soft, ankle-eating rocks were placed there and it was slow going at times.  My usually ballerina-like Zoey was slipping on rocks and this, after 6 miles, was when I knew she was tired.  We had 9 more miles to go, or so I thought.

In my infinite cluelessness in reading a map, I took us on a wrong turn.  When taking Mountain Springs Road, it will split and you should take the low road.  We came to this split and the only markers I could see were on the road leading to my left.  I naturally assumed this was not the split on the map where I should veer off to the right.  We continued on to our left for another 1.5+ miles before I realized we were at a bend on the map and we had missed our turn.  Understand I was already feeling bad for Zoey being tired and as I looked down at her, for a split second, I freaked out.  Partially due to fatigue, partially due to my irritation of not reading the map correctly, and mostly because I was a bad dog mom.  ‘Take a breath, the worst thing you can do is freak out’, I told myself.  I had been lost before for about 4 hours in the woods on a different solo hike and it wasn’t fun.  Since then, I have better equipped myself for emergencies such as these.  I had a rain poncho, a sleeping bag bivvy, first aid kit, headlamp, waterproof matches and plenty of food and water.  If we had to spend the night due to fatigue, we could just traipse back to the same route in the morning and be okay.


Looking at this from the outside, you may be surmising that I’m overreacting.  My main concern was getting my dog back to the campground, safe and sound, and I was feeling immensely guilty for putting her through this.  We did double back and found the low road and made our way back onto the Mountain Springs Trail.  We arrived back at camp at 1630, starving!!!  I thought I had plenty of food, but 4 KIND breakfast bars isn’t a lot when sharing it with your best dog buddy because she ate all the treats you had for her.

After a nice, hot meal, a shower,  and lots more cookies, we went to bed with a unique sense of accomplishment that night.  At least I went to bed with a unique sense of accomplishment in that this was the longest hike I had accomplished in a day.  For me, it was a personal best, and above all that, Zoey still loved me as she snuggled her white marshmallow body against me while stealing my quilt.  The two of us bracing against the cold that night, together with full bellies.

The rest of the weekend was spent exploring the glorious waterfalls in the area, 22 named ones and numerous unnamed ones in all.  Originally, I was to lead a hike for HLAW Mid-Atlantic Wanders on that Monday.  However, there is no cell service in Rickett’s Glenn and I had posted before I left that the forecast was calling for rain and the hike would be cancelled in the event of a downpour.  The rocks in the area can get slippery and dangerous.  Monday did come and bring an impending sense of rain, but it stayed clear until somewhat after lunch time that day.  I had waited 10 minutes in the designated meeting area, in case anyone showed up.  If you’ve never been to Rickett’s Glenn, it is a magical place full of waterfalls.  You can access their website to learn more about things to do, lodging, and trails:  http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/findapark/rickettsglen/

So, what have I taken away from all this?  Solo camping is definitely a state of mind.  As a woman, our emotions are more highly tuned than a man’s.  Is it due to sensitivity, our natural tendency to nurture, or our intellect?  I believe, in my situation, it’s the quest to prove to myself that ‘I CAN’.  I can feel lonely, get depressed, freak out over small things; but I can also overcome these feelings with some tenacity and perseverance…because I am woman, and I have roared.

 

Much love and Aloha,

your roarin’ clueless wanderer

 

This post originally published for Hike Like a Woman, Summer 2017 issue

 

Gear list:

MSR Hubba Hubba tent (2 person)

Sierra Designs 45F quilt

Exped SynMat 7 (R 4.9)

Etekcity Ultralight camp stove and cookware

Coleman camping chair

EZ-Up shade cover

Zoey – Walmart 50F sleeping bag and Alps Mountaineering self-inflating sleeping pad (great for outdoor use also)

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