Despite the fact that this weekend was my first time going out camping alone, I did very little preparation for the trip. In fact, by the morning of, I hadn’t even started packing. But in a matter of about 2 hours, I had my little car loaded with my tent, sleeping bag, ground pad, a bag of food, a gallon jug of water, hiking boots, a change of clothes, camera, a guide book, and my journal. The essentials, a few comforts. As I mentioned in my last post, I was somewhat surprised to realize recently that of all the outdoorsy things I’ve done, camping solo had not been one of them. When I told a few friends last week about my plans, the responses were almost universally, “Alone? Wow!” One group brought up the fact that it’s usually more of a “guy thing” to camp alone. That does seem to be the case, but I wonder why? I certainly know a few girls who routinely or periodically camp alone, but all of this does bring up interesting questions of why camping alone isn’t more of a thing, and furthermore, why fewer women don’t camp alone (besides the obvious arguments for safety). So this weekend, I dove in. It was cloudy with patches of misty rain on my drive up into the Cascades, but otherwise relatively dry. Eventually I found the National Forest campground I had picked out from some Google searching a few days prior. I chose it mainly because it was free, and also because it was near Proxy Falls, which I’d been wanting to visit. The campground was quite a bit smaller and closer to the road than I’d expected, but I decided to go hike to the falls and come back closer to dark and establish my spot.The trailhead to the waterfall was packed; families, couples, retirees. I knew it was a popular trail, but I couldn’t help but wish it was a little less crowded. The further I went on the trail however, the more it thinned out, and soon I found myself captivated by the gorgeous fall colors emerging and the strange landscape of volcanic rocks through which the path was cut. Eventually the trail wound into the the dense forest, and soon I could hear the roar of the waterfall in the distance. Then, all of a sudden, there it was, towering mightily off to my left. Even from far away, it looked massive. Of course, I had to get closer. And so I picked my way down a sketchy trail over roots and rocks and eroding ground, and found myself in a swampy sort of area. I followed the sound and the flow of the water back until it led me to the base of the falls. Surprisingly, no one else was there. For a short time, I had the whole place to myself. Of course, I took the opportunity to play with long exposures on my camera and lament the fact that I hadn’t brought a tripod. But alas. Eventually a few people showed up, so I took my leave, found the main trail again, and followed it to the upper falls, which were just as beautiful but a bit more overgrown. By the time I made it back to my car, it was about 4pm. I figured I could drive back to the campsite, set up, and hike the trail across the street. However, in the short time it took me to get there, the campsite was completely full. I walked around it just to be sure, eliciting some suspicious glances from people hurriedly trying to establish their spots as if I might steal it from them. Sigh. Well, worse case scenario, I could sleep in my car, or just drive home. But with still a few hours of daylight left, I decided to continue driving further into the mountains to see what I could find. Another 20 minutes later and a thousand feet higher in elevation, I found myself at another campground. It only had a $5 fee and plenty of spots isolated from one another, so I was sold. I picked out my spot with a nice view of the lake, and set up my tent just as the first of the night’s rains began sprinkling in. One drawback of packing everything the morning of my trip was that I forgot to bring the food I had planned on for both dinner and breakfast, meaning, I was left mainly with bread and peanut butter and potato chips. No big deal, but it did mean that my lunch, dinner, and breakfast were all going to be peanut butter sandwiches. Yum. So I ate my peanut butter sandwich, and as the rain started coming in more heavily, I crawled into my tent to do some journaling and reading as it grew dark. The rain poured heavier and heavier. Fortunately, my tent kept me dry and my sleeping bag kept me warm, so I was quite the happy camper. (Sorry, not sorry for the pun!) The night was long and damp, but I managed to get some sleep and by morning the rain was a tad bit lighter. Unfortunately, though a sizable puddle had formed under my tent and leaked inside — I knew I should have bought a tarp! Rookie mistakes. Oh well. Knowing the rain was supposed to last all day, I packed up and enjoyed a leisurely drive back home listening to NPR on the radio and letting my mind wander. I think that’s one of the best things about traveling solo: you’re on your own time. I realized when I was hiking the day before that I had no concept of how fast or slow I was going. Normally I’m trying to keep up with my faster friends, or holding back to stick with the slower ones. But here, whether I was hiking or driving or hanging out in my tent, it didn’t matter how long it took me to do anything. The bottom line is, I’d camp solo again in a heartbeat (preferably next time not in the pouring rain!), and I think others should give it a try too. It’s so important to be able to find contentment and comfort in your own thoughts, and confidence in your abilities and decision-making. And taking a simple trip out into the wilderness on your own is an incredible way to discover and develop that.