DIFFICULTY Easy with some elevation
DATE October 20, 2017
MAIN FEATURES St Croix River, Fall Foliage, Remote camping
On Friday, after a week of the “me too” movement, reading discouraging responses to the Boy Scout announcement allowing girls in the program, this Outside Magazine article about women alone in the woods, and years of ‘helpful’ unsolicited advice…I’d sort of had it with being afraid and told what I should
or shouldn’t do, as a woman.
Our Scout camping trip for the weekend had been cancelled last minute and I woke up wanting to do something that made me feel strong, proud and ready mentally for next year’s SHT thru hike.
So, no more ‘some days’…I went on my first solo trip! Snagged a same-day spot in one of the two Afton State Park remote campsites.
The Homestead and Meadow Remote Backpack sites are Afton State Park’s best kept secret and are often vacant (the Ranger even said so!). They only offer same-day reservations and are up a section of trail I usually blow right past. I’m pretty familiar with Afton, had just hiked it a few weeks ago and have used their backpacking sites in the past but hadn’t heard of these sites. Afton, like most popular state park campsites, was jammed for the MEA weekend. I still had Friday off so I called at 8:30am to see if they had any cancellations and was told to call back at 9 to try my luck in a lottery with 8 other callers for their two remote campsites. After hitting the redial button 34 times according to my iphone (ok, I was desperate)….I GOT THROUGH! It felt like trying to win concert tickets on the radio.
The ranger even answered “You are the lucky winner of campsite #2 in Homestead Meadow!”
I packed as quick as I could and tried to keep it down to only what I needed, with a couple of comfort items (one cup of wine and S’Mores made out of Belvitas and Nutella I stashed from recent hotel visit!).
Got there a little after lunch and hiked a mile or two into camp. Checked in at home a couple of times but left my phone in airplane mode and mileage tracker off to focus on being present and absorb Autumn’s beautiful peak.
Hung my hammock right away and then hoofed it another mile or two to the “good water” at the deep well at the backpacking sites. There is closer water at the visitor center, but it doesn’t taste as good. It was in the upper 70’s when I got there and I wanted to make sure I had enough water to stay hydrated, cook dinner and put my fire out. Hauled 5L of water approx. 4mi roundtrip and wished I had brought my backpack.
My brain went right to “I should be training, hiking, carrying weight” and almost immediately every time my brain went there, I felt this knocking at my heart to just relax and take care of myself.
Other than the necessary to/from hiking, the energy I would have spent hiking myself to a goal was spent puttering around camp, eating s’mores, and journaling.
Time alone at camp seemed to move much more slowly. I used the time to figure out how to rig up my DIY underquilt with two camping clotheslines with built in clips and a Costco UL down quilt. It worked pretty well. Had to add some duct tape and clips to keep it around me. Paired with my slick new Enlightened Equipment Quilt, it kept me nice and toasty!
After quilt-rigging and setting up a rain shelter for the morning, I finally ate that free sample Mountain House dinner of chicken and rice cooked on a DIY fancy feast stove. The stove kept blowing out in the wind, so this morning I stuck some small wood pieces in there and it burned like a champ!
I had been so nervous about this night, but after a good hike, a beautifully set up camp and a full belly, I just didn’t have anything to worry about. Even with being two miles away from other campers! Seriously. I never once thought of serial killers, drunk buttholes, bears or any of those things. I’m not minimizing those threats, and I slept with my Mora knife in my overhead pocket just in case…but I just wasn’t afraid, and that was so wonderful. I felt free, normal and just a tiny bit bored.
The ranger stopped by on his ATV at 7PM to drop off some firewood (of course, after I poured my ONE CUP of smuggled wine–oops.) and stayed to chat for a good 20 minutes. I laughed to myself as I hid the wine under the picnic table as he filled the wood box and we shared stories.
The morning brought thunder and rain and I still slept in almost two hours later than I usually do at home. I needed the rest.
Made a simple breakfast of oatmeal and coffee under the tarp and hiked out around 10 or 11am. The hike downhill was slippery clay and I almost wiped out a couple of times. No one else was on the trail and I enjoyed the feeling of having the whole park to myself in the rain on my triumphant hike out.
“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” – John Muir
5 things I wish I had brought on this trip:
- My stupid rain pants (they always live in my pack and took them out for this trip!)
- Two large garbage bags (I always have them and used them BOTH at Scout camp!)
- More snacks and my new $2 Starbucks reusable plastic cup (thanks Andrew Skurka). I forgot that my old school aluminum cup burns my lips after I pour boiling coffee in it and then immediately turns cold.
- My Columbia water resistant hiking pants. My thin exofficio pants sucked the rain right in.
Other things I learned:
- I’m pretty sold on getting a Kindle. I’m a (paper) book fan and have never wanted one until now…would have been nice to read a book in the evening down time or during the rain. They are lightweight, allow access to tons of books, including the Superior Hiking Trail Guide and new the one is waterproof! Beats my soggy magazine.
- The Hennessey Hammock might not be the best fit for me. My $20 WOOT- Yukon Outfitters hammock is much more comfy on my back. My (new) older model Asym Hennessey bottom velcro entrance hits me right in the back of the legs when I lay at an angle and I need to use a pillow or I get a stiff neck and middle back. Still working on it…I’ll give it one more shot before I go back to my Big Agnes UL1 Tent.
- ALWAYS put your backpack in a garbage bag at night. I had it under my hammock tarp and it got covered in mud and rain…soaked. The bottom was drier than the top, which was covered in mud splash.
- Honing my layers. Most of my hiking/backpacking clothes are typically second hand or free. Merino wool seems to be working the best for me lately. New faves: Old school Ibex Merino wool zip up jacket and Smart Wool PhD baselayer top.
- My number one piece of gear for this overnight was my little yellow Big Agnes UL 2 footprint that I scored at an REI garage sale. It weighs 5oz. I rigged up as a tarp with some sticks and it was so nice to sit under it and cook/eat breakfast. It was a lifesaver and it’ll definitely come on our SHT trip.
- As I am writing this, I JUST REALIZED that I forgot my new solar powered lights in my hurried pack up in the rain. Well, the next camper is going to get a solar powered BONUS. Enjoy!
The biggest thing I took away from this experience is that I can be alone and survive…I even enjoyed it. After so much time wrestling over it, I never felt unsafe even though I was remote camping in a spot that nobody really knows about (the stuff scary moves are made of!). Overall, I would call this a personal success and can’t wait to see what new adventures it brings!
Have you been putting off a solo trip? Seasoned singleton? Post in the comments below, I’d love to hear about it.