“You aren’t going alone, are you?”
This question was posed with surprise and a tinge of horror when I told a group of friends that I would be away on a camping trip for a week.
A woman choosing to haul a travel trailer by herself and go off camping by herself is considered by many to be an odd thing, and definitely risky. This viewpoint appears mostly held by people who are married and surrounded by sisters and family and friends. It is supported in part by constant news media telling of violent happenings, which tends to make us all think twice about going out our front door.
Last month I headed up Interstate 65 north, towing Little Lucy, to take my antique clock to a clock repair person in Birmingham, AL. I planned camping on my own. I ended enjoying the surprise of running into a dear camper friend. She introduced me to her group of women campers, who invited me to join them. It was a thoroughly delightful weekend of visiting, making new friends and learning camping tips, interspersed with a few quiet solitary trail hikes with my dog. All of which I would have missed had I not dared to start off alone.
The past week I headed over to Florida for a week of solo camping. There was the idea to get a lot of editing and writing work done. (There is always that idea, although I spend a great deal of time walking trails, gazing at landscapes and the sky and just sitting.)
During this excursion I exchanged conversations with two other solo women campers. Both were women very much like myself—active, grey-haired women of a certain age.
The first was a woman in short-sleeves and short pants and Keds who I met at a Love’s Truckstop. She was pumping fuel into her bohemith class A RV; this is the big bus-type motorhome. (I have no idea how she got it tucked up between the pumps and a car on the opposite side. She is WOman!) She saw me smiling at her and waved, and we struck up a conversation. Yes, she traveled alone, was a widow, as well. “There’s so much to do and see,” she said. She had a big smile, spoke kindly to my dog in the backseat, then quickly hoofed it back to her RV to climb into the driver’s seat and head away.
The second woman and I met at the campground, when we each took advantage in the break of constant drizzle to walk our dogs. This woman towed a small Scamp travel trailer. “Oh, yes,” she said in answer to my question, “I’m alone—just like you.”
“Why?–why do you go alone?” I asked her.
She tilted her head in thought. “When I’m out camping, I forget all that needs to be done around the house. I can sit and read all day. A lot of other women think camping by myself is odd,” she went on, “but who are the most surprised are men. They say, ‘You don’t pull that camper by yourself, do you?’ Like, how can I do it?”
She laughed gaily and added, “I love it.” Then off she went, a woman enjoying her little dog and herself.
There was a large Winnebago parked in the site next to mine when I pulled in at Torreya State Park in Florida. As I backed my travel trailer into place, a woman, hurrying with wet hair from the bath house, passed in front of me. She smiled and cast a wave and headed on to the Winnebago. After seeing her several times checking her water connection or her potted plants she had on the picnic table, I realized she was likely on her own. Either that or she had a kept man inside who let her do all the work.
Being the inquisitive writer, I wanted to chat with her to ask about her camping alone, but over the two days she gave no sign of wanting company. In fact, with my writer imagination, I had the idea that me stepping through the bushes and saying, “Hey,” might be taken as accosting her. (I went so far as to imagine she was in the witness protection program, since I never saw her sitting outside or walking a dog and she left quite early one morning. That’s what happens when a writer is on her own—plenteous time for creative imagination.)
There are, in fact, a great many of us solo camper women out here, and many of us are ‘older gals’. We will join in with groups, but just as often we are out there on our own. For us, one thing is true: if we weren’t willing to go it alone, we wouldn’t go at all.
So we do go, and being willing to go camping alone leads to meeting other people and having unexpected adventures.
Camping alone allows me to see new vistas, which helps to stimulate my creativity. Somehow, when I’m out there, looking at new scenery, things that seemed impossible become more possible. A friend of mine calls it opening new trails in the brain.
Being alone, and only in being alone, without outside influences, can I get in touch with my true self. When alone, and I do not use television or radio when camping, I hear my voice above that of the world. I find what is right and true for me. It’s as if when camping alone, I can put the pieces of myself that daily life pulls and scatters like straw from the Scarecrow of OZ back together again.
And out there alone, I have to solve whatever problems arise by myself; in this way I find I can do more than I thought I could. I certainly never would have imagined two years ago that I could hook my trailer to the tow hitch, nor that I could back the camper up without help; I’m doing those things easily now. The other day I was stuck in traffic at a gas station. The man in front of me had more or less taken up residence and flat out refused to move his car. Ignoring him, I backed Little Lucy and headed happily on my way. I even gave the man a smile.
The ability to smile came from the hours alone on the camping trip when I have time to read and think and pray and to get closer to God. I know more deeply when out there alone that I am dependent on God, that He is with me always. Sometimes when I need help, He sends someone, just as he has sent so many camper women to teach me what I need to know. Other times I am inspired with the still, small voice to solve a problem or look up at just the right moment to see something beautiful. Or to look down just in time to see the snake halfway across the trail—and to follow the voice that said to give up the trail and walk nearer the camper.
I think back about how I kept resisting the idea of getting a camper and camping alone. It seemed not to make any sense. I was alone enough without going off alone. I thought I was buying a camper, spending money and being selfish and silly. It turns out that I was stepping onto a pathway to myself and to God, and to friendship, and beauty, faith, and life.
“I was thinking of something to do this summer, and a walk to Oregon seemed like the best thing,” ~ Grandma Gatewood, first woman to walk the Appalachian Trail, alone, at age 67.
Pursue your dream today, whatever it may be. Know that God uses everything for blessings.