I’ve always been into camping ever since I was a little girl. My dad and I spent years going to World’s End State Park in Pennsylvania and camping together on a summer or fall weekend, and it’s something that helped me fall in love with the outdoors.
My husband isn’t as big on camping as I am, but we’ve definitely had our fair share of fun camping weekends together. Our most recent camping trips have been winter backpacking trips to the public use cabins at Nancy Lake up in Willow, AK and I immediately fell in love with the quiet location and cute cabins. On our last trip there, I mentioned to my husband that I’ve always wanted to go camping alone but never felt brave enough to do it. My dad raised me to believe I could do anything that boys could do, but I think that a lot of people feel like girls can’t camp alone. Especially girls like me who are afraid of spiders and fire and the dark! Even my husband initially seemed skeptical of me being able to camp alone, but he also thought that I ultimately could do it. So I spent the rest of our camping trip learning how to build a fire and light the backpacking stove in preparation for a solo trip.
Fast forward to this weekend – my husband went to Florida to visit his family and the weather was looking gorgeous, so it just seemed like the perfect time to test out my solo backpacking abilities! On Friday I left work a little earlier than usual and packed up my backpack with all the gear that Ridley and I would need for the night. This task was a little harder than usual because the weather is so weird this time of year and I didn’t know how much to bring without adding too much weight. It was 60 degrees when I got to Nancy Lake but was going to drop down to 25 overnight, so I decided to wear a t shirt, hoodie, and fleece, and packed my compact puffy jacket in my backpack. I wore my winter boots because I knew there would still be snow on the trail to the cabin.
Because I was leaving Anchorage around dinner time, I opted to grab dinner on the drive up to Willow instead of stressing about cooking once I got there. I arrived at the parking lot to the public use cabins at 7:00 pm and was faced with my first big dilemma: how was I going to get my pack, Ridley, and 4 bundles of firewood down to the cabin, which was one mile away? Usually my husband drags the wood on a sled while I walk Ridley, but I didn’t think I could handle doing both at the same time. So I decided to drag the wood down first and then come back for the dog and my gear. Dragging 4 bundles of wood up and down hills on slushy, melting snow was way harder than I could have ever imagined. I was sweating and exhausted by the time I made it down to the cabin, but I had to quickly unload the wood and then drag the empty sled a mile back to my car. Finally, I grabbed my gear and my dog and we headed off on our adventure!
It was 8:00 pm by the time we got to the cabin, so my first order of business was getting that fire started. Honestly, I was terrified. If something went wrong and I had to go without a fire I knew I’d survive with my gear, but I’d be pretty miserable in the process. I had bought a few lightweight backpacking fire starter sticks, so I piled up a few pieces of wood in the stove and then used the fire starters to light them up. It seemed to be working at first, but I couldn’t get the hang of the damper and had to keep the door open for a while until things really started to burn. The fire didn’t really start warming the cabin until around 11:00 pm, which was when the sun finally set. While I waited for things to warm up, I hung out in my cozy sleeping bag with the book “Into The North Wind”, which was written by the girl who biked the fastest women’s fat bike finishing time on the 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail. It was such a great read that I couldn’t put it down for hours – well, except to add more wood to the fire!
At around 11:00 pm I tried to go to sleep. This was the part I’d really been dreading – I know that even in my own house I can sometimes keep myself awake late at night with anxiety or even fear of the weird noises I hear. Ridley cuddled up behind me, and I surprised myself by falling asleep pretty quickly! Unfortunately it didn’t last very long. There was a dog at one of the other cabins somewhere on the lake that started barking and literally didn’t stop until the sun rose. It was kind of spooky to listen to – I kept worrying that a bear was causing the dog to bark – but it also got Riley pretty riled up and he spent most of the night pacing and whining. I eventually got up at 3:00 am to put more wood on the fire and read a bit more of my book in an attempt to tire myself out more. I slept a few hours from 4:00 am to 6:30 am, when the sun finally woke me up for good. I was exhausted and I know Ridley didn’t sleep at all, but the morning was so gorgeous and relaxing that I didn’t mind having a few extra hours to lay around in the sun in the warm cabin reading.
I had to be out of the cabin by noon, so at 11:00 am I started packing up my gear and it hit me that I’d really done it! This was a huge bucket list item for me and other than the perpetually barking dog across the lake keeping me up all night, nothing serious had happened. I hiked the mile out with a lighter pack and a really proud smile on my face! After grabbing some coffee on the way home, all I wanted was a nice warm shower and a nap to celebrate.
Would I go solo camping again? Absolutely! Overall it was a relaxing experience and it made me feel brave and strong. It was a weird time of the year to camp – the ice on the lake was too unstable for hiking, so I didn’t get to hike or bike or kayak while I was there. I basically had to hang out in the cabin the whole time. It would be awesome to go alone in the summer and spend the day out on the lake in my kayak with Ridley. However, I think that camping with family and friends is definitely more fun. Maybe someday I’ll be able to solo backpack with a tent, but for now I’m taking baby steps to get there!
Have you ever camped alone? What would be the biggest struggle for you?