I got a tent for Christmas. It’s a small and simple thing, maybe the smallest and simplest kind of tent out there: long and narrow and fits a single person, white nylon and a sea-foam green colored rainfly. I had to learn what a rainfly was when I was researching tents, and I had to learn how to set up a tent, too. I opened the drawstring pouch and pulled out a mess of nylon and polyester and aluminum poles that, surprisingly, snapped into place with what seemed like a mind of their own. I tugged the material down at the edges and unzipped the large, semi-circle door and crawled inside. It smelled new and my socks squeaked against the floor as I slid them down the length of the tent and then laid there, all stretched out, with enough room to flex my toes. I was in my own little kingdom.
I haven’t taken the tent outside yet; it’s the middle of February and the coldest it’s been all winter. So it’s been sitting in my living room, all folded up and sometimes I think about taking it out and setting it up, just for practice. Because my plan is to use the tent a lot this year.
Before I walked my first Camino, I had a lot of fears (and to be honest, I was pretty nervous before my second Camino as well, even though I had a good idea of what to expect). I wrote a post, nearly two years ago now, about bravery and fear and what it meant to me to be afraid of something, but to do it anyway. It’s something I still think about a lot, the idea of fear, and how to move through it.
A friend that I met on my first Camino told me something that has stuck with me. He was talking about his own fears, and told me the story of how he went into a forest and slept out in the open. He was so afraid of being alone and unprotected in the wilderness- afraid of wild animals, afraid of a wild man, afraid to be vulnerable.
So he decided to face the fear, and went out in the woods with only a sleeping bag and he stayed there overnight.
“Were you scared?” I asked.
“Oh yeah,” he said, laughing. “I jumped every time I heard a branch snap. I barely slept at all.”
But when it was over, he found that he didn’t have the same kind of fear about being out in the wild as he did before.
A lot of people have stories like this, how we are afraid of something and then we face it and even if some fear lingers, it’s not as bad as it was before. Because we need to have the experience to know that we can do it, to know that it is not as bad as we might imagine. And when we do something again and again, sometimes the fear goes away almost completely.
Until a few years ago, I hadn’t ever given much thought to camping or backpacking or being out in the wild, at all. Despite having been drawn to survival stories for nearly as long as I can remember (I was captivated by the book The Hatchet when I was in elementary school, and I’m one of the few people who is still watching the television series ‘Survivor’), I was never really interested in spending a significant amount of time out in the woods.
And for a very long time, I just assumed that it was something that I wasn’t into- it wasn’t me.
But it turns out that there’s a big difference between never being exposed to something, and not liking it. Just because you’ve never done something before doesn’t mean that you won’t like it, or be good at it, or couldn’t learn to love it.
Three summers ago I went to France and stayed in the mountains in the south and hiked every day. It opened up something in me- the possibility that I might love the outdoors, and climbing things, and pushing myself. I might not even mind a little dirt and a little sweat.
Then I walked the Camino and it solidified the feeling I’d had in France, the summer before: I did love being outside. I did love pushing myself and doing something physically challenging. I loved hiking and walking and trekking. I loved the mountains.
So you’d think after these experiences I wouldn’t question myself so much anymore, that I would throw myself into all things outdoors, right? And people have asked me about this, time and time again: “So, when are you going to hike the Appalachian Trail?”
And every time I would laugh and say, “Oh, maybe I’d do a few days of it sometime. But I really like having a bed to sleep in at night, and coffee breaks during my hike, and a bottle of wine in the evenings, etc, etc.”
And I do like those things. But I was also assuming that I wouldn’t like camping and roughing it and not showering and sleeping on the ground and strange sounds in the night. I wasn’t thinking about the other parts, though: the challenge of carrying everything I need to survive on my back, of setting up a little home every night, of the satisfaction of cooking my own simple meals and falling asleep under the stars and waking up to a sunrise, and all of that fresh, dewy air.
Here’s the thing: I’m still not sure if I’m going to like camping, or backpacking. I have a lot of fear about it. Fear that I’m going to be too uncomfortable or cold, that I won’t be able to figure out how to use a camping stove, that I won’t set up my tent properly. That my backpack will be too heavy or that I won’t like being dirty. Bears. Or that, after all these years and after challenging so many of the assumptions I have about myself, I still don’t think I’m the kind of person who does this kind of thing. I’m not an outdoorsy person. I don’t camp. I’m not a hiker. I’m not a backpacker.
But whenever I start to think like this and the worries and the fears creep in, I tell myself to remember the Camino. Remember the Camino! The lessons come back to me in a rush. When I started out, I didn’t know a thing. I didn’t own one piece of trekking gear. I didn’t know if I could do it. I was so afraid, and then I walked 500 miles, and I came home, so confident in my ability to just figure things out. I felt capable.
So I’m facing a fear this year- I’m going to go out “into the wild” (or maybe just down a trail) with my tent and I’m going to sleep outside and I’m going to do it alone. I’ll do it with others, too, if the opportunity comes up, but I also think it’s important that I do some of this by myself.
I’ve been researching places where I can go camping, and I’ll probably start out with car camping first, then maybe I’ll look for a bigger backpack and try out a couple days on a trail somewhere. Baby steps, single steps- I’m a big fan of them as you know. Maybe it will all lead up to something bigger, or maybe it won’t.
But none of that really matters right now. Now, it only matters that I’m going to try. I hope to write about my experiences of going out into the wild, and share them here. I have a little spring break coming up in March, and some ideas brewing, so stayed tuned!