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!
Go for it Nadine – it’s amazing what inner resources we can find. I am about to push myself again this year on Camino walking a stretch of unmarked trail between el Norte and the Ingles. Like you, before walking my first Camino, I had never been an outdoors type of person, but find myself at 60+ leaping a bit further outside of my comfort zone each year.
Happy camping – I look forward to reading all about it.
Look forward to reading your camping adventures. It’s something I’d like to try myself sometime.
Looking forward to see the photos of your tent pitched somewhere amazing.
YES!!! Woohoo!! The idea of lying on the ground, alone, for eight hours or more–where ANYthing could happen–terrifies me. Bears, cougars, hunters… All of it.
And yet, challenging oneself is life-changing. Allowing yourself the opportunity to feel afraid, to choose it on purpose and laugh sheepishly about it later… that’s everything. Certainty doesn’t make us safer. It’s the courageous ones who can face life square in the face and do anything once they/we/you know how little use fear really is.
So thrilled for you, Nadine! You will hate it and love it, and be so glad you did it!
Wow, as my grandmother always used to say – you are a girl after my own heart! I haven’t gotten the courage up yet, I’m still terrified – here in Arizona – OMG the rattlesnakes and mountain lions!
But very soon I will be moving to NJ, near my son who lives just off the AT – so you never know. Since I walked my first Camino, I set sights on the AT. This year I have been whittling away at the AZT, but have avoided the stages that could not be hiked in a day.
I will definitely be watching and reading your adventures. I’m hoping you will inspire me to at least just give it a try!
Robert Reeves (Bobby) says
I hope you got a release signed that handsome gentleman in one of your photos. He was hard to make out being so far back in the frame, but, there’s just something magnetic about his presence.
You well know how close I live to the Maryland stretch of the AT if you want to do some overnight hiking together with our tiny tents!
Hee hee, I was hoping you wouldn’t mind the photo! And I’d love to do some hiking with you… I’m going to hit up REI soon for a little camping stove and a decent sleeping bag. Once my budget recovers I need to start shopping for a backpack that can fit everything…
Michael Douglas Scott says
You will get the equipment stuff figured out, but remember, you really only need the basics, and the less expensive ones at that. You would be surprised at how little you actually need or use and how you can adapt and figure things out. I backpacked and hiked for years, then got into rock climbing in Colorado, then some high altitude hiking, camping and climbing. When I started, in northern New Mexico, a friend and I didn’t know what we were doing, but we had cheap packs, cheap bags and surplus cooking gear – aluminum and not very good, but it worked. No tent. It rained the second night in a state campground and we ended up draping cheap plastic tarps over a picnic table, anchored with rocks (not a great idea when the wind gets up) and both of us crawled underneath. Not much sleep with getting wet, the wind flapping the tarps, pulling it away from the rocks and just not much room for two guys under a picnic table. Bought a tent in Denver the next day. However, what I want to pass on is that over the years, packing into wilderness places, setting up simple camps out of the way, with a tarp (a better one) and sometimes a small tent, the fears were only in my mind. I tend to stay away from people when I’m out in the woods since I trust animals more than people generally, and although I’ve seen bears on occasion and even had a close encounter in British Colombia, camping alone and away from people is much safer than driving to the wilderness in the first place. There are noises in the woods at night, but most of them are from harmless creatures going about their business and staying away from you and your scents, and some are the wind or the water, but there is really nothing out there to get you. Except the imaginary goblins in your head. We all have them, but you’ll be able to deal with that after you have done it a few times. Good to see you are pushing your limits and opening doors to new things. Keep it up!
I have been following you since last Summer when my wife and I completed our first Camino and you were completing your 2nd. We entered Santiago on the same day. I start my attempt to do a solo thru hike of the Appalachian Trail this Sunday, the 28th of February. You can follow me and read my journals as I share my experiences at: http://www.trailjournals.com/Encourager/ I too, am apprehensive, (read scared!), but also excited! Darrell (Encourager)
Hi Darrell! I wish we had been able to meet in Santiago- how incredible that we arrived in the city on the same day! I’m so excited to follow along with your journey on the AT- I think it’s such an incredible undertaking, and I can’t wait to hear about your experience and follow along with your writing. Good luck in these last days of preparation!!