six days of camping in the woods - journal excerpts

I brought Tom Brown Jr.’s Field Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking with me, and it was the perfect companion.
11/4 - Saturday night
I write by moonlight. (Hope the ink in my pens doesn’t freeze - another advantage of pencils.) So different from last night - a mattress in a warm house with a warm body sleeping next to mine - and now here I am, alone, outside in the cold. The cold makes it a lot harder. The combination is worse. It is supposed to start warming up in a couple of days. I hung the hammock with rope. I hope they hold it up. I wonder how long I’ll make it.

11/5 - Sunday 8:30am
Survived the night! Water bottle is not frozen through. Thermometer says 34 degrees (up from 33 last night). My hammock did not bottom out and while some parts got chilly (toes, sometimes knees or back), I was warm enough for sleep. When the wind blew last night, the falling leaves sounded like a light rain or a small creature(s) crawling around.

10:53am - up to 41°F. I did an awareness exercise this morning - sit in 1 place, close your eyes, concentrate on smell - smell everything you can in front, left, right, behind, above, below you. Now concentrate on hearing, then touch. After I finished the exercise, I was just sitting quietly and heard leaves like slow footsteps behind me. I turned and saw a deer looking at me. I turned my whole body and kept quiet and watched her and her foal slowly poke their way through the underbrush.

It does feel lonely out here - I’m reminded of my attraction to/need for people. I can’t shake the feeling that I’m waiting. I really want this to be an experience in itself and not just “surviving in the woods” for 6 days. There’s so much to do and see in Shenandoah, there’s a big temptation to say fuck it and just do all that - but that feels like nature tourism to me, and I want more than that.

(afternoon ~ 4ish) - My diet today has consisted of: an apple, a granola bar, a can of tuna, a can of “Santa Fe style” corn black beans & tomatoes, some raisin & nut trail mix, some carrots and some chocolate (surprisingly high in fiber). I went up to Hawksbill Summit (4050′ elevation) to practice my awareness - which didn’t really happen. It was absolutely breathtaking. Way better than even the grand canyon. I still feel bored occasionally - it’s so hard to quit fidgeting & just be. I feel like I should be doing something.

11/6 - Monday
Got up at 7:55 this morning. 43° it said. I was plenty warm last night and I slept fairly well. I’ll pack up and head to the next site in a little bit. I think it’s 2-3 miles.

(almost 4pm) - 58°. It’s warm today. I took off both my sweaters and my long johns by the time I finished hiking today. It was pretty and not too long. At one point I had to cross the road. It felt like an unwanted intrusion - “What the fuck are these cars and this concrete doing here? I’m here for nature. This is what I’ve been trying to avoid.” Second campsite is fucking brilliant. The wind blows through the trees constantly - hopefully it won’t be too bad at night. Changed clothes today (T-shirt, underwear, socks) - just for fun. I probably brought too many pairs of socks, and I’m thinking maybe too much food - but better safe than sorry.

3:56pm - I went down to the river to get water - on my way back to camp, I saw a stag - with antlers!

11/7 - Tuesday - half way through
So the grey from this morning turned into rain. Seems like it’s been raining for hours. I’m hiding out in my hammock under the tarp, listening to the natural orchestra and letting my mind wander.

(later) It has rained all damned day long! It does feel a bit like an endurance test out here. I keep thinking of excuses to “turn in” and head back to civilization “early.” Tom Brown talks about putting yourself in uncomfortable situations because of the discomfort, to broaden one’s range of experience - I think it’s difficult for me here because there’s also a dimension of safety I’m playing with - alone, all my supplies with me, etc. I miss people. I feel like going from Twin Oaks to anywhere would be a let down, but to come here and do this - it’s the other extreme. I feel like I’m not as dirty as I thought I’d be. I guess being a hippie was good practice. I’ll also be glad to get away from chlorinated water - feels like I’m drinking from a pool all the time.

11/8 - Wed 7:40am. 52° …. AND ALL FUCKING NIGHT LONG! The rain actually picked up more. Everything under my hammock got wet (shoes, pack, TP) despite my efforts, but fortunately my sleeping bag and my self stayed relatively dry. It’s still sprinkling a bit, but I can’t tell how much is drips from the trees. One thing I’ve noticed is that my allergies are almost completely gone out here. My nose runs a bit when it’s wet, but that’s about it.

2:20pm - 56° - It rained on and off all morning. I was able to get packed up without getting the important stuff wet. It rained during most of the (longer than I expected) hike over here to my third and final campsite. At least twice, I stopped for a rest/snack and noticed deer browsing nearby. They seemed interested instead of scared. It’s not like having one eat from my hand or anything, but I think it’s progress. The sun has finally poked its head out of the clouds and I hope it sticks around. I took a horse trail to get here. From the map, I knew it crossed a couple of streams and, silly me, I was expecting some nice man-made bridge for the horseys to cross on. Wrong! The first one was the worst - only about six feet across, but down to a foot and a half deep in a couple places - with enough water rushing past to knock me on my ass if I wasn’t careful. I did it the sensible way - dropped everything I was carrying, took off my shoes and socks, and waded across using my hands on the rocks for support.. Dropped my pack on the other side then went back for the rest.

5:00pm - 50° - It’s all grey and misty again. Something about being cold and wet makes me want to be somewhere else. I want to try this transcending-the-self, become-one-with-nature stuff that Tom Brown talks about, but it’s difficult to maintain the intention when I’m distracted by not wanting to be here. I feel like the timing of this trip could have been better. But still, it’s been good in a way: now I know that I can do it.

11/9 8:56am - 46°. Last full day in the woods (for now). The first thing I noticed when I woke up this morning was the sound of the wind without rain splatters to accompany it. The second thing I noticed was the sun - shining straight into one end of my tarp! Oh frabjous day!

(later) I just realized I haven’t been inside a building for 5 days. I haven’t even seen another person in over 48 hours - tomorrow morning will be 72. I can still hear the road though. I’m still looking forward to DC, etc. but — I think it was yesterday — I started appreciating this - life without distractions - and feeling like I could keep doing it for as long as I need to. Sleep. Eat. Poop. Be.

4:42 - 56°. I went out for a walk on the trail to test my “fox walk” and actually saw a wild bear! yipee! It was only a small one, and as soon as I took another step, it bolted off into the woods away from me, but still, I feel like the trip is complete. On the way back in, I saw a young buck off one side of the trail - he didn’t even stop, I don’t think he even saw me. and when I got back to camp, there was a baby deer grazing about 30 yards from my tarp.

Just as I was laying here, reading my book a moment ago, a deer walked past me - no more than 12 feet from where I lay. It continues to forage around my camp.

11/10 - 8:15 - got up at 7:20, before the sun was up. From my sleeping bag I thought it was going to be grey with possibilities of rain again. Lucky for me, I just woke up too early. The skies are blue and I’ve had my breakfast and taken down camp. Just need to pack my bag and then it’s a short 1-mile hike back to the car - the world of machines, clocks, control. Back to the world of doing. maybe I’ll just sit here and be for a minute before I go…

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