June 27, 2014

Solo camping–what would Orwell say?

Scaring myself silly

On Sunday I camped on the side of a mountain during a lightning storm and spent most of the night chanting, “I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to be alone.” Twice I flipped through my camera to stare at a photo of my mom.

Rain and hail drummed down and lightning lit up the orange tent material, but on top of this were the flashing lights and siren of the bear alarm. This was a homemade motion-activated system that a shepherd family had installed next to their wooden house, to deter bears from their bee boxes. It was the hail, surely, activating the system every few minutes, but every time I heard the siren, I imagined bears.

Imagination by far provided the scariest parts of this whole experience. I had heard there were wolves and bears, so I imagined them. I had read that it was possible to lose the path on the way to the alpine lake, so I imagined being lost. That night, thankfully, the gentle voice in my head whispered: “You don’t have to do this. You don’t have to wake up tomorrow and finish a solo hike to the lake.”

Clear skies the next morning
But even though I had surrendered the plan, my mind and body remained on high alert. Adrenaline coursed through my body, and I had anxious, confusing dreams. The next day, when I went on a short walk before breakfast, I was forever looking behind me. I ate quickly, packed my tent, and descended to the village to rest in the company of a little old lady who made us lunch.

What would Orwell say?

“The truth is that many of the qualities we admire in human beings can only function in opposition to some kind of disaster, pain or difficulty; but the tendency of mechanical progress is to eliminate disaster, pain and difficulty.”

Modern life rarely lets us hone or prove the attributes that we still like so much in ourselves and each other.

“In books like The Dream and Men Like Gods it is assumed that such qualities as strength, courage, generosity, etc., will be kept alive because they are comely qualities and necessary attributes of a full human being. Presumably, for instance, the inhabitants of Utopia would create artificial dangers in order to exercise their courage.

Tell me this doesn’t make you think of the kid in Into the Wild. There were so many safeguards that he did not take, precisely because in taking them, he would have taken away the danger and his ability to exercise courage.

All the other times

I thought of all the times I have half-consciously let outdoor activities become more dangerous than they needed to be. Running out of water on a kayaking trip. Exiting the forest with a cell phone for a flashlight. Walking a no-shoulder highway at night because we started hitchhiking late and I didn’t write the address or phone number of the destination farm.

These are all good stories now. We kayaked like champions and sang songs to keep up morale. We took care of each other in the woods so we wouldn’t be scared of shadows. We made it to the farm by bravely walking past barking dogs and kindly supporting each other when we tripped in the bushes in the ditch. Everything that Orwell imagines, basically.

What is interesting to me is that I usually create these situations without acknowledging, at least out loud to other people, that I am doing it. I quietly let things go wrong. Maybe it’s because you’re not supposed to be the author and the protagonist. The game-designer and the player.

This last experience was different. I didn’t make it to the lake, to come down flushed and excited about my bravery. I was more like, “Woah, so there’s a limit. And apparently I hate camping alone.”


I do want to be “a full human being”, strong and courageous and generous. But I think I will go about developing these qualities in a more direct way, instead of sneakily half-mindedly laying traps for myself and my companions (friends, I’m sorry–please keep doing things with me). And probably no more solo camping.

1 comment:

  1. I will camp with you any time in August and September but here in BC. We can make enough noise to scare off those bears.


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