Into the Woods

The blizzard was coming down in full force at this point. I again questioned whether this was a bad idea. After driving several miles on a snowy backroad and my car slipping a couple times, I thought about turning around. But something in me kept me going.

By Adam Henrichs, Creatio Executive Director

Solo camping! It’s been on my mind for at least a few years now, ever since a friend of mine told me he did it and loved it. Something about the thought of being alone in the woods with nothing but a tent, some food, basic gear, and a knife makes me feel excited and terrified at the same time.

But this was the year. For the last two years or so excuses would always come up: “It’s way too cold this weekend”; “it’s supposed to rain”; “I got invited to my Uncle’s coworker’s birthday party so I probably shouldn’t miss it.” But this year I was determined. The Coronavirus had taken hold of normal life and I was cooped up in my house for too long already. I was going this weekend—no excuses.

It didn’t take long for a blizzard warning to come through on my email and cell phone: “A Winter Storm Watch alert has been issued…heavy snow possible”. Oh boy. Is this God telling me to back out? Or to saddle up and get ready for a bumpy one? Probably the latter.

I’m no stranger to summer and spring camping, even waking up with the occasional frost on the tent, but to hop straight into a blizzard without a thorough check of my gear seemed dumb. Thankfully there is YouTube. I looked up “winter camping essentials” and made sure I had all the basics (I would later discover that I had overlooked a couple really nice-to-haves). I was on my way to the trailhead.

The blizzard was coming down as I made my way down the road. I again questioned whether this was a bad idea. After driving several miles on a snowy backroad and my car slipping a couple times, I thought about turning around. But something in me kept me going.

I arrived at the trailhead and there was a problem—the parking area was covered in at least a foot of snow. There were two high-clearance trucks parked safely there, but my Toyota Highlander was not accustomed to driving through deep snow. I tested the waters and drove a tire or two into the snow. This gave me a temporary panic as I struggled for a few minutes to reverse and get out. At this point I thought it was over: “There’s no way I’m going to risk parking here in the middle of some backroad in a blizzard and get stuck for days or until someone tows me out.” I was disheartened. All the preparation and all the excitement I had shown to my friends and coworkers about this adventure would have to wait for another day…or did it?

As I drove back down the road into town, I saw a sign for a different camping area. I didn’t think twice and turned down the side road. “Who knows what’s back here, I might as well check it out” I thought. I came to a clearing. The end of the paved road turned into a dirt road, with a trailhead and an open parking area with another car there, and it only had a few inches of recently plowed snow. “This must be the spot!” I thought as I parked the car and scouted the area. I eventually found a secluded spot invisible from the road but still close enough to go to and from my vehicle as needed, and the sound of the river flowed nearby.

The snow came up to my knees as I lifted my feet up and down into and out of the deep snow, walking to the spot that would be my sleeping area. Without a shovel, the next best thing was the windshield scraper I found in my car. It took way too long, but eventually I was able to clear and pack down two areas—one for my tent and the other for the fire.

After setting the tent up, bringing the firewood down, and setting up my cookware, it was already time to eat. I’m not sure if I’ve had a better, more hearty camping meal than the green chili beef stew I made the night before. It felt like Christmas dinner as the snow continued to sprinkle down from the sky in a weightless shower of fluff.

As the sun went down, it became dark—very dark. I decided to turn off my lantern and headlamp to see the stars. The overwhelming darkness and solitude hit me like a clash of thunder. I soon became acutely aware of every tiny “crack”, “shirrp’, or “snap” that I imagined or really heard in those woods.

I envisioned a mountain lion tracing around the campsite, waiting to pounce when I was least expecting it. Thankfully earlier in the campsite setup I realized that I never removed the container of blessed “holy salt” out of my vehicle that my girlfriend gave me the week before for protecting my home from the Coronavirus (yeah, Catholics do some weird stuff). But I had use for it now! I sprinkled that stuff around my campsite like I was seasoning a 100-gallon pot of chili. And apparently it worked, as there were no signs of predators that night, except maybe my own imagination.

Another moment of God’s reassurance happened when I pulled out the cigar that I threw in my bag as a last-minute treat. I rarely smoke cigars, but I had won a pack of six at a fundraiser months before. Each cigar had a different religious image on it, and in the middle of my fear-stricken moment of literal darkness and imaginary lions on the prowl, I pulled out this cigar, and on the wrapper was the image of my guardian angel—Archangel Gabriel. At that point I remembered that there was nothing to fear and that God had my back. Serenity filled me and I became very sleepy as I meditated on Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures he makes me lie down;
to still waters he leads me;
he restores my soul.
He guides me along right paths
for the sake of his name.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me.

As I curled into my sleeping bag, putting a Nalgene of hot water inside by my feet (pro tip!), I felt like I could sleep for days. That ended abruptly around 3:00 or 4:00AM when I realized my sleeping pad was absorbing the freezing cold from the snowpack below and transferring into my sleeping bag—and then into me. I twisted and turned, layering clothing below me to hopefully provide insulation, but to no avail. It was about 5:00AM when I called it quits and decided to wake up and pack up camp. Next time I’m bringing a properly insulated air mattress!

So, as you may or may not still be socially distancing and finding yourself with an inordinate amount of alone time, have courage and step into an adventure that you’ve been putting off. Know that God is with you wherever you go and he will never leave your side—even when you’re alone in the middle of a snow-packed mountain forest.

For a way to schedule your own solo retreat, check out our Solo Retreat Guide here.

One thought on “Into the Woods

  1. “I sprinkled that stuff around my campsite like I was seasoning a 100-gallon pot of chili.”

    This made me laugh out loud.

    Thanks for sharing your story! I could feel the feelings you were describing. A friend and I did a winter camping trip in Alaska and our feet were ice cubes all the way back to the car. It was amazing though 🙂

    Solo treks are so raw!

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