Introducing The First Diaries, a weekly column in which one Coloradan documents her misadventures, trials, and triumphs in the outdoors as she tries a new activity or adventure each week. With humor, practical advice, and some serious real talk, our goal is to make the outdoor space a little less intimidating and a little more fun for all of us.
Summer is here. Barbecues, after-work hikes, beers on brewery patios, all of it. For me, this season is when I go into hyper-social mode. Unlike the quiet, early nights-in of winter, summer is the time to to say yes to every hang-out, bar-hop, weekend adventure, whatever. It’s about doing, not down-time.
But all that activity can lead to system overload. What I want to talk about today is claiming some time for yourself—just yourself—in the great outdoors. Let’s talk solo camping.
By the end of last summer, I was run ragged and needed a break, a quick social detox. I had just bought my first tent (and sleeping bag), and if I could just muster the courage to sleep alone in a tent, I thought, I could have a whole weekend to myself in the crisp air of the Rockies, nothing but beautiful vistas all around me, not a soul to make small talk with.
I researched some spots and headed to Jones Pass. The dirt road is a hop, skip and a jump from Berthoud Pass. It climbs above tree line, but only after it winds between forests and alpine meadows replete with many dispersed camp spots.
I borrowed my parents’ puppy, packed up for the weekend, and set off. I had plenty of water, a sandwich for dinner, instant oatmeal and coffee for breakfast, a sketchbook, newspaper to start a fire—the essentials.
Having so much time to yourself—when you need it—it’s not lonely. It’s boring. Say you get a late start and arrive at 2 p.m. and go to sleep at 10 p.m. That’s 8 hours of waking solo time. No T.V., no banter with friends. Just unfilled time.
But maybe that isn’t such a bad thing.
After killing a few hours taking the pup for a hike, I plopped down at our little camp and began to sketch, something I hadn’t done in what felt like years. For no particular reason, I etched the tops of the stones of a makeshift fire pit at the bottom of my page, zoning into their texture with the tip of my charcoal pencil, forming the jagged outlines of their ridges and thoughtfully filling in the range of their shadows, some deep and dark, some more superficial. When it was all done, I saw at the bottom of my book a little mountain range, like the peaks lording into the sky all around me.
I looked back to the pit, studying the stones, glancing back to my drawing. Yup, I thought. It’s about right. The edges, the divets, more or less, they all matched.
So what’s wrong? Why did I have a mountain range, not a fire pit? I found myself laughing, dog looking at me curiously. What is this arrangement of stones side by side if not a tiny mountain range? I thought. What are these giant peaks all around if not just really big rocks?
Somehow this little musing wiped my slate clean like nothing else had. Mission accomplished.
I hadn’t set out with a plan to go to the mountains to sketch. There was no plan. I had been exhausted, in a too-much-time-on-my-phone kind of way, and just had some inkling that camping could be the cure.
In retrospect, I think I just needed a moment to breathe and be bored. Probably all of us do.
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