I have rich memories of backpacking out west - Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Washington and the icing on the cake in my teenage years, Alaska and the Yukon. I've camped with friends on the East Coast, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, on Adirondack lakes, and in Algonquin Park in Ontario. But the one thing I had never done, was go solo.
Our culture teaches us, implores us, reminds us always to go with a friend. Going alone is dangerous, and especially for women, we are taught. But what if you don't have a friend, partner, companion with whom to do whatever activity you enjoy? Do you simply say, no, I won't do it because I have no one to do it with? I don't buy in to that pattern of thinking, I am not known for taking huge risks, and I firmly believe that driving to work is much more dangerous than a walk in the woods.
It's the unknown that scares us. The knowledge that we won't have any list of resources immediately on speed dial, nor 4 walls and a roof. But that is precisely the point of going backpacking. To go solo is to know that we will have to rely on our individual self no matter what comes up. We will have to sit with ourselves, walk with ourselves, and sleep by ourselves knowing our minds - our best friend and arch enemy combined - will not be silent as we go.
East Branch Tully River from Jacob's Hill. Tully Mountain in the distance.
For my first solo I chose the Tully Lake Loop in Orange, Royalston, and Warwick, MA. A 22 mile loop, it would be a challenge to complete in a weekend. But, it was reasonably close to home, had lots of roads onto which I could take a short cut if I needed to, and it was a loop unlike other trails I had considered.
My biggest worry pre-trip? Would my feet, with their background aches and pains, be able to carry me 22 miles over two days.
My biggest worries starting out? I forgot lunch on my first day, because who packs a sandwich backpacking? Also, I realize quickly I'm hiking the trail with a group of 7 women who started just behind me. This is supposed to be a solo, will I be sharing the lean-to with them tonight? Will I have to out hike them all day to be alone?
Starting out, I am asked to wait. A trainer with a young search and rescue dog needs a 5 minute advance up the trail. She asks, can I allow her the time? There's no question, someone's life will depend on that dog one day....
Upper Spirit Falls
Hiking the first day felt good. I was off exploring, making progress on the map and exploring new places. Hiking up Spirit Falls, reaching the view over the watershed from the top on Jacob's Hill. I got a little confused leaving the lookout, but knew the direction I needed to go and found the way via small ground mounted markers that required looking down to find. I don't normally look toward my feet for trail direction when I hike, but hey, when all the vegetation under a power line is shrubby it does make sense, eventually.
The trail follows the Tully River and tributary streams all day, heading northward toward the New Hampshire border. It's a lovely and easy hike. A the northern most point is a shelter just above Royalston Falls. This was supposed to be the designated campsite for the night as it lies along the M&M Trail. There where two problems with this scenario: 1) It was only about 7.5 miles into the 22 mile loop, leaving 13 miles and a small mountain all for the second day; 2) As I took a break and relaxed near the shelter a group of 10 from the Appalachain Mountain Club came hiking in for the night. A friendly group, I thought a bit about whether I would want to join them in a great trail comraderie connecting with others on the journey. But no, I was firm this was about MY solo and I had miles yet to go before I slept or ate dinner (remember, I forgot my lunch?). Verifying that I would hit water again within a 2 hours hike - where I planned to camp - I set out on my own.
Finding my campsite that night wasn't very hard. Since I was hiking along a woods road in Warwick State Forest that was open to vehicles at that time, the key was to get off the road and be out of sight of it completely. Roads scare me because people in vehicles drive on them in places they really shouldn't be driving (in my opinion), for reasons that aren't always good. Fortunately, the site I chose was sheltered behind a little rise and high above a stream along whose banks I set-up a kitchen.
The hardest part of any solo camping trip is nightfall and my experience proved this rule true. Having heard gun fire well off in the distance my mind began playing tricks as dusk fell. This included a gang of men - really a whole army of them with guns - storming up the hill into my camp. Nevermind they'd probably have a few miles of woods to bushwack through from where ever they were target shooting...
Continuing on high alert, my mind didn't let me sleep too deeply. Animals came out on their nightly rounds only to discover that something that smelled funny - my tent and I - had dropped into their territory. They sniffed, hopped, and lopped away. But I couldn't just lie there and let them....I had to make noise each time because my mind was telling me they were a rare mix of jackrabbit and kangaroo destined to pounce on my tent, flattening it with me inside it! I reminded myself that the likely suspects were fox (red or gray) or coyote. Perhaps a fisher, but in each case the animals seems to move swiftly and lightly, though noisily in the dry leaves, so I felt I could rule out bear. But oh does the mind want to run off with its own ego of ideas!
The morning broke beautiful and bright. I set out on my second day thoroughly grateful that all I had to do on this day was walk forward. Walk. Just walk, all day long. What an absolute luxury! Unexpectedly beautiful sections on this day before I got back to roads and climbing Tully Mountain included Fish Brook Wildlife Management Area where I would love to camp on another trip.
Mt. Monadnock viewed from Tully Mountain.
As I finished the trail that afternoon, my watch stopped. I think it was telling me to stay. My first solo had been a success! Bucket list - check!
Tully Mountain viewed from Tully Pond.