Exploring the world alone sounds exciting, until you have to spend your first night out in the unknown. The fear of darkness, the fear of others, the fear of animals… why then so many seem to love it ?
Pictures by my good friend Neil Walton
As anyone interested in solo adventuring, you and I are fed millions of pictures of fellow travelers enjoying life in the wilderness on our Instagram account. Each day we can admire those gorgeous and remote natural settings, where others have chosen to camp for an incredible night under the stars, hoping one day to do just the same. It all looks so amazing, so peaceful, so zen. Out in the wilderness, with their tent by the campfire, enjoying their coffee as they stand alone in the morning bliss, far from the daily worries of ordinary lives… Who could resist the calling ?
Yet, reality is often far different ! Not simply because those pictures we see on social media are most often staged lies to sell us a product, or a glamorous vision of the outdoor (which ultimately sells even more products), but because sleeping alone in the wild is anything but zen. It actually can be pretty stressful.
Forget the marketed relaxing vibe, anyone who has camped alone in an unknown and isolated place will admit (once the bravado is brushed aside) the fear of that unknown is hard to overcome, and can keep us up all night.
Surprised ? It lays in the definition of the words we use! “outdoor”, “out in the wild”, the “wilderness”… “Outdoor” as opposed to “indoor”. As “Out” sharing a space with things we don’t know much about and could potentially harm us, unlike being “in” the closed and protected comfort of our homes, around people and with objects we chose.
“Wild” standing contrary to the words “order”,“safe”, or even “peaceful”. Again, not describing a place we dictate and arrange to our liking and well being, but one where what is to come can only be guessed. All of which results in uncertainty. What lays in the darkness? What are all those noises around us? Nothing comfortable and relaxing in uncertainty, isn’t it?
Now to be honest, for the most part danger is in our heads. (Some having far more imagination than others. Especially those watching too much TV, where all is crime, hate, disasters and other sad behaviors). As a rule, the less we know, the more we let others – people and elements – influence our perception, leading us to fear. The way out of it ? Learn the do’s and don’ts. Like learning how to choose a campsite. Recognizing how safe it is? How can we escape if trouble was to arrive? Can we reach out to someone if necessary? Have we informed anyone where we’ll be? Is our behavior subject to attract unwanted people or animals?… Asking ourselves all the right questions before the night comes is the best way not having to look for the answers while we should be sleeping. But we don’t ! We choose a spot because of its beauty or its view, or worse these days, because of its “like” potential on social media, regardless of the consequences.
The most common fears keeping us awake at night when solo camping, are split pretty evenly between strangers and wildlife, while very few seem concerned by destructive forces of nature for example. Bugs come first for most women I know, which surprised me, as I thought male sexual predation would have been a bigger concerned. The explanation could be that as we travel to new countries we realize how what we are often told of others, especially those different from us, is a lot of stupid and ill-informed BS. When we judge nations and people through media lenses, all focused on the evil acts of a very few, we fail to recognize how the vast, vast majority of us, here and there, are peaceful and welcoming people we shouldn’t have to worry about.
Then why is spending the night out alone in the wild all worth it after all? Why should we look beyond the dangers it may bring? Why did we come here in the first place? A connection with nature, and ultimately with oneself ?
Exactly! But that connection isn’t here for us during the night, instead it comes at the very end of it, at dawn, as the first rays of the sun lighten the new day.
It is then, after the fight through the fears and uncertainty of darkness, that we can understand the joy dawn’s light offers. Now standing in unison with every other creatures surrounding us, as life begins again, we can truly observe nature. A wild, free, uncontrollable, yet magical world we are all a small and very fragile part of.
Which in a sense is what those images I was referring to at the beginning try to convey after all.