April 07, 2020
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Solo camping is an act of solitude, confidence

The rain started during the night, spitting and spattering through the dark canopy of trees under which I’d pitched my blue tent. The drops quickly got bigger and heavier, slapping against the rain fly as the wind picked up. Soon it was a real downpour. The tall trees soughed and swayed overhead.

Inside, I was snug and dry. I was a little restless on my thin, backpack-style air mattress, a little too close to the elements, but warm and confident the tent wouldn’t leak or blow away. My good dog Molly, a small 12-year-old hound who came to live with my husband, Douglas, and me just before Christmas, slumbered peacefully on her red plaid blanket, paying no attention to the storm.

Earlier that day, I had packed up the Subaru with an astonishing amount of camping gear for this three-night expedition. Douglas was headed south for the weekend to help our son-in-law with a home-improvement project. I’m perfectly happy being home alone once in a while, but I had been craving the quiet adventure of a solo camping trip for some time.

Not backpacking — I never did enjoy carrying a heavy pack on the trail, and it’s only gotten less appealing as I’ve gotten older. No, I was after the relative comfort, ease and flexibility of car camping. And going alone meant a few days in my own company, making my own decisions, solving my own small problems, proceeding at my own slow pace.

I took it as a good sign that one of my favorite camping destinations, Cobscook Bay State Park in Washington County, had several sites available for the weekend. And it was pure serendipity that spacious, secluded Site 105, where I have camped several times over many years, was open. I made the reservation, sorted through the big box of camping supplies and loaded up the car.

I know people who camp with minimal gear, and I respect that. In my youthful backpacking days, I knew how to travel light, too, with a nifty little two-person tent, a clever Swedish cookstove that fit in a coffee can, a skimpy, knee-length sleeping pad and my trusty Swiss Army knife. But when our kids were young, my ex-husband and I discovered car camping and never looked back. A roomy four-person tent, a two-burner Coleman stove, a plastic cloth for the picnic table, a selection of pots and pans and a plastic dishpan to wash them in — you get the picture. It’s not glamping, but it’s not hardship, either.

I had camped alone a few times after my ex and I parted ways in 2008, but eventually, the big bin of equipment drifted to the back of the barn. And although Douglas and I enjoy camping — that’s what we said on our Match.com profiles — we’ve never once gone camping in the five years we’ve been a couple. To be fair, we did consider honeymooning on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway after our marriage in 2015 but opted instead for Monhegan Island and the creature comforts of a bed and breakfast.

So, late Thursday afternoon after work, Molly and I and our car full of stuff headed north on coastal Route 1. We stopped once for gas and once for groceries, arriving at the park at about 6 p.m. Rain was in the forecast, so we wasted no time getting set up. Molly waited patiently, tethered to the picnic table, while I hustled around. Once the tent was up and the cookstove operational, we ate supper and took a walk under darkening skies to the big seaside meadow in the park’s day-use area.

Back at Site 105, I poured a glass of wine and read for a while on the steps of the log lean-to, enjoying the quiet and the sense of being on my own. But the mosquitos were fierce in the heavy, pre-storm dusk, and it wasn’t long before Molly and I went into the tent and settled in for the night. I fell asleep quickly, waking hours later, when the rain started.

It was pitch black in the tent, but I had a flashlight and a water bottle in easy reach. Also a roll of toilet paper, though I had no intention of venturing out into the wet night. I took a sip of water, scratched Molly’s soft ears, repositioned my hip bones on the air mattress — Note to self: Where’s the big foam pad? — and drifted back to sleep despite the growing storm outside.

Later, I snapped awake again. The rain and wind had all but stopped, and a blue shimmer of moonlight filled the tent. Molly was standing stiffly beside me, her floppy ears pitched forward, every molecule alert. As I reached out to reassure her, the thin howl of a coyote cut through the still air. It was joined by another and another until there was a small chorus of wild voices wailing in the near distance. Molly trembled but didn’t move or make a sound until the wild dogs stopped their singing. Then she sneezed, gave her whole body a shake, made a few tight circles on her blanket and settled back down beside me, a little closer than before. When we woke again, it was morning.

The rest of the trip passed delightfully. I spent a rainy Friday in Eastport, drifting through shops and art galleries, reading the excellent Quoddy Tides newspaper cover-to-cover in the old public library and watching construction crews rebuilding the old commercial pier, which partially collapsed in 2014. At the Polar Treat in Perry that afternoon, I joined a high-spirited group of fleece-clad customers determined to enjoy an ice cream despite the mid-50s temperatures and continuing wind and rain.

Back at Site 105, the mosquitoes had either blown away or drowned. I spent the evening reading quietly in the protective shelter of the lean-to, bundled in a blanket, enjoying a gin and tonic and dining on cheese and crackers when I realized I didn’t care about making an actual meal. There are some decisions you can reach more easily alone than in even congenial company.

After another drizzly night in the dry tent, Saturday dawned clear. I made coffee and oatmeal on the Coleman stove, cleaned up and headed over to Lubec, the easternmost town in the United States. Molly and I explored the farmers market, visited the hardware store for a lantern bulb and prowled along Main Street to see what was new in this beautiful but struggling little community I’ve visited for the past 30 years or more.

We drove across the international bridge onto Campobello Island, part of the Canadian province of New Brunswick. We avoided a robust crowd of tourists at the popular park that features the summer home of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, opting instead for a spectacular and challenging loop hike along the water’s edge in the Herring Cove Provincial Park.

Crossing back into Lubec in the late afternoon, I was reprimanded sternly by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent for being unable to produce Molly’s rabies certificate, which I neglected to bring with me. Eventually, though, she waved us through. Back at the state park, I built a healthy blaze in the stone firepit, prepared a supper of pasta and meatballs with asparagus I had brought from home, poured a glass of wine and, for the first time, wondered how Douglas was making out at his daughter’s house.

I really hadn’t missed him a whisker, glad to be navigating this small adventure on my own. Camping with him would have been a different experience — more planned, more scheduled, tidier, more organized. We would have had an itinerary and a menu plan. We would have chatted about the things we were seeing and doing. The tent would have been cozier, to be sure, but also smaller and clumsier, with less room for my shifting around on the air mattress and less room for Molly’s plaid blanket. No, I had managed this trip just fine on my own.

But now I could feel myself anticipating the drive back to Sandy Point and my reunion with Douglas in the kitchen, with our respective tales to share over dinner. Molly and I took another long evening walk through the park, scoping out other campsites we might come back to with Douglas later in the summer. We passed another peaceful night in our tent, broke camp in the morning and headed gladly for home.

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