By: Anna Schwyter
I’ve been interested in outdoors activities my entire life. My parents took our family hiking and camping many times each summer, winters were spent exploring the woods, and springs were spent searching for birds’ nests and freshly hatched eggs. Upon coming to college, I graduated to more independent adventures outside and took to solo-hiking. Rothrock State Forest became my playground, and every chance I got, I headed into the woods, even if for just a quick trail run.
Over the past year, I’ve built up my camping experience and explored more of Pennsylvania, including Sproul State Forest, Bald Eagle State Forest, and the Allegheny National Forest (by far my favorite, but it is a bit of a drive from State College). My first trip of the season was in March, and it was on the Old Logger’s Path over a weekend, however, the weather was not our friend and the group never saw the trailhead. Out of determination, I knew that I had to return to this trail.
The following weekend, I headed to ANF to complete the Hickory Creek trail, which is a 13.5 mile loop. This being the first successful trip of the season, I was reunited with my love of the wilderness, the silent mornings in the woods and the melodic springs trickling down the mountain are more than enough for me. Immediately, I set my goal for summer as working up to a solo-backpacking trip.
I started small by going on two to four hour solo-hikes and trying to complete about 2-3 of these hikes a month. With each hike, I became more comfortable with being alone in the woods and less startled to see a deer or mountain biker. In May, I took on my first solo camping trip at Green Lane Park in Montgomery County. My family congratulated me on my bravery, but I didn’t see it that way because the campsites were well-groomed and close together, there was a bathroom with running water and flushing toilets, and a neat campfire ring all located twenty feet from my car.
The challenge of this first night “camping” alone was more of competence and confidence. I made sure that I could set up my tent quickly, I searched the woods for firewood and built a fire, slept on my inflatable sleeping pad for the first time, hung my hammock, and most importantly, found peace in solitude. Sure, there were people at the nearby campsites, and if I was hungry, cold or uncomfortable, I could pack up and drive away, but like I said, I had to build up to my goal.
In the middle of July, I purchased a new pack and felt ready to tackle a solo trip. My mind immediately went to OLP. Everyone that had done the trail raved about the scenery, especially Rock Run and Yellow Dog Run, so I was dying to check it out for myself. I purchased the hiking guide for OLP and read it over twice, trying to decide how I wanted to split up the 27.11 miles. I planned on hiking counter-clockwise, starting with 16 miles on the first day, camping by Doe Run, and finishing the next 11 miles the following day. Looking back, I am glad that I had this plan, as it gave me some very necessary time management goals.
A few days before my trip, I laid out all of my gear to make sure that I forgot nothing: tent, sleeping pad and bag, stove, spork, pocketknife, headlamp, rain gear, change of socks, water filter, wet wipes, and a pack towel were all accounted for. I made sure my stove and water filter were clean and working and that I had enough tent stakes. It’s the little things that can ruin a trip, and I wanted as few hiccups as possible for my first solo trip.
Next I tackled food. With enough experience, this didn’t take much thought but I still had to be thorough. Oatmeal for breakfast, but I brought extra just in case it spills/I can’t tame my hunger. Lunch was tuna on a pita with a few cheese sticks. Dinner was cheap and easy, ramen noodles. For snacks I brought an orange, Clif Bars and other things to munch as I hiked.
Once everything was neatly shoved into my pack, I tried it all on in my living room to ensure that the weight load was even and low. For women, it is more comfortable to carry the majority of the weight as close to the hips as possible. In the brain of my pack, I stashed my headlamp, map and guidebook, and some snacks. My hip belt pockets held my keys, knife, lip balm and phone (also used this as a camera). I felt prepared, ready to go, and got out and hit the first leg of my journey.
Sure, everyone’s different and everyone has their own individual needs, but with this guideline, I hope that I can help you plan your first solo trip, and I hope that your time spent outside is at least half as memorable as mine.