- Meg Cuthbert
First Solo Camp Trip - Blundered
Updated: Jun 9, 2020
In November, I went on my first solo camping trip. I talk about camping, hiking and outdoor recreation a lot, so when I realized that this would be my first solo trip, I felt like a bit of an outdoor impersonator. I wasn’t even really going alone, Dino my clingy, high-energy blue heeler was coming with me.
The trip itself was simple enough, a weekend in Ucluelet. I was going to hike the Wild Pacific Trail in the daytime as part of my ’12 Hikes in 2019’ project and camp just outside of town at night. Just to be clear, you can’t camp on the Wild Pacific Trail, I was choosing to camp for accommodation purposes. Even though it was the shoulder season and all other campsites were closed, Glen at the Lost Shoe Campground had a spot for me. He happily let me stay in the entirely empty campground. “Do you have a dog?” he asked. I told him that I did, hoping that it wouldn’t be a deal-breaker. “Oh yeah,” he said, “you should have a dog to scare the bears away.”
In the days leading up to the trip, I was distracted with work and other projects. I was worried about getting an interview with someone at the Wild Pacific Trail for my video. I wanted to do a good job telling the story about this trail.
With all these distractions, it wasn’t until the morning I was departing that I really realized that I was going alone. Of course, I knew in a grander way that I was going alone. I knew it in the way that I knew where Ucluelet was. Right there on the map, I’ll go there, alone. But it wasn’t until the morning of departure that I started thinking “I’m going where? By myself?”
So I did what do best, and in the last two hours before leaving, I became really high-maintenance, and stressed out and decided that everything was going wrong. The weather, the cameras, the tent, everything was falling apart!!! (It wasn’t).
After some stressful and inefficient packing, I put Dino in the car and took off. As soon as I hit the road, literally the moment I was out of the driveway, all the anxiety shifted to excitement, and I wasn’t nervous at all. I was almost overwhelmed with anticipation. I love the west coast of Vancouver Island, and I love exploring new trails, AND I was going to interview a trail steward. It was all my favourite things combined, and I was pumped. The five-hour drive from Cowichan to Ucluelet was a breeze.
When I got to the west coast it was still light out, I stopped in at the info centre, went to the Lost Shoe Campground to check it out then drove over to the Amphitrite Lighthouse to catch the last bit of daylight. The sky around the lighthouse was a soft blue and pink, and the ocean spray made the air salty-fresh. Dino and I stretched our legs and did a little walk. It felt good to be out there by myself at sunset. It was calming and satisfying.
Back at the Lost Shoe Campground dusk was settling in. I quickly set up the tent and camp. I started a fire and went to light my kerosene Coleman lantern. The fire went out. I re-lit the fire. The pump seal on the lamp is broken. No light. Fire is out. Re-light fire. Start cooking dinner. Fire is out. Light fire.
WTF fire! We have a wood stove insert as the primary heat in our house. I can light a freaking fire!
But I was alone, doing all the camp setup and not really paying attention to the fire. No one else was keeping an eye on it, and Dino was no help.
Ok, so I had dinner, then focused on the fire. I made Dino a little bed out of towels, and we hung out. Being November, it was already completely dark, and a wet-cold started sinking in. Sitting in this utterly empty campground, I made a critical mistake, the biggest mistake of the night. I went to bed at 7:30pm.
In the tent I tried to make Dino comfortable, I wore my long johns and wool socks. I read my book for about an hour. Dang, it was cold. I put my leggings on over my long johns and my fleece jacket over my wool shirt and added a pair of socks and a toque. Dino was rolled up into a tiny button, so I wrapped him in a towel nest and cocooned my body around him.
Once we had resettled it suddenly was very quiet. Like a switch in my mind, every sound became a murderer. From the upright position of his ears, I think Dino was thinking the same thing. All the creaks, drips and breezes became a very slow-moving, and erratic murderer (or a network of murderers) creeping outside of the tent.
Then it started to rain. So great, now the murderer(s) would be able to use the sound of the rain to adjust their creeping to be even more slow-moving and even more erratic.
Dino started shivering. I wrapped him in my spare blanket, and we both lay still listening. I had my knife and my bear spray ready. A drip, some wind, a leaf hitting the tent.
Ok, that’s enough. I wasn’t going to sleep like this, I needed a distraction. What is absurd, distracting and can put me to sleep? Ancient Aliens (thank you Netflix and a data plan). So at 2am, I became an ancient alien theorist and started watching season one. The rest of the night was a mix of sleeping, waking, and Ancient Aliens.
Then, crows! We did it. Dino and I made it to morning, and the crows were calling. It was raining so I strung up a tarp, looked around the barren site. After a long night of paranoia and aliens, I decided to have breakfast in town.
After grabbing a warm breakfast sandwich and a hot coffee, Dino and I hit the trail. The Wild Pacific Trail is a magical coastal experience. The west coast of Vancouver Island is a rugged landscape that is home to some world-class surfing and the impeccable West Coast Trail. The 8-kilometre Wild Pacific Trail is literally carved into the coast outside of Ucluelet. The trail is a destination of its own, and you can read all about it right here.
After hiking all morning, at about 1:30pm the rain became too heavy for the camera. Dino and I had walked and filmed almost the entire trail at that point, so we went to town. I wasn’t ready to go back to camp and end up in the tent at 4:30pm listening to erratic murderers all night, so I cruised through town checking out all the shops and had a coffee at Zoe’s Bakery.
But by 4:00pm I knew I needed to get back to camp to set up more tarps and start dinner before it became completely dark. It was raining harder than it had all day. I bought a newspaper for fire starter so that I wouldn’t repeat the previous night’s fire catastrophe. I was committed to the tarps, the camp and the fire. I would not be afraid tonight.
However, upon our arrival, we were greeted by the unnerving sight of the tent flipped over on its side, and my tarp loosely flapping in the wind.
The tent was fine, and nothing was missing, except for one of the fly pegs. It was on its side, so the tent was quite wet. I kept most of my stuff, including my sleeping bag, with me in the trunk of the car, so luckily it was all dry. I set the tent right and worked on the tarp. In full rain gear, I started the setup of the second tarp. The wind whipped everything around, the tarp was snapping and cracking. My fingers turned pink as I tied the tarp in the trees. Stretching to get it as tight as I could against the wind, I tried not to think about what flipped my tent. A bear searching for food? A murderer leaving me a message? Or probably just the wind.
But damn my fingers were cold trying to tie knots in the wind. Dino wouldn’t even come out of the car, he was totally useless. Then my rain pants from 2008 began leaking. The cold water had leaked through the outer layer and was soaking my hiking pants beneath. Tarp half setup, and completely soaked, I took shelter in the car for a breather. In this moment of temporary defeat, I texted Daniel, “my tent was flipped over, probably the wind.” He phoned instantly, but just like in a horror movie, the call dropped several times. I got out of the car and walked around the campground looking for a connection.
Finally, he got through on FaceTime and asked the dreaded “How are you?” Really, I was fine. I’d had a great day on the trail and in Ucluelet. I was tired from the cold and all the Ancient Alien theorizing from the night before, and the unnerving sight of my tent flipped in the pouring rain and let some dread seep into my bones.
“Yeah, just trying to get these tarps up.”
“Why don’t you stay in a hotel?”
“But my hands are cold, and Dino won’t help.”
“It’s stormy. It’s ok to stay in a hotel. You don’t have to prove you’re tough.”
“No no, it’s fine.”
He wasn’t convinced, but he said to stay in touch. I looked over my tarps lamely flapping in the wind and googled pet-friendly hotels. By the time I found one, Daniel had already called it. It was my choice, he said, but he was ready to book it. The hotel was about to close, so if I wanted it, I had to decide now. I looked around at my crappy tarps, my soaked tent, my dog hiding in the car, and took a breath.
Ok! I took the damn room! I rolled everything up in a tarp, tossed it in the trunk and booted into town. The woman at reception was packing up when I stormed into the lobby. She looked me up and down, “hmmm,” she said. “He told me you’d be wet. Go have a shower, your room’s been paid for” and she handed me the key.
My first solo camp trip turned out to be a halfer. Dino ran into the room ecstatic to be inside. I hung up my soaking gear in the shower. I felt like a bit of a failure — I had scared the pants off myself the first night and bailed on the second. I was exhausted. I scribbled some notes about the trail and went to bed.
The next morning, the storm had passed and the sun was shining. My gear was mostly dry (as featured above, in what I believed to be a rather clever hanging system -- no water outside of the tub . . . baby brag), so I packed everything back up and went back to the Amphitrite Lighthouse to interview Tanya from the Wild Pacific Trail.
Tanya was an excellent interview, and her enthusiasm for the trail reinvigorated mine. The Wild Pacific Trail and trail societies like it are something special. This trail is an incredible asset to the community of Ucluelet. Not only does it provide access to the waterfront, it also integrates natural, cultural and historical features of the area.
Because the sun was shining, and we were fresh and optimistic, Dino and I hiked the whole trail again. This day on the trail was even better than the last and I seriously considered staying another night so I could hike it for a third time. But I didn’t want to push my luck so we made our way back to Cowichan.
I’m going to have to do another solo trip this year to make up for this blunder and rebuild my wilderness ego.
Here's a couple other slightly blundered trips: