by Christina Hall
Daylight is fading on my first night alone in the woods. I hear the trickling of a nearby stream and the chirp of twilight crickets. Flies buzz in my ears as they surround my sweaty stench. I have not showered in 15 days. All I have are my small rations of food, my pack and the tarp above my head. But I asked for this experience when I enrolled with Outward Bound, an outdoor adventure school. A three-day solo in the backcountry of North Carolina - the challenge is all mine.
This morning, my instructor, Erica, brought me to my solo site, and my heart raced with fear and anticipation at the thought of being isolated for three days in the wild. Venturing up the slope through the trees, I found some flat ground and dropped my belongings. It was too soon to set up my tarp, yet I did not know what to do with myself. I put my mind to work and crafted a way to make a bracelet out of bark from fallen branches. Not wanting to sit still, I built two magnificent towers of branches and sticks to mark the entrance of my solo site. Now, the shadow of night approaches. I make a comfy bed of leaves under my tarp and curl up inside my sleeping bag. I close my eyes, trying hard to calm my body. I am afraid to stay awake for fear of what might awaken during the night. Finally, sleep drifts over me.
The songs of the early birds now fill my ears, and I awake feeling refreshed and comfortable. I feel good knowing that I made it through the night, in the darkness, alone. Sitting among some ferns, a soothing calm comes over me as I survey my surroundings. No longer do I have to carry my 50-pound pack from dawn until dusk over mountains, through brush and across streams. I have two days of relaxation to renew my body and my mind.
For the last two weeks, I have been backpacking with my crew � 11 students and 3 instructors � and each day we have pushed and pushed to reach certain destinations on our 28-day course. As I think about all the things we have accomplished and the adaptations we have made, I begin to really appreciate the experience. I reflect on the trails we have trekked, the stories we have shared, the river we canoed, the bond our team has developed; and I look ahead in anticipation of the adventures to come.
After eating a handful of gorp, I begin writing a letter to my mother. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot the quick movements of a little hummingbird. It is darting around, pausing here and there. Such a peculiar thing for me to see during my solo; my father always loved watching hummingbirds in our back yard. Sadly, he passed away when I was just a teenager. As I watch it hover momentarily, I can�t help but think it is my father�s way of saying hello. I smile and the hummingbird zooms out of sight.
Then, suddenly, I hear a rustling in the leaves behind me. I turn, but do not see anything moving. Returning to my letter, the rustling starts up again. I slowly turn and take another good look into the leaves. I see it - a tiny head with two little black eyes. A snake, only four feet away, is slithering toward me with its tongue rhythmically lashing out. I immediately jump up and back away, my adrenaline pumping through my veins. I freeze and watch the snake slowly move closer. I see its tail now. It�s a rattlesnake! I panic because behind me, a thick stand of brush prevents an easy escape. Beads of sweat run slowly down my face as I stand there like a statue. The rattlesnake takes his time, exploring the area where I had been sitting, but he doesn�t seem to feel threatened. I take a deep breath at the rush of being so close to the snake. It starts to slither away, and I smile with curiosity. Although startling, my encounter is a small glimpse into the life of that rattlesnake. I am not sure where the rattlesnake went, but it probably took one whiff of me and decided to explore elsewhere. I continue to spend my second solo day writing and relaxing, occasionally inspecting for rattlesnakes and other curious creatures. As the sky begins to darken, I lay down again on my bed of leaves, and I fall asleep to the sounds of night.
I wake with the sun on my third day and enjoy my last hours alone. Before I know it, it is late morning and I see Mick, one of my other instructors, walking quietly into my site. He sits down next to me but doesn�t say anything yet.
�Can�t I stay here just a little bit longer?� I asked him after a moment. It feels strange to break a three-day silence.
He calmly replied, �It�s time to join back up with the rest of the crew. Gather your things and take your time getting your tarp down.�
I simply nod as he gets up and walks back down the slope. I look forward to rejoining the group, yet I will always treasure this unique experience. My time alone has given me greater confidence in myself and a sense of renewal after challenging my mind and body as part of the crew. I make my way down after packing up my tarp and taking time to naturalize my site. Reluctantly, I knock down my two magnificent towers and scatter the sticks and branches. I turn and take one final gaze up at my site. It looks as if I had never been there.
About the Author
Christina is from Chicago but frequently escapes the city to enjoy the outdoors. She is an aspiring writer who loves travel and photography.