I tell my friends I’m heading to the Warrumbungles on my own. I’ve just bolted an aluminium box onto my ute tray and stuffed it with camping gear and chai tea sachets and toilet paper.
The petrol tank is full. I’ve checked the oil, the tire pressure and the water coolant levels. I have an axe, a hammer and a collection of tools should something fall off or break or need to be built. I’m ready.
‘Aren’t you worried about murderers and rapists and brown snakes and spiders?’ they ask.
‘What if something happens and you’re out of range?’
‘What if you hurt yourself?’
I want to tell them that the people I know scare me more. That 75% of female victims of sexual assault know their perpetrator.
‘I want to tell them that walking along the street at night in a bustling city makes me think of murderers and rapists more than camping in the bush on my own. ‘
I don’t lie in my tent and listen for footsteps. I’ve trained myself not to. Once you start, you get obsessed and you tell yourself you’re hearing things. The paranoia bubbles away until you hurriedly pack your tent and find the nearest motel.
Instead, I listen for the creak of tree trunks, and if anything, fear whether I’ve pitched my tent far enough away so I don’t make like dough in a pasta maker if one decides to fall.
‘Are you okay, you know, emotionally?’ my father asks.
‘Are you running away from something?’ says my friend studying psychology.
‘Don’t you get bored with all the space and time and silence?’ my sister questions.
‘But it’s not silent,’ I want to say.
You should hear the birds at 6am! They wake up mid-conversation, picking up where they left off at sundown the day before. And the wind! You know it’s alive, right? It lives in the treetops and it moves through life so quickly sometimes.
‘And boredom? Of course I’m bored! I sit there and look at the mountains and think ‘Well what do I do now?’.’
It makes me think of all the things I do to keep me stimulated at home. All the technology, all the people. Who am I without those things? What are my hobbies, the things I do for joy and not for progress? The things I do for self-gratification, rather than social glorification? Boredom gives me space to think about the answers to these questions.
Sometimes I want company. That romantic notion that someone will slot into my life, without much fuss. Someone who will pull out their camping chair under the gums with a book and happily tend a fire, and go for walks when the light is dappled.
‘But as a single woman in her mid-20s, with friends leading busy lives or little interest in the outdoors, I’d rather do something alone, than not do it at all.’
Loneliness is inherent to the human condition, and having someone with me while camping, isn’t going to eradicate it. It’s only in solitude that I can bear the weight of this loneliness, ‘the nightmare which,’ according to philosopher Hannah Arendt, ‘can very well overcome us in the midst of a crowd’.
You know the feeling, looking around at dinner plate pupils in a sea of familiar faces at a party. Lining up for the bank. Feeling vulnerable and confused while your partner lies there beside you, deep in sleep.
The confrontation of that form of loneliness is different than solitude, and solitude is nurtured alone.
Last time I pitched my tent on my own, I spent most of the time lazing by a river in the nude, growing out all the hair that former lovers told me I should get rid of.
I walked up and down the same strip of nature, because the wildflowers looked completely different at sunrise and sunset and when the rain was falling. As I cooked myself dinner, I talked to the birds who were pecking away at the scraps on my chopping board.
‘Maybe I was losing my marbles a little out there, under the plump yellow moon. You lose a marble, you gain some peace. A worthy exchange.’
I used to be scared of camping on my own. But like all things, the more I did it, the less afraid I became. I started off camping in busy campsites, booked through National Parks websites. Then I booked on private land through HipCamp.
And then I felt comfortable wild camping, pulling off on the side of the road, walking into the bush until I could no longer see the road, only the faint shadows of passing cars.
It’s okay to be afraid. Being scared doesn’t make you less adventurous or too precious or cowardly. I don’t subscribe to the idea that you must combat your fears if you don’t want to.
But if you want to camp on your own, I think it’s worth pulling out those tent poles and sitting in that discomfort. It pays off.