Last summer I was single for the first time in a very long time. With that experience I had moments of feeling alone and lost. It made me sit back and think. What do I want out of life? What is that I like to do? I like traveling and experiencing new things. How can I do that cheaply? Camping! I also like camping! I asked a few people if they wanted to go somewhere and no one seemed able or willing. With my lack of funds I knew as a disabled person I got into national parks for free and camping was 50 percent off and I could camp for next to nothing. So, I made a post on Facebook asking if anyone had a small tent. To my surprise a friend of mine in Texas had a one man tent. Perfect! I picked it up as soon as possible and took it home to set it up. It went up in minutes! It also went back in its bag in what seemed like seconds. Easy peasy. Now, where do I want to go?
I immediately got my notepad and pen and I started my research. Where can I go? What do I want to see? First thought was Grand Canyon. I looked at the time it took to go there. No go. I’m going alone. First adventure all by myself can not be 16 hours away. I needed a one day driving distance. I needed somewhere close enough that I could wake up early and make it to before night fall so I could pitch my tent before it got dark. So the search continued. National parks were the targets and I ended up finding Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas. It was only 7.5 hours away. I had never been to Arkansas, so it seemed like the perfect time to check it out, right?
I found a campground that looked awesome, there was a lake, great pictures, perfect reviews. Done! I’m going! I went by my co workers house to borrow her little yeti cooler so I didn’t have to worry about replacing my ice on my trip. While there she said something along the lines of, “Dude, I’m worried about you. You need to text me every day and let me know you’re okay. I’ll come save you if I need to”. I told her I would be just fine! But there was a piece of me that was a bit scared for my self also. And, honestly, every friend or family member I talked to either told me not to go or called me crazy. I think the more they told me this stuff the more I wanted to prove them I could do it and that I would be okay. I’m not a small child, I don’t need supervision. I can do this by myself. Those were my thoughts going through my head. Don’t doubt me and I must remember never to doubt myself, either.
I started out. Happy and optimistic with a tad bit of anxiety. Am I capable of doing this? I’ve slept in a lot of tents in some very remote places. But, I’ve also been with other people. Am I going to be scared in the woods all alone? What will I do if a bear really does try to attack me? Will I grab a snake sneaking in my tent or will I just scream and squill and have a heart attack? These are thoughts that poured through my head on my drive. I kept reminding myself I was confident and capable, plus, I had the dog, Indie, in the back seat. So I wouldn’t be totally alone, right?
Windows down, music blaring and it was a glorious summer day with the sun brightly shining. Well, until I get in to Arkansas and it started to rain. That’s okay. As much as I would love to believe I’m made of sugar, I know, I actually am not. I won’t melt! Still optimistic, I drive all the way to my campground. Only to be a bit disappointed when I get there.
When I pull in, I see the first facility. It looked awful! I see campers parked in camp spots. These people may live here. They may have been living here since 1971 actually. First thought, people come here to die. I gotta go. So I pull back out and try to look up a new place. I realize at this point. I have no cell phone service. I can’t look up anything.
This reminds me of the time my mom and I went to my sisters in Colorado shortly after my accident. We used an atlas. I was the navigator because I couldn’t drive my moms car without hand controls. My mom trusted her little 18 year old disabled child to navigate her half way across America! I really had never done that before but I just did what I thought was best. We did indeed make it there, and I still to this day thing my route is what a GPS would tell us now. I could do the same thing while I was alone, right? I didn’t need google maps on gps. All I needed was map and I had one.
I followed the map to the nearest towns in the direction of Hot Springs, a place that I knew was large. Most of the names of places on the map that I passed through were not actually anything different than the woods I was traveling through. No houses, no stores, just forest. I had a moment or two where I thought, should I turn around and go home? No! You came this far, you will not fail. What kind of story would that be to tell when I got home?!
Finally, I got to civilization where I also had cell service so I pulled over to do some research. I found THREE campgrounds this time just in case one of them was as scary as the last. Then, I started off on my new destination.
When I got to the next campground it was wonderful! There was a loop for tents and no one was there. Perfect! I didn’t want anyone looking at me and feeling sorry I was there all alone and I didn’t want people coming up and asking if I needed help. I wanted to do this alone in peace. I immediately got out and started setting up. The rain was pretty much gone but drops from the canopy were still falling quite a bit. No big deal, not made of sugar, I will survive. I’ve got this.
I realized as soon as I see the ground, that I had forgotten my hammer. Getting the stakes in the ground wasn’t going to be easy but I just found a big rock and it worked perfectly. Set my tent up, got my supplies in, and then it was time for dinner. I had brought a little gas tank with one little cooker, one pot, one spoon, and a can of clam chowder. Indie had the left overs because I was really worried about bears since I had seen signs everywhere. There were other people at the campground but not on my loop. I couldn’t even see their lights through the forest. So as soon as supper time was over, I got in the tent before nightfall.
I could just barely hear my neighbors on the other loops, but the sound of the little creek I was next to and the sound of the raindrops that night drowned them out. Indie started growling at some point and it freaked me out, so I unzipped my tent to shine the light outside. When I peeked out I felt like I was on the set of the movie Avatar. I had found Pandora! The lightning bugs, as I call them, were MAGICAL! They were everywhere. I tried to take a picture but they wouldn’t show up. I tried to video too but nothing. So I just sat there, with my tent open, watching the forest light up. I was very thankful God put me on this planet and even more thankful he didn’t take me away when I was 18. I knew I was right where God wanted me in that very moment. Everything about it felt perfect. The planet we live on guys, it’s a blessing. It’s a blessing I am so very thankful for!
The first night I was there all my food was locked up in the car. I wasn’t trying to chance a bear sniffing me out. New neighbors arrived the next day and I was way less scared as they were up late with fires and talking. I took one cheese stick and one Slim Jim to the tent with me, but wrapped the wrappers up in a wet one, and then zipped it up in a bag, hoping to keep the scent a little contained. By the third night, the loop was full and all sense of caring about bears was out the window. That’s evident in one of the pictures below. To keep your concerns on future travelling I have since then acquired more protection, so have no worries!
I stayed in Arkansas for three nights. We would wake up, go shower, get in the car and drive. I went to lakes, went to the town of Hot Springs, rode up to Ozark National Park, went to the town Eureka Springs up north, and found the highest mountain. I never knew Arkansas was so pretty. But I liked it so much I’m going back this summer!
These are just a few of the pictures I thought about taking of things I got to see. I’m very upset with my self that I did not take pictures of Eureka Springs. However, I just rode through there and did not get out at all because of the lack of time I had to make it home before sundown so I guess it’s understandable. It was a beautiful town though. If you are ever near it, go there!! I promise I’ll get better on my photo game as this journey of mine goes on! Better documentation of things is one of my new goals, we shall all see if a reach it, huh?!? But, let’s move on!
My last night I was there I had just got done eating and was about to get ready for bed. I got a text message from mom miraculously because my service at my camp spot was basically non-existent. She was letting me know about a big storm headed my way. My aunt had called mom and said was worried because a huge storm was in Oklahoma and was coming straight for me. I called my aunt and we talked awhile and she was really panicked and wanted me to pack up that night. I thought ahh, it’s in Oklahoma, it’ll be weak by the time it gets here. I wasn’t really worried and I went to bed.
At 4 o’clock in the morning the wind came busting through and sounded like a freight train blowing every tree around me down. I unzipped the tent and a small limb came flying in and crashed into my face. At that moment I was certain a tree was about to fall over and end my life. I quickly threw all my stuff like my phone, lamp, and flashlights into my bag. Some of you know how hard it is for me to get back into my chair from the ground. This was on the time in my life I felt like I flew into my chair with ease. I’m pretty sure I did it in a matter of 3.5 seconds. I unlocked the door, opened it and told Indie to get in. She ran straight from the tent and hopped in the car. I grabbed as much as I could from inside the tent and threw it in the car. Closed the door and zipped up the tent.
The night before I had a next door neighbor arrive who just set up his tent to sleep in for the night. He was up moving himself to his car also. Another neighbor that had arrived after my 1st night had gotten in his truck and drove off. I got in my car and decided to drive to the end of the road where I knew I had phone service. I needed to look at the weather radar. As I was going through the campground there were leaves and limbs everywhere. I got to the main road where I normally had service and I had none. This scared me. Is the tower down?!
I drove further down the road and saw trees that were down and thought, “God, this isn’t how you’re gonna take me is it?!”. Finally, I found service and pulled into a driveway. As soon as the radar loaded I realized there was one small red dot that was passing over me. And it had completely passed me. I had a little bit of green still over me but within an hour or so I would have blue skies. So I texted my family, let them know I was alive and went back to my campsite. I slept in my car from about 4:30 to 9 something. I woke up, put the tent up and went and showered. Then back home I went, again, thankful I was still alive!
I remember on this trip I was really thankful I didn’t have certain people with me. I’ve had people in my life that don’t deal with stress very well. Rain really can ruin some folks parades, but I’ve tried to never let it affect mine. To some people, this trip of mine could have been a disaster from the start right up to the very finish. But I powered on and pushed forward. No matter the obstacles I was faced, I enjoyed every minute. I felt like I was a stronger person for not giving up and not letting any of the events scare me from going into nature again. The rough start and somewhat terrible ending were just lessons to me. It could have been way worse. A tree could have actually fallen on me or my car. I could have gotten a flat tire at some point in all that driving I did. I mean, I could have even gotten eaten by a bear, but I didn’t! So to me, my trip was one of great success!
If you’re still reading this I challenge you. Go try something you’ve been thinking about doing. Going back to college, starting a business, quitting a job to find a new one you actually like, leaving a bad relationship, moving to a whole new place, or even going on a little road trip all by yourself to figure out who you are. We all have ideas that scare us. And we need to have more confidence to act on them. Regardless if you are scared or not. Regardless of the fact that people around you may doubt you or just simply be fearful for you to try. Go do it. Put faith in yourself, tell that fear to go find another brain to bother because you simply do not have room for it in yours. You can achieve whatever you put your mind to. And if you can’t tell yourself that, don’t count on anyone else to tell you that either.
Believe in yourself. Because that’s where the magic really happens.