About two and a half weeks ago, the entire semester gathered on the quad to get our stuff together and get ready to leave for our two-day solos. We grabbed our packed dry bags and added our food rations, a 1-gallon water bottle, and a tarp each and headed out with our advisors to go to the campsites, after saying good-bye to the other students and teachers. I walked out with my advisor, Sue, and three other students to my solo spot, on a fifteen-minute walk all the way down to Spartina Point, each of us lugging our enormous bags. I was the second-to-last person in my advisory to be dropped off, and after saying good-bye to Sue and the other student, JP, I was completely alone.
The first thing I did was look around until I found a good, tree-surrounded spot to set up my tarp. I was determined to set up my shelter right away, so I started by looking up and making sure that there were no loose branches hanging over the spot that I’d chosen. I then proceeded to set up my shelter, and after a good twenty to thirty minutes of set-up, I had my tarp draped over a long rope, tied between two trees, and a small wilderness hammock that I had brought tied between two other trees, with all of my food in a stuff sack, hanging from a branch forty feet away from my shelter (to keep animals from wandering over to my tarp). I then looked around and just marveled at my surroundings. Around me were tons of trees, because I’d been assigned to a foresty area, and under a short side of the area I was on was the salt marsh.
In the center of my campsite was a tree that I’d nicknamed “the octopus tree”, because it had a thick trunk with at least three dozen thick branches encircling it. I used this tree as a mark to where every important location was: in front of it, my food sack; to the left of it, my hammock; behind it, my tarp. It was after a few minutes that it occurred to me that for one of the first times since coming to Chewonki, I had absolutely nowhere I had to be, so I sat down and read the letters that my cabin mates had written me (because we’d all decided to write each other letters so that we would all have something fun to read on the solo. After reading my letters, and smiling and laughing as I read each one, I paused and looked at the sun coming through the branches above me. I picked up one of the books that I’d brought and read a few chapters, and then I wrote an entry in my journal. And then I got out some food, sat down on my hammock and ate a dinner of carrot sticks, celery, GORP (dried bananas, dried apples, chocolate chips, raisins, craisins, peanuts, and Corn Chex), and cheese cubes, before deciding to retire for the night (although it was still light out, and according to my watch, 5 PM). I got into my shelter and curled up in my sleeping bag, and just thought for a while before attempting to fall asleep. Of course, due to my normal schedule of staying up until 10:00PM or 11:00 PM, and my nerves of being alone in the woods, I stayed awake with several ten-minute spurts of sleep, and read a bit of my book until finally falling asleep for the night around 10 PM.
I woke up around 7 AM to a bright light, figuring that I’d probably left my flashlight on, but after searching to see which of my flashlights was on, I realized that it was the sun. I got out of my tarp, put up my flag, and ate some GORP and an apple for breakfast, filled with a new excitement about making it through my first night of solos. I then sat on my hammock and just thought and reflected for a while, until I started to get bored of my own thoughts, and I pulled out my book and read for a long time. I had a lunch of cheese cubes and gluten-free crackers (and GORP of course), and spent some more time reading, before going back to my tarp and attempting to take a nap. I felt too awake, though, and I ended up spending the next long while reading and re-reading a couple of the few paperbacks that I had brought, and writing a long entry in my journal, and thought some more, before realizing I should have a quick dinner (though I was not feeling very hungry), and I ate half a granola bar with half a carrot stick for dinner. I eventually fell asleep, and woke up to a light sky, and waited for the sun to rise. I packed up all of my stuff, and took it back to campus in two runs. I finally took a shower and went to brunch, relieved to finally be back at Chewonki.
The solo was a great experience, and I am glad that I did it, though I am very happy to be back at Chewonki. One of the strangest things about being alone in the woods was the unpredictability. I had no idea what would come each minute, and I found myself escalating everything in my mind: each wind was a thunderstorm; each rustle of a bird in the trees was a raccoon. It was weird for me as well that I went an entire 40 hours without speaking to or contacting another person (though I could see JP every once in a while from a distance, and I found out later on that he had been able to see me every once in a while as well, because our tarps were in fact less than thirty feet away from each other (though we were on opposite parts of a hill). Looking back on it, it feels both like it happened yesterday and like it happened months ago. I am so happy to be back at Chewonki, in my wood-heated cabin with all of the other students and faculty here, but I have a feeling that I will always remember my solo. I did not have any life-changing moments or anything while I was out there, but it was just really cool for me to realize that actually spend two days entirely by myself, surrounded by nature.
–Jennie Richardson, Chatham, NJ, Millbrook School