It has occurred to me that any wild or stealth camper, can become frightened during a night alone at their chosen spot, and it is not often spoken about.
However it is important to be honest, because there is much to be gained from a tough experience. Wild camping/sleeping can be the absolute best and most wonderful tonic for every conceivable malaise. The morning after a challenge, reminds one of how wonderful the daylight is and how good it is to be alive!
Over many years I have spent numerous nights as a lone wild camper, and only experienced around four or five memorably terrifying nights. These have mostly been due to making the mistake of not choosing a site well. Being under pressure from tiredness and hunger along with fading light, is often not a good time to be looking for the best spot to lay ones head down.
My first never to be forgotten ‘night out’ though not alone, was as a naive 21-year-old. Hitch hiking around America with a friend, we literally slept anywhere to save money, including Greyhound bus station loos. It became a trip never to be forgotten!
One night, we decided to camp behind the hotel of the time at Crater Lake, Oregon…….this was absolutely not allowed…..so we giggled in nervous excitement, whilst putting up our very flimsy tent in a hollow, not far from the garbage bins at the back of the complex. Those giggles fast disappeared a few hours later, as we realised our obvious mistake.
Bears like rubbish bins, they mean tasty food…..and even better for Mr Brown Bear……here was a sagging nylon tent with two rucksacks full of aromatic provisions, and I suppose we were another form of a food source too. Apparently these particular brown bears are quite small, someone told me later……in an attempt to soothe our shattered nerves.
Well they sounded ‘HUGE’ to me, whilst snuffling and sniffing at our tent flaps and crashing around in the nearby bins. My friend descended into absolute terror, I almost had to use a gag to stop her screams, and tie her down to keep her from bursting out of the tent! It was a horrible, horrible night the bears were around for hours.
Luckily we survived, intact, exhausted and a little embarrassed.
The very best thing I learnt from that experience, apart from making a bad decision, was that I could be a strong person in a crisis. At the time it was incredibly frightening, but I felt good that we had survived and I’d managed to keep my fear under control.
The second night never to be repeated, was while cycling in the off-season, across the Isle of Arran on my way to Islay.
I wanted to get the early ferry from Lochranza over to Claonaig on Islay, there is a campsite at Lochranza which I decided not to use…….to save money.
At dusk I tucked my little dark green Acto tent into the straggly undergrowth, under a rock face, off the main road close to a gravel path. I knew it was a little dodgy, but decided the hours of darkness would hide me and the road had been deserted for ages. After scoffing some food, I snuggled down into my sleeping bag, switched off the torch and fell fast asleep. Only to be woken about three hours later by the loud roaring of car engines and squealing of numerous tyres.
I sat bolt upright….boy racers! It sounded like all the young men of Arran were outside, racing their cars in circles and skidding on the gravel close to my tent. My first thought was, I am going to be flattened along with the tent. Then came the dilemma of whether to get my torch, reveal the tent and myself, or whether to stay put. I felt very vulnerable and petrified. The ear-splitting noise of engines, smell of fumes and raucous shouting seemingly went on for hours. At one point I thought, this is becoming deliberate they know I’m here, as their cars came closer and closer to my tent.
Finally, I couldn’t cope with any more torture, just as I got to the point of emerging from my tent it went quiet and the tuned up engine noise faded away into the distance. I nearly cried with relief.
My one other haunting night in the north-west, was on my very favourite Hebridean Isle of Mull.
Circumstances and a lower level of fitness found me scrabbling around for a place to pitch, close to the village of Bunessan on my way to Iona. The light was leaving and each hill beginning to feel like an Everest.
Spotting a little track on the right hand side at the top of a hill I made a spontaneous quick detour, it was the side road to a small walled graveyard! However there was a nice flat grassy spot close to the surrounding wall well off the main road. It was sure to be a quiet safe night!
The well-kept graveyard was special with some very ancient gravestones, which were interesting to read. I like to find the most long-lived persons grave, but it’s always sad to find the graves of young children, especially more than one child from the same family.
I went through my usual routine of securely pitching the tent, making hot food and then retiring to my cosy sleeping bag as darkness fell. Sleeping next to a graveyard was fine, any ghosts are going to be friendly I decided while drifting into a deep sleep.
Suddenly I was jerked awake by a loud thud, the far end of the tent momentarily flattened, guy ropes twanged and then all was silent.
Crikey, what an earth was that?
Immediately thoughts of unworldly beings flooded into my mind. I mentally shook myself. Ghosts do not exist!
Plucking up courage I unzipped the tent doors, and shone my torch around…….nothing but black dense mist and drizzle. The silence that comes with low mist and drizzle now seemed rather ominous…….was there someone close by wandering around, had they tripped over my tent guy ropes? A tramp? To a rational mind in the broad daylight this may seem a little farcical, especially when one is miles away from the nearest dwellings or public services
However in the middle of the night anything goes…….as monkey mind takes over! Clutching my Leatherman knife tightly in one hand I dozed in and out of sleep, until the early grey light seeped into the tent.
Venturing outside in the light was a relief and almost immediately I realised what had happened. Obvious prints in the muddy grass, two bent tent pegs along with several stones displaced from the wall.
A deer had leapt from the graveyard over the wall, taken evasive action, dislodged the stones and fortunately landed on the very end of my tent, becoming temporarily tangled in the guy ropes.
A lucky escape…….it could have been the middle of the tent. Amazingly my invincible Acto wasn’t damaged……..and neither was I!
The above tales of scary wild camping are not usual.
An odd tough night can however serve a larger purpose, imbibing extra confidence, self-control and self-reliance, along with an enormous sense of satisfaction at overcoming and coping with fear.
Also it is important to remember that it is rare to have such experiences. For most people stealth or wild camping in the british hills or countryside is well away from people, cars and bears.
My solo nights out in the natural world, have in general been some of the best times in my life so far………….explore the archives of this blog, and read all about the other fantastic wild cycling sleeps!