SMITH: I like the tranquility of a solo tenting journey

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For a while now I’ve wanted to go on a solo camping trip along the river. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the company of friends and family on the river; I do. Most of my fondest memories of nature involve the company of others. I wanted to do this trip for various reasons.

The first reason for going solo is that I really wanted to experience the great outdoors. I don’t think it’s possible to really experience all the little things in nature in the company of others. Always careful to make sure others are enjoying their trip or I’ll be caught up in a conversation. I cannot focus my full attention on my surroundings and perceive every little noise. Some may be able to do this, but I find myself distracted among others. When you’re alone in the dark, somewhere you’ve never been before, you tend to pick up on every sound. That’s what I wanted from this trip.

The second reason I wanted to go alone was to prove that I still can. It’s been almost 20 years since I went on a solo camping trip. During this time I learned a lot of new things. I learned to be still. I’ve learned to make better, safer decisions. I’ve also learned that I’m not as young as last time, and not nearly as fit. However, being able to write this story is proof that I still have enough in my tank to go out on my own and come back in one piece.

When I mentioned to my family that I was going on a solo tour, they all winced at the thought. Given my track record of accidents and misfortunes, almost no one thought it was a good idea. I’m sure they thought I would come home with a broken bone, sutures, or a broken boat. And I don’t blame them. I have more than enough of my fair share of all of the above. Still, this was a trip I just had to make … for myself.

The first part of this trip was the planning phase. I decided that I wanted to moor on the Pearl River in a place I had never fished before. Going to the same areas I’ve fished before didn’t seem adventurous enough to me. I looked at the river on my hunting map and found a sandbar that seemed suitable for camping. The only question from there was the water level. I couldn’t be sure whether the sandbar would even be there on the current stage of the river. There was no way of knowing the state of the river when the satellite image was taken. I spent the next few days checking the river leg forecast to make sure it shouldn’t go up. This is an important step. The last thing you want to do while camping on a sand bar is to wake up to find that the river has gone up a foot and you are almost asleep in the water.

Next came the execution phase. My daughters and I took the afternoon to go to a local private pond and catch bait for my lines. We struggled a little, but managed to land enough bait for me to run bench poles that night. I figured that I don’t have to run more than five to six poles because I would be alone. It goes back to knowing your limits and making better decisions as you get older. After catching bait, checking my gear, and loading the boat, it was time to head to the river.

I got there in time to set up and bait the poles just before dark. Fortunately, the sandbar I had spent the night on was not under water. I made camp, parked myself in a chair, and began absorbing the experience. Being on the river in the dark, miles from civilization, is incredibly serene. Every sound seemed to be right next to me. I heard bullfrogs roar, owls scream, crickets chirp and the gentle rush of the river downstream. I can say without a doubt it was the most relaxed in a long time.

As a consolation, I made a small fire next to my tent, sat and gazed at the sky for hours. The sky was clear and stars glittered in the black canvas. The crackling of the fire made the rhythm of the river even more comfortable. I felt connected to nature in a way that I can’t remember. Things that worried me before this trip disappeared right there on that sandbar.

Just before midnight, I decided to check my sticks before going to sleep. During the boat trip I met two different alligators and an excited water moccasin. The alligators were shy enough to disappear as I approached their area; it wasn’t the water moccasin. We finally agreed to live and let live. After checking six rods, I had a flat head catfish in the boat. Not great, but it didn’t matter to me. I was more there for the experience than the fish.

The next morning I woke up with the first light. Most of the sounds of the night had gone, but new sounds filled the air now. The diurnal creatures began their day, including me. I reloaded my boat and began my trip downstream, stopping to pull my sticks. Of the six, I landed another flathead. The two fish together provide my family with enough meat for a meal, which makes for a successful fishing trip for me.

After getting off the boat and driving home, I felt a sense of accomplishment and rejuvenation. My family was relieved that nothing disastrous happened. If the feeling of peace and serenity from that night on the sandbar could be bottled and sold, they would be billionaires. If you have the opportunity to travel alone into God’s creation, do it, but go slowly. Take it up and experience true peace.

Smith is an assistant baseball coach at William Carey University, and an avid hunter and family man. For more information on his work, please visit his blog, pinstripestocamo.com.

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