For quite some time I’ve wanted to do 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. The majority of my fondest memories in the outdoors involve the companionship of others. I wanted to do this trip for a couple of different reasons.
The first reason for the solo trip, is that I wanted to really experience nature. I don’t think it’s possible to really experience all of the little things in the outdoors when you’re in the company of others. I’m always concerned about making sure others are enjoying their trip, or I’m engaged in conversation of some sort. I can’t focus all of my attention on my surroundings and take in each little sound. Maybe some can, but I find myself distracted amongst others. When you’re alone in the dark, in a place that you’ve never been before, you tend to notice each sound. That’s what I wanted from this trip.
The second reason for wanting to go this one alone, was to prove that I still can. It’s been close to twenty years since I’ve made a solo camping trip. In that time, I’ve learned a lot of new things. I’ve learned how to be still. I’ve learned how to make better, safer decisions. I’ve also learned that I’m not as young as I was the last time that I did this, nor am I in near as good of shape. However, being able to write this story is a testament that I’ve still got enough in the tank to go out alone and come back in one piece.
When I mentioned to my family that I wanted to do a solo trip, they all cringed at the thought. Given my track record for accidents and misfortune, almost nobody thought it was a good idea. I’m sure they thought I’d come home with a broken bone, stitches, or a busted boat. And I don’t blame them. I’ve had more than enough of my fair share of all of the above. Even so, this was a trip that I just had to make…for me.
The first part of this trip was the planning stage. I decided that I wanted to put in on the Pearl River in a location that I’d never fished before. Going to the same areas that I’ve fished previously didn’t seem adventurous enough for me. I looked the river over 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 that sandbar would even be there with the current river stage. There was no way of knowing the stage of the river when the satellite image was taken. I spent the next few days checking the river stage forecast to make sure it wasn’t scheduled to rise any more. This is an important step. The last thing you want to do when camping on a sandbar is wake up to find that the river has risen a foot, and you’re almost sleeping in the water.
Next, was the execution stage. My daughters and I took the afternoon to go to a local private pond and catch bait for my lines. We struggled a bit, but managed to land enough bait for me to run bank poles that night. I figured that I didn’t need to run more than 5-6 poles since I would be by myself. That goes back to knowing limitations and making better decisions with age. After catching bait, checking over my gear, and loading the boat, it was time to head to the river.
I arrived in time to get the poles put out and baited just before dark. Thankfully, the sandbar that I’d chosen to spend the night on was not submerged. I set up camp, parked myself in a chair, and began to take in the experience. Being on the river in the dark, miles from civilization, is incredibly tranquil. Each sound seemed like it was right next to me. I listened to bullfrogs bellow, owls hoot, crickets chirp, and the gentle sound of the river flowing downstream. I can say without a doubt that it was the most relaxed that I’ve been in a long time.
I built a small fire next to my tent for comfort, and sat and looked at the sky for hours. The skies were clear and stars glistened in the black canvas. The sound of the fire crackling added even more comfort to the rhythm of the river. I felt as connected with nature in a way that I cannot remember. Things that I was concerned about before this trip vanished right there on that sandbar.
Shortly before midnight, I decided to check my poles before going to sleep. During the boat ride, I encountered two different alligators and one agitated water moccasin. The gators were skittish enough to disappear as I approached their area, the water moccasin was not. We eventually agreed to live and let live. After six poles checked, I had one flathead catfish in the boat. Not great, but to me it didn’t matter. I was there for the experience more than the fish.
The following morning, I awakened with the first light. The sounds from the night were mostly gone, but new sounds now filled the air. The diurnal creatures were beginning their day, myself included. I loaded my boat back up and began my trip down river, stopping to pull my poles. Out of the six, I landed one more flathead. The two fish combined will provide enough meat for a meal for my family, which to me qualifies it as a successful fishing trip.
After taking the boat out and heading home, I felt a sense of accomplishment and rejuvenation. My family was relieved that nothing catastrophic happened. If one could bottle that feeling of peace and serenity from that night on the sandbar and sell it, they’d be billionaires. If you have the opportunity to take a trip alone into God’s creation, do it, but move slow. Take it in and experience true peace.