Gros Morne National Park: lone woman camping trend

Some are adventurous. Some love nature. Some are sad.

We have noticed it before and I have a friend who does it. However, it would seem that women camping alone is a definite and popular trend. When we were camping at Green Point, every single campsite adjacent to us had women who were camping solo in them. The campsites were close and did not have a great deal of tree or bush cover so view-planes were unimpeded. Your neighbours are unavoidably observable.

One woman, about 40 or so pulled up in a kind of volkswagon-y  . She would arrive at the end of each of her two days, cook up a scoff, contemplate the world from the vantage point of the top of her picnic table and then retire to bed. She had a large dog that looked kind of like a labradoodle. One evening a man came over and hung about chatting with her. She did not look terribly comfortable and I wondered about wandering over just to join in so she, and he, would know she was not unsupported and he was not unobserved. He left before she went to bed, but he arrived bright and early the next morning in a car. Again, they conversed and I could tell she sent him on his reluctant way. I admired her so much because, among other things, she expertly began her mornings with outdoor yoga.

The person to our immediate right on our first night was in her thirties. She was dog-less and slept in a tiny tent. She too was gone for most of the day, then arrived at suppertime, cooked a one-pot scoff and retired to the beach with her tea. At dusk she returned, lit a small campfire and sat by it, musing. She stayed for a night.

The next tenant of that site was a woman in her thirties who pulled in with an SUV with a rectangular contraption on the top. Lots of web addresses and sayings were decaled onto the car. When she got out, the most well-behaved German Shepherd calmly exited too. He kept very close to her. She told him to stay put, which he did reluctantly. Worried, his eyes followed her as she made her way to where I was sitting. Would I mind, she asked, defending her site from campsite stealers? She explained that someone took her last site because her car was not in it and her tent is always with her so a person just claimed her last campsite as some kind of squatter’s rights. I sympathised. Green Point campground has a Darwinian survival-of-the-quickest system. There is no way of making reservations and there is no kiosk with a person in it to manage the sites. I could see how it could happen. You are supposed to put an “occupied” sign on your campsite marker, but there are never enough. She further explained that she does not carry food and she just hiked all day, 10 km, and was hungry. She and the dog had to go to Rocky Harbour to eat. She did not appear to carry any kind of food. She was very worried that someone not take her site, she repeated. In fact, she appeared anxious in a general, vibrating kind of way. The dog looked like he might get up and come over. She had her back to him, but must have felt his slight movement. She turned and motioned for him to sit. I thought quickly. I had no idea how long she would be and could not imagine personally fending off campsite thieves for the rest of the evening. I offered up our “occupied” sign. She could not seem to make eye contact. Grateful, she expressed thanks, ran off, placed the “occupied” sign on her campsite marker and sped off in her car. The dog sat upright in the seat, looked toward the road and settled in, like he had done this a thousand times.

On the back of her Subaru was a website address https://www.wandering-dog.com. I took a look. I found it fascinating reading. The blog chronicles the adventures of the service dog named Indiana. The feelings, thoughts and experiences of her person, Brittany, provide content. Brittany was sexually assaulted twice while serving in the US Navy and was diagnosed with PTSD. Four years ago, she was discharged on disability and has been travelling with Indiana ever since. Camping for four years! Her blog makes for some difficult reading. When she returned, I longed to get to know her a little more. But, connection is, as she says in various places in her blog, difficult for Brittany. It was getting dark when they returned from Rocky Harbour. She parked the car, reached up to the rectangular thing on the roof and adjusted some bits and pieces. Voila!  A ladder appeared and a tent erected itself. She and the dog climbed the ladder and we did not see them until the next morning when the tent and ladder process worked itself in reverse. Then, safely ensconced in the SUV, Indiana and Brittany departed for breakfast and parts unknown, forever.

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I have observed over the past couple of years that women who camp alone seem to have short stays. They like to hike. Many have dogs and most seem to cook their own food. Brittany, the only one I knew by name because she had a website, was the only one who does not deal with food. She also was the only one that was outwardly, seriously anxious.  There are various reasons women camp alone.  My friend, Janet Moulton loves the outdoors, is a confident, skilled and gregarious woman. I suspect she makes friends wherever she goes. Sometimes, she tells me, other women join her. I know another woman who is determined to do the entire Appalachian trail on her own. She too is confident, determined, tough and loves the outdoors, as well as the challenge of having a difficult goal. All the women I have encountered solo-camping in Parks, have another life to return to. Camping was a break, a time of renewal, a contrast from their ordinary life. It did not occur to me that someone would camp for four years and possibly many more. What, I pondered, is Brittany looking for? How will she know when she finds it? She is another person that will live in my prayer life for some time.

A final thought. It is interesting that I consider it an anomaly to observe more women camping alone. Yet, it also has to be said that it is unusual to find men camping alone in National Parks. What would I think about a man camping alone for four years with a dog? What would you think?

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Gros Morne National Park trails: Green Gardens. Learning to hike the hard way.

Gros Morne National Park: The Green Gardens trail – sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t…

When Carl and I were honeymooning, young and stupid, we decided to hike the Green Gardens trail. In those days it was a 20-kilometre loop. It is no longer a twenty kilometre trail, in part because dumb people go unprepared, get lost, suffer from exposure or have to be rescued. We didn’t get lost, exactly, but it was a miracle we did not suffer from exposure. We thought it sounded like a nice thing to do for an afternoon. It was heart-attack rugged.  We traipsed up and down mountains, valleys, rock falls, shorelines and so on. I think we brought a bottle of water and nothing else. We were young and stubborn. Even when we knew we were in trouble, we just kept going. It was cold, drizzly and we were not wearing raingear, although our windbreaker jackets were euphemistically called “water-resistant.”

At the beginning of the trail, about two kilometres in, we encountered a young British doctor who was doing a locum in Corner Brook. A young woman accompanied him. She wore shorts, pretty sandals and appeared soaked, sad and cold. As Carl and he talked, she conversed a little, shivering in her thin clothes. She was from Corner Brook and was flattered to be asked to hike with the handsome young physician. I could tell by the looks of resentment she flashed at him, the glamour was quickly fading. We said our good-byes. The Doctor appeared a little crestfallen. As we left we could hear them arguing. We encountered them on the next couple of kilometres as you do when you are on a trail. Sometimes we would stop to rest or wild-pee and they would catch up. Then, they just stopped catching up. I suspect the good, young Doctor’s hope for a bit of sexual recreation that evening may have been in jeopardy.

We persevered. I became cranky as my out-of-shape legs and lungs struggled with the jagged terrain. I startled when we encountered lots of poop on the trail, which turned out to be sheep, not the herd of bears I feared. They look nothing alike (the poop or the animals) although I did not know that then, newbie as I was to hiking in deep Newfoundland woods. Carl knew the difference but I didn’t believe him, because, well, the Green Gardens hike was endless and we had no more water and I wasn’t in a mood to trust very deeply. Finally, we came to an interpretive panel which said, “You have hiked ten kilometres.” We patted each other on the back and generally felt elated, then screamed “Nooooo! That means it’s ten kilometres to go back!” Soon it would be dark. It began to rain. Parched, I opened my mouth to catch drops. I remembered my Canadian Armed Forces Reserve training from two summers before which taught us that fast moving water was safer.  We decided to drink from the first fast-moving stream we could find. As we filled our lone bottle from it, a moose regarded us calmly a hundred feet away or so. Thirst slaked and bottle filled, we moved as fast as we could. Kilometre nineteen brought on semi-delirium with visions of sheep-bears sneaking up behind me. We staggered out, gingerly packed our aching limbs into our tiny Datsun and took the Woody Point Ferry (which no longer runs). We collapsed in our tent. After we had a bite to eat, we marshalled up the energy to have showers because we were filthy and cold. Carl had a lovely long, hot shower. The women’s shower ran only cold that evening. He emerged looking like he stepped from the Sears catalogue. I simply emerged, growly. Suffice to say, the English Doctor wasn’t the only one who missed out on recreation that night.

Like most stories of foolishness and/or hardship, this one became a favourite of ours, a kind of marital talisman tale. About every five years Carl and I would challenge ourselves to do the twenty-kilometre loop again. I am proud to say that we have always managed to finish it. We enjoyed, even relished, the newer experiences because we brought food, water, dogs and good gear. I will not lie, there have been times, particularly when I was recovering from cancer, when I thought the helicopters may have to come and pick us up. However, I still managed to stagger out. It has been a kind of “touchstone” hike for us. To finish it means all is well with us, with each other and with Newfoundland.

 

The rigour of the trail continued to confound other travellers as you can read in this CBC article, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/ontario-family-hikes-gros-morne-in-the-dark-1.3696696. Possibly for this reason, as well as some upcoming needed pricey trail maintenance, Green Gardens has been modified to a nine-kilometre trail and is still rated as one of the top five wild flower trail hikes in the world. You can see forest, shoreline, volcanic stacks, valleys, streams, steep cliffs, grassy fields, marshes, wetlands, mountain tops and more. The sheep seem scarce these days, but there are plenty of moose, and probably bear, to keep you company.

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“Sheep on Green Garden’s Trail” by Natalie Lucier, (Creative Commons)