Soloing

5:13 p.m. on January 4, 2014 (EST)
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How long did everyone around here wait before they starting soloing? I'm talking in my case about backpacking for 2-3 nights at a time. I've been on many day hikes and 2 2 night trips, and am well equipped and constantly reading about gear. I want to start soloing out of necessity; I'm not sure that I'll be able to find groups/partners for all the free time I have coming up this spring that I want to spend backpacking on weekends. 

on that note, If anyone wants to partner up and hike the mid atlantic, let me know!

Anthony

6:46 p.m. on January 4, 2014 (EST)
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I have always been solo the vast majority if the time, but do try and find a partner when possible. If you have all the right gear and you have done a few overnights to test out your system then i say go for it!

8:30 p.m. on January 4, 2014 (EST)
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I have gone solo most of the time for the last 37 years, I lived outdoors 9 months or 276 days a year from 1982 to 2009, from September to May. Being I am free and don't have bills to pay, I tour by bicycle and live in a tent I have no family to support and can come and go as I please. I chose to live free rather than have a car,rent,family and other money spending ventures. I live on about 200 a month when backpacking, 300 when cycling.

I work when I need money to support my next trip and take as much time as I like to do anything. 

Because most people have ordinary lives with kids to raise, cars to buy gas for, houses to pay mortgages on or to rent, etc, I can find few people to go with me. After 37 years solo I prefer it, no one to ask where they want to go, when they want to camp. No one to keep up with me or me feeling like I can't keep up with them. I travel at my own pace when solo, cook for myself, have the whole tent to just me.

Its not for everyone but it works for me.

8:35 p.m. on January 4, 2014 (EST)
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Anothony, where in the mid atlantic do you live?

1:36 a.m. on January 5, 2014 (EST)
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I'm in Baltimore, MD

7:22 a.m. on January 5, 2014 (EST)
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I've been solo forever. Made plans many times with others, even though I can gear up 4 people it seems that they always back out. Now I've just gotten accustomed to being by myself. Plus I find it more relaxing and peaceful this way. 

7:51 a.m. on January 5, 2014 (EST)
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Solo is more peaceful, but the right people make a trip even better I find.  Just hard to find the right people.  If you are starting to solo I'd advise short trips to start; just a few days.  Some people just can't stand themselves enough to be alone for too long and better to find that out nearer a trailhead than a week deep heh.

Also I recommend taking along something to take notes on. Without someone to share stories with the notepad can help you remember the details of where you went and what was there. I never remember to take any notes heh, but I always bring my notepad. Luckily I take a lot of pics and have a pretty good memory 8p

8:24 a.m. on January 5, 2014 (EST)
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Anthony, your more than welcome to make a 4-6 hour drive to meet me in NJ, NY, or PA for a trip if you ever want. I am always going out at least one weekend a month if I can help it, and take a couple week long trips a year.

 

 

9:30 a.m. on January 5, 2014 (EST)
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Anthony,

I would suggest start soloing in a manner that gives you a way out until you're confident in your skills. I first started soloing in an area that gave me miles and miles of trail, but the routes I chose always kept me within 1-3 hours of my truck (lots of loops). Once I knew I was doing everything "right," I started venturing further.

10:26 a.m. on January 5, 2014 (EST)
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I live far to the west in southwestern Utah this year, but if you ever get the urge to travel and want to come out this way I would enjoy the company. I live near Bryce,Zion and the Grand Canyon and am on the southwest edge of the Grand Staircase Nat Monument, there's plenty of sandstone formations to explore with slot canyons, wide deep canyons and everything in between.

This fall I am doing a backpacking trip for about two months down the Arizona Trail from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to Tucson. I am starting in early October and will be on the trail until early December as its about 700 miles in length. If you have the time and would like to join me you are welcome. I will need to know by May because I have to apply for a permit to do the crossing of the Grand Canyon section at the beginning of the route.

You can check out the trail at this link: http://www.aztrail.org/  Look under Trail Resources ( upper left part of the linkpage), then Passages to see the topo maps of the trail. Click on the word YES under Passage Map to see each of the individual maps of the trail. The list starts with the southern end of the trail at the top, but I am starting at the northern end near the bottom. The first map to look at is called Kaibab Plateau Central. I am starting 2 miles northeast of Jacob Lake on highway 89A on the map shown there.

I am planning to be in the Grand Canyon section for a little over a week as I spent 20 years hiking the Grand Canyon from 1983-03 and have not been in the canyon since January 2003 and want to explore some places I have not seen there since, so am doing the 23 miles crossing in 8-9 days to have time to see many side canyons areas. This part will also get me back into shape for backpacking as 2009 was my last big backpacking trip year.

I also do bicycle tours going cross country USA if you are interested in that sort of travel? I have been bike touring off and on ever since 1982 during Sept-May every other year when I did tours around the US, and across Alaska. They are as rewarding as backpacking and by bike I can go just about anywhere. I have never owned or driven an automobile and I will be 58 years old in two weeks.

11:11 a.m. on January 5, 2014 (EST)
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Thanks for the solid advice! Keep it coming. Any specifics on what "skills" I should be focusing on perfecting?

11:43 a.m. on January 5, 2014 (EST)
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Anthony,

My goal for 2014 is to go on eight bp trips, I live in Fells Point. Send me a PM, and we can possibly get together... I frequently solo for the very reasons many of us do!

12:55 p.m. on January 5, 2014 (EST)
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I agree with a lot that has been said (written?) here. I started with weekend solo trips and quickly progressed to longer trips...so there is no reason to be overly cautious...when everything is said and done solo hiking on marked trails is not that dangerous...it is more about staying within your comfort and pleasure zones.

I would second (as loudly as possible) the suggestion to find a loop trail...preferably with a bisecting road or two...the  roads provide several "outs" if things turn for the worst...and the loop makes shuttling unnecessary. I would also recommend that you initially solo in fair weather...warm and dry conditions go south (I'm bothered by the idea that south is bad) a lot slower than cold and wet. I personally think that just like you want to "inch" into soloing...you similarly (if not more so) want to inch into cold and wet weather.

Instead of just skills...I am going to suggest two useful practices that I think are less likely to be mentioned by others (map and compass reading+fire-starting+etc)....but are infinitely more useful (not more important) in terms of improving your soloing capacity.

1) Know your equipment...not only how to set it up in dark and windy conditions (which everyone says)...but probably more importantly the range of temps and weather at which it performs sufficiently given your needs and wants. By "knowing" then...I mean specific (non-generalizable) knowledge gained through your specific use of your equipment...what might be called familiarity for lack of a better term. For example...I think it is very important that you learn what you need minimally to get a relatively restful nights sleep (don't just assume sleeping pads and pillows...as sometimes warm food and ear-plugs are the answers). You don't need to sleep as comfortably as you do at home...and that shouldn't be the goal...but tossing and turning all night will seriously lessen your enjoyment...drain you of much needed energy...and sometimes lead to making "lazy" unsafe decisions. As it so happens...I think you asked your question at a great time of year...because the winter months are great for "backyard" gear testing (also repair+replacement+maintenance)...as it provides ample poor conditions from which to assess performance ranges while remaining safe and costing very little in regards to time and resources.

2) Create a practice or set of practices (system?) for not forgetting things and developing routines...it has been my experience that forgetting things has ruined or handicapped more trips for more folks than any other factor...and developing a set of routines not only makes forgetting things less likely...it makes camp activities more efficient allowing for more chit-chat + pondering + time-on-trail. Your system or set of practices for not forgetting things should not only include not forgetting things at home...but not forgetting things in the car as well...so keep that in mind. I developed a lot of what I do on-trail...but by treating your "backyard" tests just as you would a real trip...a kind of full "dress rehearsal"...it will give you the opportunity to practice the many little tasks that are necessary...such as packing and unpacking your pack in real world (i.e. dirty+wet+muddy+windy+cold) conditions.

1:03 p.m. on January 5, 2014 (EST)
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I would say the following skills you need to get down pat before any lengthy trip. Overnighters close to a bailout option etc are fine in the interim.

These are listed in no particular order, just the order they came to me. But all are equally important in one way or another.

1) Map and compass skills-be able to locate yourself on a topo map WITHOUT a GPS, and navigate to a specific point by walking a compass bearing. This is best practiced in an relatively small area to start such as an area locked in by roads or rivers or some defineable definitive boundary. This skill set would include things like navigation, route finding, land mark identification, water source identification etc.

2) Setup and break down of your shelter system. Practice setting up and tearing down your shelter multiple times so you can do it without having to consult the directions etc. Practice in the rain, in the dark, in the dark with rain, and in other adverse conditions in your backyard etc. The idea here is that you will be confident and comfortable setting up your shelter on the trail if its getting dark, already dark, and pouring down rain on you. And do so without getting all of your gear soaked in the process.

3) Setup, maintenance, and use of your chosen stove/ camp kitchen. Know how to use your stove, know how to take apart and maintain your stove, know how much fuel you need on a trip etc. This includes how to cook your food, learn what you need to do for a chosen meal so that you arnt caught by surprise in the field that you have to do something special or need way more fuel than you were planning on etc.

4) Developing a trip plan, and leaving it with someone before you leave for your trip. Identifying where you will park your vehicle, where you will start hiking, where you will end, if you can where you will camp each day,  potential water sources, etc and emergency contact #s for the person to use to contact Rangers etc. For the trip plan that i will leave with someone i like using the Columbia Take Ten App for iphone. Its easy to do, it saves information you put in and it will email or text it to whoever you want it to go to, including a map with pins showing your start and end points and planned route.

5)Your layering system and how to keep things dry, you need to know what layers work for you to keep you warm and comfortable down to a certain temperature. Always plan for temps 15-20f lower than the weather forecast and you should be well covered in the event of changing weather. You also need to know what rain gear works for you, as well as how to layer protection for your pack to keep items dry, whether this be a pack liner, dry bags, garbage bags, pack cover etc or a combination of them.

6) Organization and your pack. Find a way to pack your gear inside your pack that makes it comfortable to carry, how to adjust your pack for proper fit, and i strongly recommend to always pack your pack as close to the same way as possible. This helps in preventing you from leaving items behind, because if you always put something in a specific place you will be able to readily identify if something is missing. Also learn to pack things that are important in easy to access places and in a way that works best for you. For example I keep my water filter in a outside pocket for quick access, and I also keep my tarp and tarp suspension stuff, and rain gear on the outside of my pack so that if I have to setup in the rain I dont have to expose the contents of my pack to the weather.

7) Water sources and water treatment and storage. Learn how to locate potential water sources on a map, how to locate them in the field, how to figure out your best chance of finding water if you get to a place and the source is dry. How to filter water or treat it with your chosen system, and also how to maintain/troubleshoot and clean your chosen system.

I am sure I left out some things, but those are the major highlights. If you have those things down then you are well suited to go it alone.

2:32 p.m. on January 5, 2014 (EST)
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Those are all just camping/backpacking skills you're mentioning.  It doesn't matter how many people you go with you should know your gear and how to use it. Sensible ideas one and all, but not really about soloing.

Solo skills to me are more about not screwing up because there is no one there to save your butt, knowing how to calmly assess your situation and take prudent actions to save your own butt if you failed on the first step and most importantly knowing how to go to sleep despite not being sure what that is snorting at you in the dark.  That last one comes in handy on group trips too I guess, but is much more important when you are out there alone.

8p

3:00 p.m. on January 5, 2014 (EST)
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One thing I rarely see mentioned here in all the advice giving on Trailspace (and many other outdoor sites as well) is this:

Rarely is a disaster the result of a single incident. Almost always they are the result of a chain of smaller incidents/wrong decisions/minor mistakes. A chain which can be broken easily if you pay attention and catch mistakes early.

One thing I teach in my training courses is the development of the Big Eye. Simply put, this is just constant awareness of what's going on, what you are doing, what the others in your group are doing. In working with adult leaders of youth groups (or parents taking their own young kids, and yes adolescents), out into the woods and hills, it includes watching the youth (and other adult leaders as well). Catch those mistakes and downhill slides early.

One of the most important tools is the 180 degree turn - pressing on despite a situation where everything is "going south" is a guarantee of disaster.

I do a lot of things solo. By following these guidelines, I have managed to survive for many decades in the Wild, and to enjoy every minute of it.

12:06 a.m. on January 6, 2014 (EST)
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I have only went soloing once and hated it. I got to the campsite early in the day and setup everything.  Since I had lots of time so I took a short hike over to an old cabin and came back. The Ranger stopped by to tell me I was the only in the campsite for that night. This was still early in the afternoon. I grabbed a book and read a little, listened to my MP3 player. The wind picked up and the temps dropped. I cooked dinner then crawled in my tent and read some more just hoping some one would show up.  Finally I dozed off but woke up early since I fell asleep so early. 

I guess I enjoy another persons company to sit around a fire and talk.

I am finding it harder to find people to go with so maybe I will give it another try.

5:06 a.m. on January 6, 2014 (EST)
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Bill S said:

One of the most important tools is the 180 degree turn - pressing on despite a situation where everything is "going south" is a guarantee of disaster.

 I've posted this before, and now I'll post it again:

"Det er ingen skam å snu." (There is no shame in turning back).

That's one of the nine Norwegian "Mountain sense rules". I've done a lot of solo travel and applied that rule any number of times, in both solo situations and with others. I don't think I've ever regretted it. And there's been a couple of times I've gotten into trouble by not following it.

3:39 p.m. on January 6, 2014 (EST)
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You’ve already gotten a lot of good replies but FWIW, I also solo 99% of the time.

I prefer soloing mostly due to convenience (I go about every other weekend with a couple longer trips thrown in if work allows), but also because not many folks like to do the trips I do in terms of distance and difficulty.

However soloing does hold me back from time to time due to a pledge to my wife to be extra cautious; she doesn’t want me to do a lot of off-trail stuff by myself where rescue access is very difficult (like pretty much anywhere in the Southern Appalachian thickets).

I enjoy company every now and then but have found it much easier to meet-up with people already doing the activity than to convince people I know to go with me or try to get them interested.

Actually I’ve met many great folks through Trailspace.

And there is that “special something” you experience on solo trips when you hear those weird noises in the night (as mentioned by LS), or when you realize you are not where you thought you were and have to camp somewhere unintended with no one to confer or bounce ideas off of. It’s good and special fun.

9:49 p.m. on January 6, 2014 (EST)
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Due to working 5.5 - 6 days a week, it was a long time before I could take multi day bp trips.  Finally on my vacations, I was able to get away for longer trips.  By then, I had worked out a few wrinkles, but not them all.  Still takes a long time to figure out that that heavy axe is not needed to pound tent stakes and water intake is the biggest energy booster during the day.  Skinny 135lbs., carrying 50 lb. packs made it tough.  Now  I'm 165 lbs. and carry packs for a week in the mid 20's.  Real nice.  I mostly solo still, winter or summer, but I have a small group I bp with in CA a few times a year, year round.

Duane

12:30 p.m. on January 7, 2014 (EST)
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I think I'm going to head out to a small 4 mile section of the AT next weekend.. Hike the first 4 miles, find a place to camp, then hike back the next morning... I have off weekends, so hopefully I can work out the kinks like this and keep moving up in terms of length/difficulty each time.

4:19 p.m. on January 7, 2014 (EST)
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Thats sounds like a very solid plan Anthony. Start small and increase as your confidence and experience does.  If you plan to start this Winter, then just a friendly reminder to pay attention to weather forecasts and no matter the forecast be prepared for cold , ice, and rain or snow this time of year. This is important any time of year, but is more important in Winter I think.

3:29 a.m. on January 8, 2014 (EST)
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BigRed said:

.. I've posted this before, and now I'll post it again:

"Det er ingen skam å snu." (There is no shame in turning back)...

That is not to say your companions won't scorn you for your prudence.  Though I must say they often mellow their scorn once safely down in a cafe up Hwy 395, sipping a hot coffee while surveying the armada of lensticular clouds pouncing the Sierra crest line.

---------------------------------------  

And may I add a quote I once read (cannot recall attribution):

"The Number One objective is getting home alive, preferably with all digits intact."

Yea, soling skills are all about staying out of trouble. 

Ed

10:05 a.m. on January 8, 2014 (EST)
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Ahh, the exhilaration of a light step alone going where you will and unfettered by complaints of those around you.  If soloing it is your responsibility to be as fit as you can be.  That doesn't mean an advanced athlete, but it means certainly to be in as reasonable shape as you have the time for.  Going solo means you have to prepare for things that shouldn't happen.

Most of what I remember of the eastern mountain trails is that trail engineers had not discovered the switch back.  Going directly up a muddy (or frozen) water way that eventually leads to a ridge is considered by aficionados  to be fun.  When you are in those conditions, you will feel better at the numerous rest stops if you have spent some time being aerobically ready.

In the western mountains, trail crews have, for the most part on 'normal' trails, kept the incline to a point where you can, if fit, set up a waking cadence.  At higher altitudes, this sometimes boils down to a step (inhale), a step (exhale).   If you need more air, just shorten the steps.  The idea is to try to keep a steady heartbeat right up to where the trail degrades to loose sand and tippy boulders and generally attempts to match the angle of repose.  This event usually occurs while topping a pass or saddle after you have been beating uphill for most of the day. 

Hiking visitors to the west are surprised that a trail can be mostly uphill all day long and then mostly downhill the next.  A nightly walk around the neighborhood may not give you enough time or challenge to be ready for some of the hiking in any of our mountains.

If still young, you might considering upping your game at bit and peruse points of interest here:

http://exrx.net/Beginning.html

Could be that the 'jog/walk' suggestions under Cardio Exercise, will be close to your interest.  Although many say that performing the sport is the best way to become fit in that sport, you can get much more bang for the time in a well thought out program in a gym.  Instead of walking around the neighborhood with a heavy pack for an hour, you would get better  results with a supervised 20 min exercise in a gym - and still have time left over to work on all those other flabby parts.

Hiking (and running) puts stress on bones and ligaments that can only be addressed ahead of time by putting a lot of stress on bones and ligaments.  You can do that with less chance of pain and injury in a gym - even as the snow piles up outside.

You don't have to join a gym (for a $1 a day) to get your body ready for something it is not accustomed to.  You can make do with an aerobic program and other devices -- such as resistance bands tied to something that doesn't move and some free weights (full water bottles).

Miserable winter weather also gives you a chance to check out your layering methods and coverings in an environment that is not so distant as to being able to bail out to a Starbucks.  *Is there any place not close to a (generic) Starbucks?*

Some of the most beautiful and seldom visited parts of the US (or pick a country) become available to the fit, prepared and willing soloist.

10:11 a.m. on January 8, 2014 (EST)
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@speacock  I have managed exactly one VO2 session in the last month.  Between drive shoveling, roof raking, firewood hauling, flood management, ice removal and other various Winter chores I haven't had any time to devote to training.  I sure hope all this rest doesn't make me soft when I get back out on the trail 8p

10:17 a.m. on January 8, 2014 (EST)
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I think you're on the right path, Anthony, by using the "crawl-walk-run" approach.  It's the best way to ease into it, test out all your gear, and make adjustments as you gain more experience.

Most of my backpacking is solo.  I like the self-sufficiency it demands.  I enjoy walking at my own pace, navigating my own course, and all of the planning that goes into a trek.

10:24 a.m. on January 8, 2014 (EST)
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LoneStranger is right on when it comes to taking advantage of all the opportunities mother nature allows you.

Ummm what is it you talk of e.g., raking roof, shoveling, ice?  Seldom heard words in Southern California  %^)

1:18 p.m. on January 8, 2014 (EST)
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I started backpacking in the 60s as a teenager with other people. I was very comfortable going solo as an adult in my 20s. You are right that it is much easier to go on your own. But the trouble of organizing the right kind of small group can be very rewarding. Good backpacking partners make the best kind of friends. It is fun to be able to share the great moments with other people.

Having a well-behaved dog along is a wonderful amount of company. I just acquired a Border Collie puppy for a new hiking partner.

4:46 p.m. on January 8, 2014 (EST)
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Dogs are great...I have three....but I wish hikers would either keep theirs on a lead or not bring them. Just because someone thinks their dog is great doesn't mean everyone else likes the dog too. Nor should people fearful of dogs have them foisted on them out on the trail. So many here just let there dogs bound along on their own unattended. I have had dogs jump on me, cut me off on the trail and disrupt a perfectly good hike due to bad ownership manners.

7:06 p.m. on January 8, 2014 (EST)
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Hike where there are few others to avoid dogs.  I'm fortunate to live in a rural area of CA, so seldom see other hikers, unless in Desolation or other popular areas.

Duane

12:35 a.m. on January 9, 2014 (EST)
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Many points, so many things here. Without repetition, I can only mention the importance of a PLB. I have never used mine.THANK GOODNESS. I do think it might be the best single thing anyone could ever have in their snack pouch... 

I won't get into the politics of subscription/vs. non-subscription... All I have to say is you never when you know. That is why I am a WFR; The next guy probably is not. I truly put 'Pay It Forward' in the highest regards, along with LNT. 

ALL OF OUR KIDS DESERVE NOTHING LESS

2:27 a.m. on January 11, 2014 (EST)
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As Bill mentions, the 180 degree rule is a very good one, as is his comment that most accidents are a series of mistakes rather than one in particular.

I started solo hiking and later solo climbing in college in the early 70's. It was often because I couldn't find partners, and my need to get out. In those early years, I never had any issues, mostly because I was extremely aware that there was no one close who could pick up the pieces should I have even a minor injury. A key factor as Bill mentioned and I reiterated, is knowing when to turn around. Often people try to "brass" out a situation that is deteriorating. I have never been afraid to walk back to the car and call it quits. Including a test of a NEMO bag two years ago when the snow was falling heavily and I could hear the slab avalanches coming down and I decided I had tested the bag enough.

Today, in contrast to when I started, GPS, Epirb and cell phones didn't exist. Now, I think many relay on them as a fail safe. In truth, they can help. But they cannot and have not saved many hikers and climbers who felt that help was just a phone call away.

Plan carefully, take it slow. The camp duties that might have spread between two or more people are now yours exclusively. And while you will not have any one to share the beauty, you may well see more because you are not locked in a conversation about the best gear or who's going to win the Superbowl.

August 22, 2014
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