Alone, But Not Lonely: Finding Solace in the Time of COVID

By Sara Heimlich

Four years ago, when I set off for my first backpacking trip with an organized group of ten strangers, I felt scared and nervous. This would be new territory. I had grown up camping (the kind where you pack your car with good food and marshmallows, set up a tent and spend a night in some nearby woods), but I had never slept more than one night outside. Four years ago, I spent 15 days and 14 nights in the Maine wilderness. When I emerged, I was hooked.

Four months ago, when the news broke that we were suddenly being sent home from Tulane, I was once again scared and nervous. This too would be unfamiliar territory. After all, none of us knew just how much things were changing – that when we got home, we would have to stay away from friends and family, wear masks everywhere, and just hope for a safe return to campus in the fall. I needed control in my life.

So four days ago, I packed my car, this time with a full backpack, and headed into the West Virginia wilderness for three days. Though I had been backpacking countless times after my first trip, this time would be different. This trip would be alone.

I had mapped out the whole route by myself, and subsequently wound through the unique terrain of the Dolly Sods wilderness. I went skinny-dipping (a lifelong bucket list item), drank tea and read by a stream, saw magnificent views, and built my own fires. Less notably, I freaked out a little bit at the sight of a bear print, got lost (and back on track!) within the first 20 minutes of the trip, and accidentally flung my lighter into a river, rendering it useless. But when I finished the trip and drove down the mountain blasting Sublime’s “Santeria,” I felt like I had done something big.

Oddly enough, those three days in West Virginia felt like the most normal days I’ve had in months. I hardly encountered anyone, and when I did, there was no need for masks – we were already a distance away. I hardly thought about Coronavirus or the ways in which everything at home was so different now. It was freeing.

So however your personal West Virginia backpacking trip manifests, or whatever makes you feel accomplished and independent, do that for yourself during this time. And make sure you do it alone.

About the author

Name: Sara Heimlich

Year in School: Junior

Major: Environmental Studies and Political Science

Hometown: Potomac, Maryland

Favorite Outdoor Activity: Backpacking

Favorite Camp Food: Chocolate on the top of a mountain

Ideal Outdoor Trip Destination: Always down to try somewhere new, but currently New Zealand!

If you were stranded on a desert island, what/who would you bring with you: A hammock and a few great books