YOU knew I wasn't ready to go camping alone yet. Betty Lou knew it too...

Photo - Camping spot, before setting up our tents, Cannon Beach, OregonCamping spot, before setting up our tents, Cannon Beach, OregonWhen I put "Go on a solo tent camping trip" on my Life List, I was in one of those "no time like the present!" moods. (L'il background over here.) But I didn't want to be totally stupid about it, so I asked some Facebook friends for advice. They gave me tons; and then some of you posted here, too. Thanks for all the advice. Oh. And the ones who called me up and said, "Uh, Melody. What's up with the camping lunacy?" Thanks to you, too.


Still, I wasn't daunted in my goal of checking that one off the list sooner rather than later, in spite of mention of critters and weapons and weather and less-agreeable other campers. When "Betty Lou" (of Southern Fried Chix fame) asked me if I wanted to take an afternoon off and go riding around in her big red truck and shoot pictures of the fall leaves, I still hadn't once considered postponing this personal challenge until I'd built up more camping chops.


That Betty Lou is a smart, smart woman, y'all. She's the mother of a single child, who happens to be a young woman, too. Betty Lou never once said to me, "You are a bloomin' idiot, thinking you're all ready to go off camping by yourself. What are you thinking, woman? You've only ever slept in a tent by yourself in your entire life for a grand total of four nights." No, no. Betty Lou is way, way smarter than that. Instead, she met me for the yummiest lunch I've had since I got back to the east coast, and lulled me into the comfort of a leisurely drive with our cameras. I should have seen a hint of a clue when, the night before after I asked her if we had a plan or would we wing it, she replied, "I don't think we need a plan. We might just see how we feel when we get in the truck. Or we might head over to that campground you blogged about. I'd kinda' like to see it. If you want!" Ain't no big deal. All completely up to me. And of course I thought it was a great idea! The drive to that area is gorgeous most days, with the big, open skies and barns on the side of the roads. Add some fall leaves and I'm in. Besides, it really could be smart to familiarize myself with the possible intended location for my first solo camping adventure!


So we went. After we navigated ourselves along the rural roads, some of them gravel, with their inconspicuous signs pointing our way, we approached the entrance. Where we saw a less inconspicuous sign requesting that we check in at the office, even if we were just visiting. Inside, once the Dude In Charge finished his phone call and I'd told him we'd like to go into his park and look around, he said, "Okay. Drive really slow and stay in the car, and you can go inside." I must have needed to hear it twice, because I guess it just seemed like a mildly odd suggestion. It's also possible I'm a little spoiled since I don't hear a lot of people telling me when and what and how I have to do something. So I asked what seemed like a simple clarifying question. I don't remember exactly what I said, but he paused, smiled the tiniest bit, slowed his already-southern-paced-voice, and said it again, "Drive very slow, and stay inside your vehicle." All righty then! It's your park, you can make your own rules!


Off we went, at a snail's pace, through the park. It was pretty. As promised, there were different areas with varied amenities, including a pool which I certainly had no intention of using on this intended first solo camping trip. All I needed was running water, electricity, and a place to put my tent.


"Look!" I said to Betty Lou, pointing to a row of RVs. "It looks like some of these have been here a while.  I'd probably be even more safe with neighbors. I mean, I can just say hello and make sure I know somebody I can ask if I have trouble." She agreed that it did, indeed, remind one of a sort of neighborhood. We drove on. And around to the part where it was clear the tents should go. Soggy, soggy ground. If you live anywhere near me, here in the Carolinas, you'll perhaps remember that night last week when the rain and wind were Oh So Fierce. Right? Right. This was the day after that storm.


Photo - RVs in Champoeg State Park, OregonRVs in Champoeg State Park, OregonAs we crept forward, discussing the various benefits of this or that spot, a man in "the little neighborhood" came out of his RV, playing with what we later learned was his new iPhone. We waved; he waved back and slowly moved toward us, mentioning how wet the ground was. "You'd want to choose a different spot than that!" he offered helpfully. As we talked from our compliant distant made slightly awkward by our lack of permission to step out of our vehicles, our new neighbor walked closer. And closer. We struck up a little conversation, in fact, as he told us about how his neighbors had told him just how bad the storm had been the night before. He himself had chosen to sleep somewhere else, closer to civilization.


But now he was back, and telling us about how his long-term relationship had hit some rocky points and he'd been living in this RV camp since August. Yea. I'd have neighbors, for sure. He smiled and chatted and asked questions and offered helpful suggestions about putting an extra tarp underneath my tent's footprint to keep out the moisture. And he declared, "You're brave" at the suggestion that I was considering an overnight solo camping trip... sometime.


The mosquitoes were bad. Our new friend swatted and swatted, occasionally talking to them directly, telling them how they were annoying him. Then he reached into the truck, paused, said something friendly like, "I'm just getting a mosquito," and touched my arm.  Yea. Enthusiastic, stranger, neighbor dude touched me. Why ya' wanna' go touchin' me, now?


He chatted on and on and finally we found a way to excuse ourselves from our new buddy's company, who waved cheerfully and walked back up toward his little home. And we drove slowly on, and eventually out of the park, where I waved enthusiastically toward the door of the office where no doubt Dude In Charge had easily seen us approaching. Our chats were interspersed by long pauses in which Betty Lou slowed our pace so I could shoot this or that photo of a great tree or cool building, or cluster of horses.


Finally we both admitted, around the same time, "That guy really creeped me out." Betty Lou said, "And he was totally into you." That part took me aback a little bit, since I'd thought he'd seemed equally friendly to us both. "Yea," she chuckled, "And he got real excited when you told him you might be coming back alone sometime. He wouldn't have to be so lonely with a new friend down here in the woods!"


And that was all it took. While neither of us got a dangerous, unkind vibe from this guy, his overly enthusiastic lack of personal space did finally serve as the detail that changed my need to do this trip right now. Turns out when you start a list of things you want to do sometime in your life, maybe some of them don't have to be done This Very Month.


No indeed. So Creepy Dude, much obliged. Thanks to your help, I've decided to revisit my rush to try this out just yet. Instead, I'm gonna' have some more nice long talks with all the "Camping Types" in my life - turns out there are rather a lot of them - and I'm going to hook up with them for some camping trips. And then more of them. I'm going to go on lots and lots of camping trips with my friends. And one day I'll know that I'm a confident camper. I'll have learned lessons of my own, I'll have experience under my belt, I'll have explored all kinds of options in outdoor sleeping. And then? Well, then I'll know it's time. And I'll know that when I go, if there happens to be a creepy guy nearby, I won't be so distracted by all the new challenges that would add undue stress to my need for maintaining personal boundaries in the woods alone.


Cool, huh? How sometimes when you set up personal challenges, you don't even have to get to the middle of 'em in order to start learning lessons. Meanwhile, Ms. Betty Lou? I especially love you and your subtle way of guiding the less initiated in life. You might not still be teaching in the classroom, but darlin', you certainly haven't lost your ability in that arena. No indeed...


PS: Don't you love it when things come together? No lie: just as I got to the part about Creepy Guy touching me, my phone rang. I didn't answer it because I wanted finish drafting this. But after I was done, I checked my messages. Turns out one of my girlfriends was wondering if I wanted to do a little overnight camping trip this weekend. The one where we take her little girls up to a nearby state park, set up our tents under the sky and make a fire and let the kids play while we sit around and talk. Together. In a group. In a totally stress-free, low-key kind of way.


3 guesses what I think I'm doing this weekend!