Be Brave

Be Brave

By Patti Johnson

The first time I left the comfort of my coastal home for a solo overnight excursion in the wilds was because I wanted to “play hokey”, I needed to throw my To-Do list into the wind, to experience the thrill of the unknown and taste the elixir of the explorer. Deep down I also knew some serious immersion in nature would do my body some good. But the backroads and tangled forests of the Klamath Mountains were strange and scary to me. I had lived nearly surrounded by them for 15 years, traveled through them but never ventured into them. Nonetheless, I did wander into those mountains nestled in the far reaches of northwestern California. I found them steep, crumpled and carved by beautiful rivers. I was awed by the collision of climate and soil type creating a unique botanical wonderland. Mash ups of plants defy norms and some areas are so densely forested it is no wonder Bigfoot is thought to live there.

That first night turned to three. Two weeks later I tagged a different location and set out again and then again, my admiration and affection for these uniquely beautiful mountains blossoming each time. It has been three summers now of playing hokey and immersing myself in nature. Looking back over my journal entries of those outings what has surprised me the most are the insights that were presented to me. Nature does provide a special kind of medicine.

Journal Entry – 29

Be Brave the sticker read, the words white and bright against a dark forest silhouette. A gift from a dear friend, she said my bravery needed celebrating, solo camping in the wilds and all. Daring maybe, but courageous I’m not too sure. Of course, I was flattered, even if, at first, I didn’t want to agree. So, I’ve placed the sticker where I read it like a mantra every day. I guess I’ve settled into the idea, being brave. But then that was before Thursday.

On Thursday, I wandered into a pure stand of conifer trees; most stately, some imposing, a few huge. Pillars of trees rooted strong and stout, with woven branches above, a conifer cathedral of sorts. The aromas subtly seductive, dry earth and tree aerosols. There were no other campers here. I chose the one campsite set off from all the rest (of course I did). A large flat on the edge of Trail Creek, soft underfoot, worn-in, the creek rushing by. A tidy little pile of stacked camp firewood waiting for me.

Feeling relaxed & reflective I decide to take a walk to “feel out the Campground”. Rider off-leash, being a real good dog, close but not too close, enjoying a little freedom. A sign about a Giant Sugar Pine stops me in my tracks: 200’ tall, 86” in diameter. Wow! I let my eyes drift down its sturdy dense trunk, admire its purple-ish bark, wonder its age. At the base of the tree something catches my eye. A BEAR. Beautiful and black, all soft and rounded. She was frozen mid-stride, a paw suspended in the air. For the slightest moment we hold each other’s gaze. Both of us holding our motionless unsure what to do next. This is so exciting, I think, so exhilarating. Then immediately I think- get the dog. I glance at Rider who is busy sniffing and pawing a stump, Rider who is about 50’ from the BEAR yet completely unaware. So ever so casually I call him, “Rider here”. The moment I make a sound the BEAR spins 180 and takes off running. Rider sees the flash of running fur then on impulse takes off after it. I scream so loud for the dog, “Rider No, leave it, wait, noooooo”, I nearly wet my pants. I see the BEAR disappear over a rise and I see Rider follow her. Panic starts creeping in. Well crap! I’m still yelling, as Rider comes bounding back to me. Shaken but relieved, the whole incident lasting no more than five minutes.

The dog and I spend all afternoon into the evening calming down. We both scanned and scrutinized the horizon. It’s amazing what a couple minutes of adrenaline will do the body. Not to mention the fact that we now know there’s a BEAR nearby. It would be a stretch to say that either of us were even remotely relaxed. Earthly aromas and Tree aerosols be damned, every dark stump or rounded forest shadow a BEAR doppelgänger. I pitched my tent none-the-less. I brought out a minimal amount of camp gear from the car and stowed it away again immediately once done with it. I didn’t want the BEAR to have even the slightest hint that there may be something tasty over here. I contemplated a campfire for the longest while, ended up having a small one, ode to forest campers. Gazing into the embers I imagined the life of a BEAR. I am in awe to think that she can survive on carpenter ants and barely ripe salmon berries. I imagine she must always have a rumbly tummy.

Dark comes to a forest like this fast and hard. Light from the moon and stars bleeds weak and diluted through the canopy. Still feeling spooked, the fire couldn’t burn out fast enough as the night was settling in around the camp site. A hush had fallen over the forest by the time I climbed into my tent. I read a couple chapters of fiction, breathed deeply, clicked off my headlamp. The night now dead dark. “I am safe, I am confident, I am capable” I say to no one in particular and then I add “I am brave”, as if saying the words would convince me it was true. Despite my worried mind, my body so tried, I give it over to sleep.

Within the hour I’m torn from my slumber by the sound of wood being ripped and shredded. I sit up with a jolt, my heart pounding in my chest. The BEAR. It sounded close, too close for my comfort. Then I remember the stump. I had seen the stump earlier, noted it torn apart by a bear and yet I still pitched my tent 50’ away! It didn’t seem like there was anything left to eat in that stump, but apparently what do I know about eating carpenter ants. Then I snapped into action, adrenaline surging through me, stomping my shoes, clapping my hands. I didn’t want the BEAR to be startled by us and feel the need to investigate. Rider who is usually oblivious to night noises was ready to burst through the tent zipper. I anxiously snapped on his leash, held him tight. Still the ripping of wood, so I clapped some more and blew a few quick toots on my whistle. The thrashing stopped. Once again, the forest was dead quiet. Whew, she heard us, move on good BEAR I thought. Rider settled back down, so I settled back down. “I am brave” I whisper as I slip back to sleep. Ten minutes in my drowsy brain hears the telltale, “huff, huff, huff”, directed at our tent, of a curious concerned BEAR. Alone, in a pitch-black forest, I’m not going to sugar coat this, the mantra was not working…I was freaked! So again, I clapped, I stomped my shoes, I think I even told her to go forage somewhere else. Again, the forest fell dead quiet. I’m uncertain how long this drama played out; her thrashing and foraging me clapping and making noise, her huffing and puffing, then the forest falling silent and me attempting to fall back asleep. At one point her huffing and puffing felt so threatening that I couldn’t stand it any longer. My body practically vibrating with fear, I slip on my headlamp and shoes, grab my car keys and the dog and bolt for the car. We have to pass the picnic table to get to the car parked about 100’ away. In my sprint, I don’t take the time to look around at all. Rider and I dive into the cab of the truck. Immediately I hear a loud pop, pop, I’m convinced she is investigating the water jug, the only item I left on the table. Despite being ensconced by steel and tempered glass I’m was on hyper-alert, jumping each time the dog took a deep breath.

Be Brave

The dog sleeps decently as he is used to being in the extra cab. I catch some sleep between cramped legs and imagining a roaring bear popping up in the window; Marty Stouffers Wild America- images from my youth. The sky a dark, dark grey when I wake with a gut-wrenching stomach ache. Two weeks earlier I started taking antibiotics for a tick bite, diarrhoea the one major side effect and it’s hitting me hard. That’s when I discover I’m not only about to lose it in the britches I also started my period. Oh, brother! I hadn’t had a period in months, in fact I thought I was over that. I had to get out of the truck and get to the bathroom quick. Two-tenths a mile or so from the toilet and water spigot, only a couple of city blocks, seemed a tolerable distance when I was pounding in the tent stakes, now in the semi-darkness with images of a BEAR rolling around in my mind it feels unfathomable. I trot the whole way dragging the dog by his leash exclaiming, “crap, crap, crap” thinking some noise better than none. After cleaning up, the dog and I hang out in the toilet for a while. Poor Rider I can’t imagine what he was thinking! I finally get the courage to walk back to the campsite. I’m imagining all sorts of scenarios; the water jug ripped open, the tent thrashed.

Under the gently lighting sky, I find the camp completely untouched. The water jug on the table, the tent door wide open daypack sitting right inside, exactly as I left it. What a good BEAR, I think, just living like bears do, trying to satisfy her rumbly tummy. I grab the stowed camp gear and that’s when I see the sticker. In that moment I realize it’s a long path to walk.

 

Guest Author

I am a woman of a certain age (wink, wink) who has tent camped all her life. When other kids went to summer Rec camp, Mom took me and my sister tent camping for weeks at a time. In my early twenties I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from the Sierra Buttes to the Bridge of the Gods. Camping always being my preferred vacation. That is until I became inflicted with an autoimmune disease and the emotional roller coaster intrinsic to chronic illness.  Three summers ago, with a little gumption, a paper Forest Service map (yes, I said paper) and my furry BFF, I bumped down a dirt road that lead me in to the Klamath Mountains. I’ve been looking for Bigfoot ever since.

53 thoughts on “Be Brave

  • April 22, 2020 at 8:16 pm
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    Nature is beautiful and challenging. I always wanted to try solo camping…. i wish i was brave to do it

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  • April 22, 2020 at 5:19 pm
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    I always love reading about camping adventures and this one really felt so real. I would love to go camping right now and experience the outdoors.

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  • April 22, 2020 at 1:18 am
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    Oh my! If I saw a bear in that situation, you better believe that every shadow would be a bear in my mind, too. I totally feel you! Such a vivid account – so glad you are ok. Ahh!!

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  • April 21, 2020 at 9:43 pm
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    Wow! This was an adventure where you celebrated that sticker your friend gave you fully!!
    When I went backpacking with my son’s Scout Troop in Yosemite a few months ago, (and my first time backpacking), pretty soon the rest of the group had gone on ahead, and I was alone for a bit. My first thought was ‘bear,’ and the previous night, a ranger had mentioned bear sightings… The only redeeming factor – it was broad daylight and I think my group was just out of sight but could have most likely heard me…

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  • April 21, 2020 at 4:56 am
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    Amazing how words can inspire! Camping is good for both body and soul. But such encounters can be scary and a learning experience. We must avoid too much human intrusion too. Sometimes we may not live to tell a tale like this.

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  • April 20, 2020 at 3:53 pm
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    Sounds amazing. Absolutely beautiful to be and take in nature. You described your experience so well.

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    • April 20, 2020 at 8:00 pm
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      The world IS such a beautiful place! Thank you for the compliment about how I describe my bear experience. I think we all have a story we can describe just waiting to come out.

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    • April 20, 2020 at 8:07 pm
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      Hope you can go on a camp out again sooner than later. Wonderful lesson on trust from a fearful experience.

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  • April 20, 2020 at 8:31 am
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    Your writing is so poetic. I read immediately excited by your need to “experience the thrill of the unknown and taste the elixir of the explorer” and I loved your description of the mountains that were “steep, crumpled and carved” by rivers. My heart was in my mouth when you spotted the bear and even more so when Rider went racing after it! Be brave and experience life, a good motto for all of us!

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    • April 20, 2020 at 8:12 pm
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      Such a thoughtful and articulate compliment, thank you! I often think my writing is too “flowery”. But these words, truly, are right out of my journal. So, I guess I think that way.
      Be Brave and experience life! – love this!

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  • April 20, 2020 at 5:32 am
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    Bears are so adorable to watch from afar however, it would be scary for a personal encounter, no wonder I haven’t tried solo outdoor camping yet. But I think this will change since I am now living in Australia, and as you might know outdoor camping is a thing here. I hope I could gain your courage to do it, and survive the night will fewer issues.

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    • April 20, 2020 at 8:21 pm
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      I think if you have the interest then you ought to do it! Start close to home, be prepared, stay safe. This Blog has wonderful advice in the archives and publications. I went on to have a dozen more camp outs with out any unwanted wildlife visits.

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  • April 20, 2020 at 3:34 am
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    Wow! What an adventure! What a story! Thanks for sharing this!

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    • April 20, 2020 at 8:22 pm
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      Thanks for reading. Glad you enjoyed it!

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  • April 20, 2020 at 1:56 am
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    I enjoyed reading about your time traveling and camping. I am not brave enough to go on my own.

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    • April 20, 2020 at 4:40 am
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      Glad you enjoyed reading my travel piece. If you have any doubt about camping alone then its okay to go with others instead. The more you go the more comfortable you will become!

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  • April 19, 2020 at 3:57 pm
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    I am really sorry to hear you had to take antibiotics, but in situations like this I would surely get scared. I am happy that this bear turned out to be a good one. I love camping and I have seen bears while camping in Colorado a few times. And most of the times, they seemed to be good ones.

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    • April 20, 2020 at 4:44 am
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      Yes, camping IS a wonderful activity. Recognizing that we share the planet wild animals and that they just want to live is part of the experience. I think you are right, in general, the Black Bear does not want to bother people.

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  • April 19, 2020 at 4:33 am
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    Wow really brave . This post gives me an inspiration to do camping. I don’t want the bear part though , I can’t take it LOL. But you are really brave

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    • April 19, 2020 at 3:32 pm
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      I so glad to hear this is an inspiration for you to go camping! Sleeping, eating, relaxing, playing out in nature, I believe, is healthy for the human body and spirit. Although the bear was frightening at the moment, Black Bears (Ursus Americanus) do not want anything to do with people. Remember that and you can be brave too!

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    • April 19, 2020 at 3:33 pm
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      Thank you so much for saying so. It was an exciting and empowering experience I’m sure I will never forget!

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  • April 19, 2020 at 2:46 am
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    This is amazing! So powerful! I took my son on a camping trip without my husband only once and we spotted a bear near our campsite too! I was honestly terrified but there was another family not too far down the road camping from us so that helped. Great story!

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    • April 19, 2020 at 3:41 pm
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      Good for you for staying! Seeing wildlife is always a highlight of any camp out. I understand what you mean, have other campers around does really help reduce the apprehension. Since the Trail Creek bear encounter I am always reminding myself the wildlife is just trying to live and doesn’t want to bother with us humans. I bet your son remembers how brave his mama was. Hope you can do it again!

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  • April 19, 2020 at 2:06 am
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    So good that you were able to look back on your journal entries and remember the beauty and tranquillity of being in nature.

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    • April 19, 2020 at 3:47 pm
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      The following morning after the bear encounter I sat down with me coffee and wrote to entire event down (which I have been doing everyday, even with mundane things). You are right keep a travel journal, it is so nice to read thru and reflect on what a beautiful world we live in!

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  • April 18, 2020 at 8:05 pm
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    This is one of the most amazing travel narratives I have ever read. It’s reminiscent of the genius and creativity of Elizabeth Gilbert. Thank you for the inspiration to be brave, and to be brave enough to admit when being brave isn’t possible in certain situations. You’re an awesome role model! I read through your bio. It’s amazing to see that even with autoimmune disease, you continue doing what you love. I suspect I have an autoimmune disease, but as with most people, it’s been years of testing and being sent in every which way. Thank you for the inspiration!

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    • April 19, 2020 at 3:58 pm
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      I am completely floored and flattered, what a nice compliment! Honestly, I had no idea my sharing this event would be such an inspiration for others. I am so thrilled that is. I would LOVE to see more women in the wilds, challenging and empowering themselves, I hope it includes you. So sorry to hear about the potential of an autoimmune disease. I also experienced several years of doctor agony and several more of grappling with the changes not only in my body but my entire lifestyle. My hope is you can find peace with it. Keep in mind that although I can not walk off into the wilderness I’ve been finding wild solitude they way I need to. You can too! Don’t give up.

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  • April 18, 2020 at 6:34 pm
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    Well those giant Sugar Pines sure are beautiful but the Bear stuff…yuck! As an avid backpacker, I love being out in nature miles and miles away from the world. For someone who is so busy minded, its a great way for me to decompress…that is until I am dealing with animals or rain in the middle of night! While backpacking Forrester & Mt Whitney a few years ago, we didn’t have bear issues but those damn marmots were constantly attacking us in the middle of the night. Little vultures! Being from New Orleans, we have raccoons but I had never dealt with a marmot before and the first night at guitar lake, I had no idea what was attacking our campsite. Totally freaked me out and made a hard night for deep sleep. But I kept rolling and as you said kept Brave!

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    • April 19, 2020 at 4:11 pm
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      I love that you have found your decompression in the wilds! I had a good chuckle about the marmots. I once had animals hassle my camp. The way sound travels at night it sound like storm troopers. When I finally got the courage to investigate I discovered mice. I’ve come to appreciate and love all the inconveniences of nature; in northwest California, especially rain. Keep rolling with it – keep being brave!

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  • April 18, 2020 at 4:50 pm
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    I completed the Book ‘WILD’ by Cheryl strayed and reading this post reminded me about her PCT hike and I can so relate this post of you with it. I haven’t camped in my life but this gives me the inspiration to try once in Lifetime. You are a brave lady!

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    • April 19, 2020 at 4:14 pm
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      I am so thrilled this is an inspiration for you. I really hope you do take the opportunity to go camping. Just remember at first “things” will seem a lot scarier than they actually are.

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  • April 18, 2020 at 7:35 am
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    I wish I could be brave enough to go camping like this and face these challenges. You are super brave. Thanks for sharing!

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    • April 18, 2020 at 3:48 pm
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      Thanks for saying so, but I am still working on feeling “brave”. At first I didn’t think I could camp like this either, now I love it. If you truly have an interest in solo camping in the wilds I encourage you to try. What worked for me is starting out slowly, example a park or campground close to home. Follow the great advice on this Blog! I want women campers to get out in the wilds and feel strong and capable (even if that doesn’t always mean being brave)!

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  • April 18, 2020 at 4:31 am
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    This is great! I’m definitely not a camping kinda gal but you are brave!

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    • April 18, 2020 at 3:49 pm
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      So glad you enjoyed reading this journal entry. Such a wild wonderful world we live in!

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  • April 18, 2020 at 3:28 am
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    I think some of the best nights are the nights you find at peace in the silence and noises of the forest. Sounds heavenly.

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    • April 18, 2020 at 3:50 pm
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      I couldn’t agree more!!

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  • April 17, 2020 at 11:39 pm
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    Wow, that sounds like quite the adventure. I’m not sure I could ever be that brave!

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    • April 18, 2020 at 3:54 pm
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      It was really exciting and so empowering. I think everyone can be that brave!

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  • April 17, 2020 at 4:43 pm
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    I love your spirit and bravery. What a great story.

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    • April 17, 2020 at 11:42 pm
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      Thank you for saying so!

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  • April 17, 2020 at 4:09 pm
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    This is a beautiful image to remind me to step out of my comfort zone. Are you confined home at the time? Do you still go solo camping? I find it so courageous, and surreal at the same time. It’s refreshing to see how different we can be. Thank you.

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    • April 17, 2020 at 11:39 pm
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      Challenging my own comfort zone has been such an empowering experience. If you are willing I recommend you try to challenge yourself. Little things to start. That is what I have done. I think I was scaring the bear with all the noise I was making. I hope to some day be brave enough to stay put in the tent, as she meant me no harm. Yes, my area has a shelter-in-place order in effect which is lifted in two weeks. But I have plans in place already to journey out asap.

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  • April 17, 2020 at 11:44 am
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    I love how real this is and let me just say you are brave to do this. I need to get out of my comfort zone.

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    • April 17, 2020 at 2:42 pm
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      Thanks for saying so Joan. Although I feel apprehensive solo in a very dark forest it is also extremely empowering.

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    • April 17, 2020 at 2:46 pm
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      When I wrote this I hadn’t realized what an impact this event would have on others. So appreciative to Camping For Women for letting me tell my story.

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  • April 17, 2020 at 9:10 am
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    I am so sorry to hear you had to take antibiotics. It is good in those moments to leave the body to cope with the infection. You were so brave to do this in such a condition but I hope it all worth it after all.

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    • April 17, 2020 at 2:51 pm
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      The antibiotics did wreak havoc with my body but it was absolutely necessary. I find being in nature for 24 hours or more very healing, which it was overall. The bear encounter brought an aliveness to my life that had been missing.

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  • April 17, 2020 at 12:36 am
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    Love this! So real and beautiful!

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    • April 17, 2020 at 2:53 pm
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      Thank you for saying so. An event I will never forget and actually, grateful to have had.

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