Have you ever felt like running away?  Just getting in your car, and driving far away from the stresses and worries of your everyday life?  I have. And last month, I did just that.

On a day full of frustration, overwhelm, and profound sadness, I grabbed a few essentials, filled my car up with gas, and drove away.  I wound up at an isolated campground… a quiet, primitive place for tent campers only… abundant with wildlife and natural beauty.  I stayed there for three weeks.

I bought a small tent, and set it up myself, just before dark. It’s been a while since I’ve felt such a sense of personal pride.  I unpacked my essentials… a journal, some craft supplies, and my favorite owl pillow.  Darkness came early, at 5:30… and my feeling of pride quickly evaporated, as I realized I’d forgotten to bring food, or a flashlight… and my most costly lapse… bug repellent.  The mosquitoes and noseeums were rabid.  It was a very long night.

The next day I woke up to beautiful, blue skies, and the sheer magnitude of what I’d done. I’d run away from home. Oh, they knew where I was, but I had left them, and I didn’t know when I was going back.  Relief, mixed with guilt.  I needed to process that. In the meantime, I needed supplies.

I discovered that I was at least a 20-minute drive in any direction to civilization,  so I made my list thoughtfully. Coffee. That was the first item on my list… followed by bug repellent.  Next, a small cooler, ice, and milk, for my coffee.  A lantern.  Peanut butter and crackers, and yogurt.

Laying in supplies took the entire morning.  It was hot, muggy, and buggy… and by the time I returned to my campsite, I was ready for a cool shower and a fresh change of clothes.  Only this campground didn’t have showers. WHAT??

I was up most of the night, alternately exerting my self-control over my bug bitten body, and attacking it ferociously with my fingernails.  On Day 3, I was a dirty, sweaty, itchy, bloody, middle-aged woman who’d run away, and was living in the woods.

I began to write. I wrote page after page after page in my journal… so many thoughts and feelings and ideas pouring out I could scarcely get hold of them. I worked on creating Truth Cards, to keep me centered.  I watched dolphins play in the inlet. I walked in the woods.  Despite outward appearances, I felt pretty good.

I got into my tent at dusk that night, as was my habit, to avoid the biting insects.  I’d left the rain cover off of my tent, because it was a clear night, and so hot… I really needed the breeze.  I laid my head back and right away, noticed a dark object the size of a toddler, in the tree overhead.  It made a soft cooing sound.  It was an OWL!  I silently turned on my video and captured it, singing its song to another, nearby owl. The other owl flew off. Then, defying all rules of gravity, this enormous owl gracefully lifted off the branch above me, and flew off into the night sky. It was magnificent. My mother, who is an avid birder, later recognized it from its call as a Great Horned Owl. What an experience! I was exhausted from the sheer delight of it.

That is precisely when my evening took a bad turn.  I looked around, and all of a sudden it dawned on me… I was alone. Completely, fully, absolutely, totally alone. Not a single other camper was there with me at my campground in the woods.  No workers, no houses nearby, nobody but me and the owls, for miles around.  I. Was. Scared.

Those of you who know me well, know that I am rather obsessed with true crime… the puzzle of human behavior… and that I’ve listened to literally, hundreds of podcast hours about murder.  This little quirk would not serve me well in the woods that night, nor in the nights that followed. I spent three weeks, day and night, alone in my woods.  I never knew I could be so brave.

At the end of Week One, I was rewarded with the knowledge that a neighboring state park had showers, and that I could use them.  I’m pretty sure you can imagine my absolute glee at bathing in hot water, and washing my hair. It is not a luxury I will ever take for granted again. That night, I celebrated with cashews and Smart Water, and some playtime with my watercolors.  It was a glorious night.

On Day 8, I needed to venture back into civilization.  A 40-minute drive took me to a mall, where I felt extremely uncomfortable.  It was so peopley!  But it was an urgent matter that could not be postponed. I marched myself directly into Victoria’s Secret, bought 10 new pairs of underwear, and was back in my car in under 15 minutes.  Quite pleased with myself, too.  I could do this outdoor thing to a point, but some things could not be sacrificed.

Speaking of not sacrificing, my other big camping splurge was an Amazon purchase of cold brew coffee, which was delivered overnight to the park’s registration booth. I could be very resourceful in an emergency.

That taken care of, I resumed my daily activities, which included journaling, applying massive amounts of hydrocortisone cream to every conceivable body part, walking in the woods, and creating Truth Cards.

Something else I did almost every day, was to check in with a few close friends.  There were urgent pleas to eat, to go to a hotel, and to come home, which brought me tremendous sadness, and guilt. Despite my deep love and respect for these people, I knew I needed more solitude.  I needed more time in the woods.

Day 11, and I was beginning to grieve the things I had willingly given up.  My dysfunctional, discombobulated family.  The unconditional love of my pets.  A cozy bed to sleep in.  An escape from the bugs.

On this night, I fell asleep early, but was awakened at around midnight to the sound of thunder, and water pouring on me from above.  In my drowsy state, it took several minutes to get the rain cover affixed to the tent, and the rain got in anyway.  My sleeping bag and everything else in my tent got soaked.  And when I finally decided I couldn’t take it anymore, I discovered that an army of red ants had infiltrated my tent, also.  I spent the rest of the night in my car.  There would be no more sleep for me that night.

Day 12 was the first dismal, wet, and cloudy day since I’d been in the woods.  I retrieved my sleeping bag and my owl pillow from the tent, shook the ants off of them, and attempted to dry them out… but the air was too damp.  The weather had also turned unusually cold.  The woman in the registration booth gave me a bottle of ant spray, which I used liberally in and around my tent.  I allowed my tent to air out for several hours, then attempted to clean out the mud, the pooling ant spray, and the piles of dead ants.  This was not a pleasant task.  By nightfall I was exhausted.  Despite the toxic fumes, I crawled back into the tent… still wide open from airing out…I sat there, huddled in the cold night air without my sleeping bag, because it was still wet. This was the longest, most difficult night. It was sooo cold.  And I was so tired. And homesick. And everything was muddy. And I was insanely itchy.  And I was still alone in the woods.

Day 13 brought the most wonderful surprise.  As I sat in my tent, contemplating my life, and the fact that it was Thanksgiving Week, I heard my name whispered tentatively, outside my tent.   “Kat??”, the voice asked?  I peeked outside.  Standing there was an angel… in the form of my beautiful friend… on a rescue mission… loaded down with bags full of every treat and necessity I could ever imagine… and a hug… the most amazing hug… and her gentle smile.  I cried like a baby, then showed her around my “new home”.  We looked for dolphins, but didn’t find any.  She told me she loved me.  And that she and two other amazing friends had concocted this mission, which she had just carried out in her usual, unpretentious and humble way.  I cried more.  She pretended not to notice my filth… the dark, hollowness under my eyes… the leaves stuck in my hair. That’s unconditional love, y’all.

It felt like Christmas going through those bags. There were wipes to clean my glasses… the Holy Grail of camping supplies… FOUR KINDS OF ANTI-ITCH MEDICATION, multi-vitamins, hygiene products, cleaning products, a headlamp for late night trips to the loo! There was food… REAL FOOD… and also fun food, like Ding Dongs (I die!!), and a thousand KIND bars. There were activity books, safety equipment, and even a bag of art supplies, so I could embellish all those cards and projects I’d been working on.  No need was left unmet.

My heart was full.  I was rejuvenated and strengthened. I was beginning to feel like me, … whole, complete, enough. I was nearly ready to attempt real life again.

A week later, I packed up my things, took a final walk through my beloved woods, and drove home… back into the loving arms of my waiting family, and my dear pets, my clean bed and my amazing shower.

I don’t regret my time of solitude and reflection in the woods. I feel braver and stronger than I have in a long time. I know now that I am resourceful, I am capable, and that I rather enjoy my own company. I especially enjoyed the wildlife, and the glorious trees, the spectacular inlet, and even the dark, cloudless, star-filled skies at night. I am sad that I put my loved ones through a time of worry.  I am blessed beyond words to have family and friends who walked this journey with me, without judgement.

I returned home, a week after Thanksgiving, with a heart so full of gratitude and love it seemed it might burst.  Looking back, I realize I never really was alone in those woods. I had all of my loved ones tucked gently inside my heart, and me, inside theirs.

My camping gear… washed, folded, and organized… stays in the trunk of my car.  It is reassuring to know that I can leave again, any time I want, and go back into the woods.  It turns out I wasn’t “running away”, after all… but running towards some things I needed very badly at the time.  Peace, self-assurance, and time to think and reflect.  The entire time I was away, one thought kept repeating itself over and over in my mind: “Go Where the Peace Is”.  And that is what I did.

Share your thoughts and comments.

Our members are talking about this article on Belongly.
Register today and join the conversation.

About the Author: Katherine Cosimano
I have a Master of Clinical Social Work, currently licensed as an ACSW, LCSW in both Florida and North Carolina. I am also a Certified Art Healer. In addition to treating clients in a private practice setting for nearly ten years, I worked for many years in a nonprofit setting, and as an elementary school counselor. I have worked at a Hospice Children's Program, at an inpatient psychiatric hospital, and as an Emergency Room Patient Advocate at The Cleveland Clinic in Stuart, FL. I served as an individual therapist to students and teachers directly affected by the mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, and I am currently working with students and teachers affected by the school mass shooting in Uvalde, TX. I am a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). I volunteer teaching art therapy to residents of Transformation Village of Buncombe County, I manage a Question and Answer Page at a nonprofit organization called Arms Around Autism Spectrum Disorder. For many years I was a member of the International Critical Incident Stress Management Team, which provides trauma and crisis intervention to first responders following disasters and other traumatic events. I have been a Disaster First Responder, was part of the Disaster Action Team, and a Shelter Manager for the American Red Cross for over ten years.

Keep Reading

Want more? Here are some other blog posts you might be interested in.