A (b)log of learning through the science of nature

How I checked off a “bucket list” item


What are your absolute “must do’s” in this lifetime?


I find that my list often changes from year to year as I change and grow as a person, but a few items have always remained:

  • See the Northern Nights
  • Take a road trip that hits multiple big National Parks
  • Solo backpacking trip

As I think about my bucket list, I often get discouraged by the things I have no control over (when the northern lights appear or if there is cloud cover) and the things I tell myself I have no control over (getting time off of work for a road trip or a long camp in the Boundary Waters).


It’s easy to push these items off from year to year and say “I’ll get to it” but at some point, you need to take the first step of actually getting to it.

Last year I spent months trying to coordinate my busy work schedule with my husband’s even busier one so that we could go on a camping trip up to my favorite place of all time — Sylvania Wilderness in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I had a 3-day weekend combined with the camping itch so bad but my husband could only get away for less than 24 hours. As I looked on the website at available campsites for the 900th time, I was frustrated to only be booking one night versus two. And that’s when I decided it was time to tick off a bucket list item. It’s time to finally solo backpack and camp. So I chose a campsite, loaded up my backpack, grabbed my dog and just went. I admit, I was pretty terrified.


Author Bethany Heft with Addie ready to begin their solo camping journey at Sylvania Wilderness


Addie, my 8 yr old mutt, had enough excitement for both of us so I plastered on a smile and picked a campsite that was far from any hiking trails and seemed difficult to get to even by canoe. My theory was that if it was hard to get to then no one would go to it, and I would feel safer. I learned navigation with a compass while working at Trees For Tomorrow, so I was confident I could plan my route and use a compass to bushwack off trail to this site and have my first ever night in remote aloneness. I took other important safety steps like telling people where I was going and exactly when I planned to be back. I carried pepper spray, a first aid kit and rope to tie up and hang all of my food up in a bear bag.


Deciding to bushwack to a campsite might not have been my brightest idea as it was definitely hard traveling with a heavy pack and a dog through the underbrush, but we made it! I set up camp as fast as possible and made a b-line for the lake. We then proceeded to do nothing for almost 24 hours. And it was glorious. Addie swam in the lake off and on. I read a book in a hammock. I swam in the lake. We both went back to camp and took a nap. I collected firewood. I cooked my dinner and fed my fearless companion. I read some more. And then the next morning we packed up and headed out.



Bethany relaxing in the hammock with a good book while Addie cools off with a swim in the lake.


It’s not that miraculous - people hike, camp, and adventure solo all the time. I understand that it’s not super special in the grand scheme of things. But it was so special to me. I felt so peaceful and relaxed while hanging out on the shores of that lake and I was extremely surprised to find that I slept soundly with no (ok… minimal) fears and anxieties. It was a really freeing experience that made me realize that I am braver and stronger than I think I am. More often than not, I am the only one telling myself I can’t do something. And here I had just proved myself wrong.


When I got back to town I was so excited to share my adventure with family and friends! Of course my parents weren’t thrilled that I’d camped alone in the wilderness with no cell service, but they were proud of me too. Most of my friends thought it was awesome. A couple of them told me it inspired them to try a solo camp as well! And then one person (because there’s always one right?) responded by saying “Oh. Yeah. I mean that’s cool but you weren’t really ALONE. You took a dog. That’s not a solo trip”.


I let that comment get to me for a few days. It deflated my feelings of accomplishment and I was disappointed. Were they right? Did I have to go again without Addie to make it count? In the end I decided that their judgment about my trip should not override my joy of pushing outside of my comfort zone and doing something that made me feel brave. I was proud of me, and I had fun and that should be what matters most.


This year Addie and I went again, but this time for 2 nights at different sites. I wasn’t any less nervous picking my campsites and packing up than I was last time. But just likethe previous year, when I actually arrived at the old growth forests of Sylvania Wilderness, I felt some of that anxiety slip away.


One of the beautiful views within Sylvanie Wilderness


Over the course of these 2 backpacking trips I learned a few valuable life lessons:

  • Don’t let someone else minimize your accomplishments and how you feel about them
  • You are still brave, even if you are scared
  • Sometimes the hardest part of trying something new is taking the first step.


I’m not writing this blog to encourage everyone to go solo camping. I am encouraging you to think about what it is that you wish you could do if you were braver and then try to do it! I once heard someone say “people ask me how I manage my nerves and I tell them I don’t, I just do things scared.” I have come to the realization that it’s ok if I’m scared while I try new things. It’s just important to try. I feel accomplished and capable after conquering just one item on my bucket list and I encourage everyone to try something new and scary as well.


I hope my tale of adventure encourages you to go have your own adventures!


 Author and TFT Environmental Educator Bethany Heft.