Solo on the Spit

Each year for many years I have held the intention to spend time alone camping in nature, offering gratitude for my life and the earth, designing simple ceremonies, and doing whatever wilderness adventuring my body allows. This is my most basic spiritual practice, a way to reset and check my internal barometer.

This August I had a campsite reserved in the Cascade Mountains. However, as time drew nearer, temperatures were predicted to rise above 100 degree F. (38 degrees C.) Then a nearby fire exploded down forested foothills. Time to change plans and cancel the reservation. But these were the days I had set aside in a month full of harvest and volunteer commitments.

Public campgrounds of either the local, state, or national variety are solidly booked these days. The weather forecast indicated that camping near the cool waters of Puget Sound made the most sense. However, there were no open spots anywhere—except first come, first serve. Not my favorite scenario, but abandoning hours of internet searching for availability, off I went in a spirit of trust.

Surprise #1

With my change of plans I had to count on standby status on a ferry normally fully booked during the summer. Last car on the ferry! Things looked good for my spontaneous plans.

Dungeness Spit Recreation Area overlooking the Straits of Juan de Fuca had some first come, first serve campsites. I caught the first ferry from Coupeville (yes, I was standby status) and lucked into an exquisite site located 20 yards from a bluff overlooking the Strait. By 11 a.m. my site was fully set up.  I loaded up my backpack and headed out to Dungeness Spit National Wildlife Refuge.

My solo tent—no rainfly for breathability. No mosquitoes or wasps either!

Dungeness Spit is the longest natural sand spit in the United States. Jutting out into the Straits from the Olympic Peninsula, it is a narrow, 5-mile-long curve of sand, beach logs, and incredible bird habitat. I hiked about halfway to the light house, sat down, ate my lunch, and marveled at the blue expanse of sea and the shore of Vancouver Island (Oh Canada!) across the Strait. My intention for this trip was a modified retreat/quest—insightful solo time, small ceremonies, journal writing, and wilderness adventure.

Looking at Dungeness Spit from the bluff above.

I had hiked far enough out on the spit that there were no other human beings around—just the seagulls and terns. Pulling out my journal, I began to record my gratitude—always a first day exercise for me on these solos. Even though fully covered and sitting within reach of the shore breezes, the intensity of the sun and heat drove me back to my campsite by early afternoon.

 

 

Surprise #2

About halfway up the forested, paved path from the beach back to the campsite (a 2/3 mile, incline) I began to feel completely exhausted. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I was capable of walking to my campsite. I staggered on. Once back, I sat sweaty and thirsty in my camp chair drinking and drinking water, beyond the 2 quarts I had carried down to the spit and already consumed. I worried I had Covid.  I took a nap. Rising, I still felt completely lethargic—just sat in my chair and began to marvel at the small Douglas fir and alder trees around me, the chestnut-backed chickadees and golden-crown kinglets carrying on their high pitched dialogues in the underbrush,  and the distant view of Vancouver Island. After a time, I felt hungry enough to cook up a bit of supper. (I no longer fast from food during these self-designed solo times.  I fast from electronics, homey comforts, and my beloved family, but for health reasons do not fast from food.)

By sunset I was feeling like my usual self and it dawned on me that despite camping in one of the coolest spots in the region these hot days and engaging in only very moderate exercise, I had experienced a case of mild heat exhaustion. Obviously, another thing I am more susceptible to as I age and weather intensifies.

Surprise #3

Sun setting over the Straits of Juan de Fuca.

As sunset approached, I walked 25 steps around the forested area protecting my tent site to a bench overlooking the Strait. The bench was located along a paved path. Only one other person was sitting awaiting the sun’s nightly journey onto the horizon. There was no wind, just the rhythmic pounding of surf on the beach far below. No sound of footsteps, just the slow, inexorable sliding of the sun on its ever-changing nightly course. I sat in awe of this nightly spectacle. As it began to darken, I turned and rose to go back to my campsite. There were nine people standing behind me in the cathedral of sunset! No one had said a word. A few bowed as I passed by.

Surprise #4

My first night in a smaller tent since my back surgery a year ago went smoothly and well. The second day of my solo is usually about listening for wisdom from my ancestors—both recent and long ago. Always I create a simple altar for this ceremony. Again, I hiked out on Dungeness Spit. Again, it was a hot day in the upper 80s (low 30sC). I brought more water and the awareness to REALLY take it easy.

Altar created on the shore of the beach out of stones and a few sacred objects brought from home.

This is a place Christina and I have come before to scatter our son Brian’s ashes and honor the yearly passages since his death in 2013. We are approaching the 10th anniversary of his passing. Sometimes these anniversaries are harder than others. And days can pass now when I don’t think of him. But this year the generosity of his estate enabled his nephew, our beloved grandson, to go to college. The great heart of our son and the enormous enthusiasm of our grandson for this gift filled me with an overload of happiness and profound grief. Mixed together they came out as huge sobs which I had absolutely no control over. Ceremony brings the inside to the outside, helps us pause and bear witness to that which is within us always. It always serves to guide my life going forward.

Surprise #5

On the final full day of my solo when temperatures were beginning to cool down into the low 80s F.(mid to upper 20 Degrees C.), I drove to the Olympic National Park to be with the great old growth trees. My choice of trails had been to travel up Hurricane Ridge and hike. However, the road was closed for removal of fire debris. Another surprise. More flexibility required.  I decided to hike the Heart of the Hills trail—moderate difficulty, large trees, 4.4 miles out and back, recommended by the ranger at Park headquarters.

However, this was the sign at the trailhead.

A warning sign at the trailhead. Cougar protocol: hike with others, carry hiking sticks, look LARGE if you confront one and never, ever run.

Yikes! As I was reading the sign,  a pair of women hikers came up behind me and began the trail. I reasoned I was not really alone and headed out a short distance after them, though I definitely gave them their space.

Trail among Olympic Mountain old growth trees both standing and downed by powerful storms.

Typical trail section through thick undergrowth of Devil’s Club and over a bridge because it IS a rainforest with seeps everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only at the turn around point by the river did we see one another again. About 30 minutes after seeing my trail friends, I did stop to pick up a large, stout stick for some reassurance. Surprise #5 is that I did not see a cougar!

Surprise #6

This surprise could simply be that I was able to have a solo in a public campground that was so deeply meaningful for me. Yes, I did have interactions with a few people, but mostly i was able to practice solitude, deeply held by the natural world of my own bioregion. And in the spirit of the quest, my “base camp” and community back home, Christina and Vivi, welcomed me with long beach rambles and deep story sharing.

Another photo of the holy moment of sunset at a public campground.

46 replies
  1. Julie Glover
    Julie Glover says:

    How lucky you were and how lucky we are to live in such a wonderful sacred place! I feel like I went with you on this journey.
    Thank you, sister! ALL GOOD WISHES!!!!!! 😘😁💋🤗👋❤️

    Reply
  2. TZIPI Radonsky
    TZIPI Radonsky says:

    From your journey around Lake Michigan at 40 to this latest solo I continue to learn from you & be grateful❤️🙏🏼🕸🎯

    Reply
  3. Jude Rathburn
    Jude Rathburn says:

    Dear Ann – Thank you for sharing this beautiful story of surprises. Isn’t it amazing when we are able to open our hearts and minds to the surprises that nature can offer to us? There are so many aspects of your story that touched my heart – remembering my own relationship with heat exhaustion and how you kept a watchful eye, the beautiful structure you created with ceremonies to offer gratitude, connect with the ancestors and remember you are nature, too. I am sending my love and blessings to you and Christina as you celebrate Brian’s life at the tenth anniversary of his passing into Spirit. How wonderful that he was able to support your grandson’s college journey. Be well. With love. Jude

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Thank you, Jude, for your very thoughtful remembrances of your own quest. I know you understand the depth of opening that comes from time alone in nature. With appreciation, Ann

      Reply
  4. Audrey B Denecke
    Audrey B Denecke says:

    Hello Anne:
    I am very touched by reading your sharing on your solo time around the Puget Sound area. Thankful to Spirit that you were able to find spaces to set up your tent and connect with nature in deep ways. I especially value your share on integration of practices of “being open” and “deep presence” during your solo retreat with us.
    The paragraph on the special space for Brian’s ashes and his gift of access to college for his nephew through his estate brought tears … amazing gift!
    I smiled at your last surprise of NO cougar! Hurrah!!
    Thank you too for your Spiritual teaching here. I plan to integrate more of your attention to presence through my solo days.
    Take care dear Anne,
    Audrey

    Reply
  5. Jane
    Jane says:

    I so enjoyed hearing your voice again, Ann. Your solo journey honored yourself, your family, and the Natural World. You were held and protected by the Mother.
    Much love to you and Christina.

    Reply
  6. Kathryn Harrington
    Kathryn Harrington says:

    Ann,
    Thank you for sharing your solo journey. It reminded me of how precious life is and the beautiful earth that we live in, which needs to be protected and valued. Also, I understand your grief coming up again in remembering Brian, coming close to his 10 year anniversary of his death. I am so thankful you didn’t see a cougar. Love, your sis, Kathy

    Reply
  7. Cheryl
    Cheryl says:

    I’m glad you no longer food fast on these sojourns. When I went out into the woods with you in CA high desert back in 2009 I was told to keep nuts and the fairy Angel left me yogurt each morning of our 3-day solo quest. A godsend. I’m think and lanky enough! Loved reading your journey. Thank you. I’m in New Zealand visiting daughter and 3 grandkids. Rather than tramping I’m doing kitchen duty and loads of wash!
    Sending love

    Reply
  8. Linette Harriott
    Linette Harriott says:

    Ann, your attention to these rites and ceremonies is an inspiration and a reminder to me to take more time to do this. I have been ill for three and a half weeks so yesterday, my first real day of activity, planted the tomatoes and cucumbers and gave thanks to the earth and water. Thanks for the translations into Celsius. It helped me understand your story more. Warm greetings from Portarlington, Victoria, Australia.

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Oh my, Linette! So sorry for your illnesses. And wonderful to hear your recovery took you out on the earth. Wonderful to read your name here—you who encouraged me to start a blog so many years ago. Ann

      Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Ah, George, we are all teachers to one another. Your steadfast meditation and healing ways with Marie are deeply meaningful to us. Ann

      Reply
  9. Bonnie Rae
    Bonnie Rae says:

    I see this as “the art of the pivot”. It’s a beautiful thing when you can let go of attachment to anything. It seems you and nature had a blind date and that all went well! You are inspiring to me this morning as I rest my eyes on my unused tent and sleeping bag on the shelf. Good fortune favors the bold and it’s time for me to step outside my comfort zone and see what’s in store. Thanks for sharing this.

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Thank you for that phrase “the art of the pivot”!I know I will use it. Certainly flexibility is a lesson I need to keep learning. The rewards of embodying it on this trip were so rewarding, I am encouraged that the lessons has “taken”. Blessings and, yes, get that tent out there before the weather changes! Ann

      Reply
  10. Sharry
    Sharry says:

    Dear Ann! What lovely reflections on the process of your journey. Flexibility and deep awareness are wonderful attributes. From my knowledge of cougar behavior, metaphorical and physical, it was observing you though you did not see. I can’t believe Brian is gone 10 years. Thank you. Cousin Shar

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Thank you for these comments, dear cousin! I agree that the cougar in the area was definitely aware of my presence. Glad my slight frame was not a tempting enough morsel! And thank you for all you did to acclimate Brian to Denver. It was the place he could really launch his paramedic passion. Blessings, Ann

      Reply
  11. Doreen M Tanenbaum
    Doreen M Tanenbaum says:

    Thank you Ann for sharing and this memorable line: Ceremony brings the inside to the outside, helps us pause and bear witness to that which is within us always. It always serves to guide my life going forward.

    Reply
  12. Jeanie Robinson
    Jeanie Robinson says:

    Ann, Today my memoir writing is focusing on my Cascade Quest. Reading old journals and then getting this email brings me close to you and the trees. What a wonderful gift you and Christina continue to be in my life.

    Reply
  13. Julie Mae Pigott
    Julie Mae Pigott says:

    What a lovely deep breath I’ve just had, reading of your solo summerheat Olympic Peninsula wanderings. Here’s to tending the grief and sorrow when it arises. Here’s to allowing gratitude amongst the tendernress. Here’s to following your lifelong wisdoms to find solitude to just be.

    And thank you for the reminder that meaningful ritual is often created out of simplicity and a yearning to enter my deepest places. I’ve just witnessed my 95 year old mom taking her last breaths, and once the distracting details of compiling her house and life are done enough, I’ll take to the pacific ocean coast and call in my ancestors. Love, Julie

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Wow, Julie. So sorry for your loss. Obviously your mother lived a long life. May your stamina hold past the inevitable details, so you might be carried into your time of ceremony with your ancestors.

      Reply
  14. Katharine
    Katharine says:

    “Ceremony brings the inside to the outside, helps us pause and bear witness to that which is within us always. It always serves to guide my life going forward.”
    Soon I set out on my own solo adventure bookending a long distance walk – alone together with a small group of strangers. I hold fast your words and will write them in my journal, together with Christina’s offering yesterday in response to my blog (finally!)
    Thank you for this beautiful chronicling of life affirming surprises. Much love.

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Oh, Katharine, such kind words and such wisdom in your own blog about holding the magnitude of grief around the Morocco earthquake, your beloved Annie dog, and the complexity of continuing plans for another international trek in the midst of world complexities. You inspire me so. Love, Ann

      Reply
  15. James Wells
    James Wells says:

    So much “certainty of purpose” partnered with “surrendering to surprise” here, Ann. I love that you honour body/health by modifying the fasting and level of activity. As ever, I’m inspired by you. Love to you and Christina!
    Hugs,
    James

    Reply
  16. Marjeta Novak
    Marjeta Novak says:

    Dear Ann,

    Tears in my eyes reading this. So much gratitude – for your sharing, for knowing you, for the internet that enables this kind of connection across lands and oceans. Grief and joy dancing together as we journey through Life.
    It is inspiring to witness how you hold life’s shifts, pains and openings with true sacredness; and how Life responds with generosity and acknowledgment.
    Reading your story has a centering, nourishing effect on me. Thank you from all my heart.
    Love from Slovenia.

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Dear Marjeta, These are big words of appreciation and I take them into my heart deeply. Yes, “grief and joy dancing together as we journey through life.” Sending love back to Slovenia and all the fine work you are doing there. Ann

      Reply
  17. Margaret L Brown
    Margaret L Brown says:

    In this I see story I see the wisdom of your many years of experience and also the trust required to walk into solitude. Starting my day with a candle of gratitude for Brian’s gift to Jaden.

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Yes, my Canadian friend. Always appreciating that Canada is close by and within visibility range. Never underestimate the restorative power of a sit spot!

      Reply

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