At a normal summer camp, a few dozen fifteen-year-old girls wouldn’t be told to spend a night alone in the woods. Camp Cheerio isn’t a normal summer camp. I’ve been going to Camp Cheerio every summer since I was eight years old, and I’ve loved every second of being there. The summer before sophomore year of high school was the last year that I could be a camper. Part of being in your last year as a camper is doing CREW. The acronym “CREW” stands for Courage, Responsibility, Enthusiasm, and Worth.
In CREW all of the last year campers do things such as team building, being a counselor for a day, hiking eleven miles to and from Stone Mountain, and more. However, the most significant part of CREW was doing Solo Night. During Solo Night, each last year camper gets placed in the woods around 4:00 pm, and they don’t return to camp until 7:00am the next morning. The hours spent alone completely submerged in nature were supposed to be for us to reflect on our lives, reflect on our experiences at camp, and to reflect on our relationships with God.
The afternoon before we were supposed to go out, we all gathered with our CREW leaders and learned the rules: don’t talk to anyone else, don’t stray too far from your campsite, and absolutely do not wear a watch. We were given our only supplies for the night: a plastic tarp, a rope, a sleeping bag, a flashlight, pens and paper, a bible, a packed dinner, toilet paper, and a whistle. After a pep talk and an overview of the safety precautions, I was excited and ready to go. When it was time to get placed, our CREW leaders took us one at a time to a designated spot in the woods.
I was put in a flat clearing underneath a tree with lots of low branches, which was perfect for building my tent. After what was probably thirty minutes of trying to build a tent, I finally had it perfect. As soon as I got comfortable inside of it, however, I heard a low buzzing. I walked out of my tent only to see that the tree l built my tent under was swarming with bees. At that point I knew that it was going to be a long night. My game plan for the night was to keep myself busy until | heard camp’s music stop in the distance, and then I would go to sleep before it got completely dark to keep myself from getting scared.
I really enjoyed the daylight hours of my Solo Night. I went on a little walk, read some of the bible, wrote a letter, drew pictures, and laid in a field. Once I heard camp’s music stop, I got in my tent and went to sleep with no trouble at all. When I woke up, I felt so well rested. It was just barely light out, so I decided to go back to sleep until they blew the whistles for us to come in around 7:00am. Except, when I woke up for the second time, the sky was completely black. Apparently, what I had mistaken for early morning was actually just an hour or so after I had gone to sleep in the first place.
It was definitely going to be a long night. I’m not one to be scared of the dark, but something changes when you’re alone in the woods with no phone, no watch, and no one to talk to. I was overwhelmed by thoughts of raccoons, deer, mice, coyotes, or bears coming anywhere near me. At one point, I thought I heard the howls of coyotes in the distance. Luckily, the worst things I had to actually deal with were bugs. Somehow, one of those huge mosquito things found its way into my tent. I was too scared to turn on my flashlight, so I pulled my sleeping bag over my head and tried to fall back to sleep.
Somehow, I fell asleep. When I woke up, the sun was just barely rising. I knew that I would have to wait a few hours before I could go back to my cabin, but I didn’t care. I made it through the night! Not without a few bug incidents and definitely not without crying, but I made it. I spent as long as possible re-organizing my stuff and folding my tarp. I walked around my campsite and sat in the dew, reflecting on my night. Sure, I enjoyed spending time alone while it was still light out, but did I really learn anything? I wasn’t sure. Eventually, the whistles blew for us all to go back in.
I grabbed my stuff and began walking back to camp. I remember crying tears of relief because I would soon be able to talk with my friends and use an actual toilet. The walk to my cabin felt like a lifetime. While I was walking, I was scanning my head for what | learned from the experience. Did I learn anything about myself? Did I get closer to nature? Closer to God? I think I should have, but in reality, I don’t think I did. If I were to re-do my Solo Night, I think it would be a whole different experience, but I guess sometimes a night in the woods is really just a night in the woods.