Afraid of the dark

Posted on March 22, 2012 by Sophie Chishkovsky

Fear of the dark is a psychological phenomenon that I associate with small children being afraid of the boogy man coming to get them as soon as the lights go out – a phase that generally goes away with maturity into adulthood. So you’d think a 23-year-old woman who has lived five years out of home, has travelled overseas and has, though not extensively, done hiking and camping would not be scared of the dark!  Last night I discovered how wrong I was.

I don’t exactly know why I was so afraid as Greg and I camped in a timber plantation site on the border of the You Yangs last night. I reckon I got about two to three hours sleep. At the time I thought to myself that the fear I was feeling was absolutely ridiculous. At home I am not afraid of the dark. In year 9, I went hiking with my classmates for an entire week where we carried all our food, water and tents and I wasn’t afraid. But I suppose we were camping perfectly legitimately and there were responsible adults around. Last year at Easter, my housemates and I did a bike ride along the bay from Melbourne to Sorento, camping somewhat illegitimately midway. But I suppose we were a group of seven, not two as was the case with Greg and me last night.

So why was last night so different? Was it the location we were in, a timber plantation of uniform trees all planted in neat rows where the unnaturalness felt eerie? Was it Greg’s twice usage of the word “eerie” with me responding loudly “Yes, thanks Greg!”? Was it the lateness of our arrival at camp, consequently having to cook in the dark? Or was it simply the thought that we weren’t really supposed to be there?  Because if that’s it, even if we mostly do “the right thing” like camp at designated camping spots or crash at people’s places, there will be times (like last night) when we won’t have a choice where we camp.

Camping in eerie plantation

So, how to solve this unnecessary fear? Don’t get me wrong, it is important to be vigilant but when the wind rustles leaves or some harmless creature snaps a twig nearby I need to keep my imagination under control in order to get some sleep. I thought that maybe if I take my sister’s old iPod, I could listen to some soothing music or audio book as I fall asleep. Greg also suggested that we take certain measures when we camp like having capsicum spray on hand, a satellite GPS transceiver (a device which notifies your exact location to emergency authorities anywhere in the world) and/or a phone application that sends your GPS location to friends and family. If there are any other useful suggestions out there, I would be happy to hear them!

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7 Responses

  1. I dont think I ever truly feel safe camping, but it is always humans that I fear and nothing else. We are the destroyers of this planet, the powerful species that spread fear into the hearts and homes of so many others. The sounds I hear outside my tent I know are not human and that keeps me feeling safe. I know I will always have the warning of a light and the roar of an engine for anyone to come near me that I would possibly fear.

    You can use the darkness as your invisibility cloak. Arriving in the dark is the most stealth way to camp if you feel like you arent permitted to stay, but i like much more to find my campsite and get aquainted with it before nightfall. I get a little bit of fear as I watch the sky turn more and more orange until I find a place to stay. I guess the main thing is to make sure you are packed up early to appear as though you didnt stay the night.

    Im getting really excited at the prospect of riding with you. I need to get set up I think.

    • Sophie Chishkovsky

      Thanks for your comforting words Stitch. You are right, it is humans we should be afraid of as we don’t have any natural preditors in Oz. And other humans would definitely have a light or car if they are traveling to remote areas. I suppose when I start thinking of outside noises as a comfort rather than a threat, I will be able to sleep in peace. I really look forward to traveling with you and learning from you, it will be so amazing!

  2. KM

    That photo instantly reminded me of Blair Witch!

  3. Hi!
    Good luck on your journey – reads like a wonderful one. I bike-toured for 10 months in Europe & Morocco from Oct 2010 – May 2011, with a some stealth camping (prior to that I’d hike and camped a fair amount, so comfortable with the whole camping thang). I completely understand a fear of the dark and a fear of noises in the dark. Stealth camping, too, has that additional element of being concerned about what happens if you are discovered. Work out what you are afraid of; mostly, we were afraid of (1) discovery and (2) theft/violence.
    If discovery, what was the worst that could happen? We would be asked to move on; a pain, yes, but not that big a deal.

    Two thoughts for your to consider:
    1. *DO* trust your instincts. If a place gives you a bad vibe for whatever reason, move on; find somewhere else that doesn’t give you such a bad vibe.
    2. Even people are mostly pretty harmless. Our experience was that people were invariably supportive, generous and kind. We camped on night under some windfarms in Sicily, Italy; unfortunately for us, one of the windfarms stopped working and some engineers came out to inspect it, thus finding our tent. Lights shone and voices spoke, and it took us a while to wrestle ourselves sufficiently awake. Before we managed to emerge from the tent, the car and people left. We never even saw them. We surmised that they had debated what to do about us, and then decided to do nothing as we clearly weren’t going to do any harm and most likely were going to leave the next day!

    And lastly, I have a suggestion for dealing with the night noises: one of you get inside the tent and the other walk around outside, trying to “steal” things quietly. Listen to what that sounds like. Reverse your roles. Do this in the depth of night; do this if you are lying awake and wondering about it. You may then learn to differentiate harmless noises from potentially harmful noises.

    Best of luck and have a wonderful time; I’m reading along from my now-sedentary life and being jealous.

    • Hi Oanh,

      Thanks for the comment.

      So far we’ve mostly been staying in free caravan/camping spots, which has been awesome because all the grey nomads offer us hot drinks in the morning. But we have stealth camped a few times, and I think we’re starting to get used to it.

      A few days ago we camped on an estuary and in the morning we woke up at low tide to a bay full of fresh oysters! We picked them off the rocks and ate them for breakfast.

      Your advice on stealth camping is really useful, especially the last part about walking around the tent at night and pretending to “steal” things. We’re really worried about someone nabbing our bikes, so we’ll give your technique a try.

      Later on we plan to cycle tour through Europe, so we might need some other tips as well!

      - Greg

  4. phil

    Hey guys have done a reasonable amount of bicycle touring myself and can totally relate to the night time scared factor! But over time have become more comfortable with stealth camping as you call it than any other form,,a nice hidden spot in our sometimes beautiful landscape to me can be such a great source of peace and time for reflection.We are always more sensitive to our fears when we are tired and always try to remind myself of this when irrational thoughts start to creep into my head.Happy thoughts happy thoughts happy thoughts:)