Becoming a Happy Camper

Backpack, tent, sleeping bag, I had it all! Except I had never actually been camping. I was not from a camping family. I wasn’t a part of any youth group that did that sort of thing. It wasn’t until my 30’s that I began to feel the need to venture out into the wilderness, pitch a tent, and stay the night. But I was afraid and didn’t know how.

I was in the Rocky Mountain West. There are mountains everywhere with lots of people hiking and backpacking in them. These were the “cool kids” in my opinion, and I wanted into the club. What skills and confidence you must have to venture into the wild! Obviously these people were superior to me. Actually, I must be a deficient human being because I am unable to camp.

But how do I get into that club? I decided that buying the gear would be where I would start. It was something I could control, and shopping was in my comfort zone. Loitering around REI became a hobby. I perused merch, dreaming of sitting around a campfire, in my hiking outfit, sipping a hot cocoa.

Have to start somewhere

I did start hiking, huffing and puffing uphill, cursing every step, of my local trails. But then was euphoric when I reached a beautiful vista. I was confident that I had made the right choice in pursuing this hiking thing, as I clearly liked it. But every time the weather was good, and there was no other obligation stopping me, so camping over night was an option, something always came up. My partner at the time would get sick, or the pet sitter would fall through. And many times, I would frankly chicken out, and was glad when ‘things came up.’

Life stuff happened, I ended up single and feeling more adventurous. I met someone, and one of the main attractions was his ‘outdoor prowess.’ He was definitely the most ‘real’ camper I had ever met to that point, and I was fascinated. Within one month of dating, he took me on my first real backpacking trip, and I was hooked! On backpacking, camping and my partner 🙂

You’ll Always Remember your First Time

The first trip was about a 6 mile hike into an alpine lake. Hiking out with everything I needed to survive, at least for a night, in the wilderness was exhilarating! I felt like bad-ass….until a 5 year old (with her father,) carrying a tiny little pack of her own, passed me on a stretch of switch-backs. Okay, so she’s the real bad-ass, but still, I was out there!

We boiled water that we pumped and filtered from the lake to re-hydrate our home-made veggie curry meals. At 12,000 ft, even in the middle of July, it was cold. Thankfully, no fire restrictions were in place, so I was able to get in touch with my inner pyromaniac and carefully curate a nice fire. The open flame allowed us to grill some porcini mushrooms that we found along the way. (More about wild mushrooms here.) The vision had been manifested, I was sitting next to the fire, sipping my hot cocoa, feeling like a champ!

Darkness Sets In

Crawling into my sleeping bag later, the reality set-in. I was miles away from the societal comforts and protections that I was used to. There was nothing between me and several species of animals, small and large, that were wild and could do me damage! My mind raced, heart pounded…every tiny little sound sent my imagination into hyper drive.

Of course, I had to pee in the middle of night. With bated breath, I stumbled out of the tent in the dark…into the pitch black woods. It was beautiful, quiet, and with no fire, the stars were incredible. I was too busy looking up in wonder to remember that I should be worried about predators. Luckily there were none, save a mosquito or two. Safely back in my sleeping bag, empty bladder, I felt confident that I would survive the night.

Morning came, and I had, in fact survived. A little sleep deprived and stiff from sleeping on the ground, I happily enjoyed some breakfasty type calories. It was not the brunch buffet that normally would get me out of bed on a Sunday morning, by any means. Even having a cup of hot tea felt like an extravagance out there in the wild.

Then, the lovely little homestead that we’d carefully put together the day before had to all be broken down and packed up. No trace left behind of the lovely time we had there. I struggled to get all the things packed back into their stuff sacks. Nothing seemed to want to go back in right. It was quite the ordeal, and not as fun as setting up camp, but eventually all tasks were accomplished. We were ready to head back to civilization, only I didn’t really want to go.

Out of the Wilderness

Just one night in the woods, and I did feel different. It had ‘cleared’ my mind, fed bits of my psyche that had long been hungry. I felt a sense of connection to the world, and harmony within that world. I felt strong and confident, and also insignificant and fragile. Mostly, I felt really dirty and in need of a shower! The smell of campfire smoke was infused into every pore of my being, was salty from sweat, and I had half a mountain of duff under my fingernails.

Upon my return to the solid structure I call a home, hot water miraculously came from a spout in the wall with very little effort from me, and I laid down in my off-ground cushy bed. I appreciated all of it so much more, but I also knew that I could do with so much less on occasion. Going with less was a worthwhile trade to get the ‘more’ that the great outdoors had to offer me. I had felt more independent, more aware of my place in the world, more alive! #soworthit

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