Solo Camping

I think I might be a grown-up. I know how this sounds. Of course by all standards, I am a grown-up. I live apart from my parents and pay my bills and brush my teeth and get dressed in the morning unassisted. I don’t know that these are qualifiers for grown-up-hood actually because five year olds too know how to get dressed and brush their teeth, but they can’t buy whiskey and move cross country whenever they feel like it, so I stand by my declaration.

Anyway, this occurred to me last night as I was walking to the bathroom at the campground I was staying at. By myself. I kept giggling like I was a kid who had in fact snuck out of my parents house to do something illicit. I did do this once as a youngster, with my best friend Katee Peach—that really was my childhood best friend’s name, isn’t that perfect?—this is what Bad Mary Janes we were. We snuck out around midnight, drove to Meijer—a nicer version of Wal-Mart, but not as classy as Target, for those not in the know—bought bulk candy and sat in the furniture section feeling smug, rocking on faux leather office chairs until our eyes got heavy and we inevitably just drove home.

I told myself when I moved to yet another new place by myself, that I was going to attempt to do things alone, things that I would have previously never considered doing alone. One of those things was go camping. In my mind going camping alone, seemed rather lame. Who would I chat with and snuggle and eat s’mores with? Turns out the s’mores thing was hardly a problem. I made it my mission to eat enough s’mores to account for two people being there. I know, I had to take one for the team on that one.

I had decided to ease into camping by myself, I wouldn’t venture into the Wyoming wilds alone, alone. First I would start with a campground and I opted for Buffalo Bill State Park on the reservoir. Not too shabby canyon and water views, accompanied by the secure feeling of collective campers, and a distinct lack of grizzlies seemed wise.

I brought my childhood stuffed giraffe that I still cart around the country when I am in between snuggle partners as she makes a good fill in. Lula didn’t disappoint. She didn’t fight me when I put her worn orange cotton ears tightly underneath my neck. She also didn’t object to my constant position switching in the night to get comfortable on my stack of about 9 folded blankets.

I can’t say I deserved a high-five for setting up my tent because it is new technology and basically idiot-proof. I am pretty sure I could have Mary Poppins’d that shit, and sang a song to my tent and it would’ve risen. Also God love a Coleman, because the beaut held up to insane and persistent Wyoming winds all. night. long. I kept checking the corners which I had weighed down with rocks, because my campsite was pure rubble and I could not get the stakes in.

But the tent and Lula held through the onslaught.

I had made a fire, no prob, because duh I was a Girl Scout. Although, okay I love to throw that out there, but I think I actually was a Brownie and never graduated past Brownie. But I did sew something once, so, I am pretty sure I still get the honor.

I drank peach beers and smiled dreamily at my blazing fire, the sun dipping down behind Cody canyons and felt like I was figuring it out. At least I hoped I was. I wanted to start in on my laundry list of worries because that is my usual pastime, but I refused. I told myself I would simply enjoy the pure pleasure of being alive and able to camp on my own in the West. Turns out this wasn’t a hard feat.

I kept laughing and it wasn’t from the peach beers, though to be fair, two did make me tingle a bit. I sincerely felt in awe of doing an activity that seems like it should be a two person activity, and making it fit one. My bed, happily high from the obscene amounts of stacked and folded blankets only took up a small space in my five-person tent. But I liked my miniature living room, with dimly lit lantern, Wall Drug cowboy satchel filled with books, my styrofoam cooler brought purely to protect the chocolate and brews, and then there was me and Lula.

I always say that I have the worst night’s sleep on record when I go camping, and I surely did. I was up every half hour it seemed with howling winds that shook every seam in my tent relentlessly. I wondered if the wind would pick us all up: me, the tent and Lula and cart us off to Oz. I dreamt about packing up the tent multiple times, but each time I woke up and heard the wind and rain, I snuggled deeper into my blankets and prayed. I didn’t pray for protection against a wayward tree crushing me, but for God to not let my new Coleman get destroyed after only one use.

I had fallen asleep wearing pants, a long sleeve shirt, doubled with a thick sweater and wool socks. I awoke sweaty and to the sounds of squawking birds. The tent was now still and my body ached as I wearily peeled off socks and multiple layers of my clothes. I whipped off the mounds of blankets and unzipped the tent flap to a cool breeze and bright morning sun. I gulped in the fresh air and wondered about coffee. I also wondered if I could shoot the squawking birds without incident.

Camping is slightly like heartache following love. You wonder why you bother, yet secretly are up for all the thrills all over again.

I debated whether I had the energy to pack up without caffeine first, but I swallowed some stale water from my Nalgene bottle and ate three squares of a Hershey’s bar and determined that would have to suffice.

As I tried to stuff the tent back in the bag that never seems big enough to hold what came out so easily, I thought, hey, I did it. I camped alone.

The Camp Hosts from Georgia who were making their morning rounds around the campground called out, “leaving already?”

“Yeah I was just here for one night. Now I am going hiking.”

“Be safe,” the man said.

I nodded, feeling sweaty from the effort of shoving the tent into its too small bag.

And just like that I was off in search of the largest coffee I could find and a hike that would quench my never-ending thirst for more adventure. Alone or otherwise.

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Pink Thunderstorms

I have a real problem with believing I don’t deserve things. Not things like Prada, to be clear, but things like farm animals or a writing career. Despite this flawed way of thinking, God repeatedly shows me that I do deserve some serious grandeur at the very least. Like this pink thunderstorm for instance. You read that right. I was privy to my first ever pink thunderstorm. It was quite possibly the most exquisite sight my eyes had thus far beheld in my 30 years here on earth. And it was happening right out my window at 5:30 a.m.

I awoke to a barn-rattling thunderclap that jarred me out of an uncomfortable dream about ticks embedded in my legs that I was trying to claw out. I was happy for the intrusion and happier yet that it was because of thunder. I was lying there, having checked my phone and deduced that I still had an hour and a half left of blissful slumber before I had to be up for work. Maybe the wind had picked up or another thunderclap had cracked, or the sudden gusts of rain slapping against my window had alerted me, because I tossed my quilt aside and went to the window to investigate.

When I pulled the curtain aside, I saw what seemed to be a deleted scene from The Wizard of Oz. I had to resist checking my legs for ticks to be sure I wasn’t still dreaming. A pink haze enveloped the whole outdoors, like the inside of a snow globe lined with cotton candy.

The pink sky was clearly from the sunrise, though there was no sun in sight. Then I noticed the wind whipping up dirt and powerful rain in miniature tornado swirls across the horse corral to do a dizzying drunken dance right into my window pane. Which is when I realized rather large gusts of rain were suddenly blowing in. I slid the window shut while still looking on. Two of the horses who had shelter were partaking of it while looking slightly askance. While all the other horses suffering through the elements seemed nonplussed. I stared for a moment, completely mesmerized by the pink and the swirling. And then the thunder clapped again, like God was in a horserace and was whipping his steed to move faster, move faster.

I wanted to watch the whole thing play out, but I felt the pull of my bed and my coveted one point five more hours of sleep. I laid back down but left the curtain open to watch, while I happily dozed back asleep to the thunder and the wind gusts.

I would later play the image of the pink thunderstorm and the swirling wind tornadoes over and over again in my mind.

So alright. Maybe I don’t have a farming/writing empire yet, with a handy bearded husband who likes to rope things—me included. Ya know, rope me and then tie me to the bedpost. I am kidding! Sorta. Though, my ex used to joke that he would in fact tie me to the bedpost. But not in the fun way. He said he’d do it in order to deter me from this penchant I have about saving the rainforest and chaining myself to trees in order to stop factories being built. He said he would do a simulation and tie me to the bed, turn up the heat and play the movie, The Jungle Book. This scenario was definitely when I fell in love with the kid, but no matter. That ship has sailed and I digress.

But, c’mon, man. Pink thunderstorms?! That has to be right up there with odds like getting struck  by lightning. Okay, maybe they’re not that rare, but still, I feel like God was up to something and up to something good in order to shake me up.

Shake me up to that nonsense about being undeserving.

If that was His M.O. then I think I got it. If God thinks I deserve pink thunderstorms, then just you imagine what else I probably have got coming to me. I actually can’t even fathom, because I never even considered pink thunderstorms.

All I am saying is, if you’re anything like me, then you will have your moments of debilitating self-doubt from time to time, but keep your eyes and ears alert, because God has always got something wild and wonderful up His sleeve.

The Wildness in Me

I attended the Cody Rodeo last night. I even purchased a season pass, so color me committed. I ate overly salted popcorn, drank apricot beer and gabbed with my girlfriend from the ranch. She’s the wrangler there and would whistle with bursts of enthusiasm for the riders while watching raptly.

The sky’s brightness and the summer heat diminished and I begun to get chilled in my sleeveless white sundress. I watched the cowboys get flung from bulls and cowgirls turning a sharp corner on horses full of sinewy grace in barrel racing. I sometimes leaned back and hardly noted the action, instead just noted how I felt, which was charmed and at home, and other times I sat in wonder over the difficulty of roping a moving calf.

I myself started practicing roping a few months back, and it is no easy feat. I can only rope a calf if it is plastic and held fast in a hay bale, three feet in front of me and unmoving—which obviously helps if the calf is plastic. The idea that these riders can be swiftly moving atop a horse, swinging their rope, and catch a high-tailing calf is astounding and worth a whistle. If I could in fact whistle, which I cannot.

I had just wrapped up my first week at the new ranch, full of cooking up cheesecakes, biscuits, baked chicken, and cleaning cabins, learning to saddle and getting swept up in windstorms.

I felt as though I had hardly taken much of a breath as the night before last I stumbled up the barn steps and fell into a deep sleep at 6:30, not awaking again until 6:30 the next morning.

I was trying to keep track of all the newness, which had caused me to feel so breathless. Baking in a big old Western abode befitting a feature in Western Horseman. Riding horses up the side of a canyon while my nostrils inhaled an intoxicating amount of sage; I swayed with the horse and the sweet intensity of the smell and my surroundings. I heaved saddles on and hefted them off and felt that I belonged to the West and saddles and painting posts and sagebrush and that I always had.

And then when I had time to catch my breath my best friend told me she would go into labor soon. She is having twins and we texted back and forth in excitement. But then it started creeping up to me again. That feeling that I have tried to shake for months, but won’t go away. That my egg count is dwindling and motherhood is very far away from me.

I suddenly felt guilty about gallivanting up mountainsides on horseback and cruising around in a golf cart with a cow dog by my side with the wind making my hair look like Marv from Home Alone—because it is short again and the curls are as wild as my spirit. I felt like I had done something selfish somewhere along the line choosing to be so footloose and fancy-free. Had I chosen the wrong path, though it had felt like the right one?

Would choosing this kind of wildness prevent me from ever having something I had always wanted which was children.

I fear this kind of thing may not disturb men too greatly, or maybe even young women, because I don’t ever recall considering my egg count until my thirtieth birthday started nearing. And now I am somewhat obsessed with terms like egg counts and geriatric pregnancies—which for the record was the term for women who got pregnant after 35—adoption and egg freezing.

After many a meltdown as my thirtieth inched closer, and I masochistically read mommy articles and cried, I made a vow to myself to knock it the fuck off, and enjoy my present moments of ranching, making cheese, learning to fly fish and saddle horses, without thoughts of my egg supply or a geriatric pregnancy.

But all this rushed to the forefront of my mind again, while my bestie spoke excitedly of the impending birth of her daughters. I tried to keep a stiff upper lip, not portraying jealousy over her joy, while she consoled me that my time would come. I even marched on and went to the rodeo anyway, despite a sudden and distinct empty feeling in my uterus.

I watched the cowboys and tried not to picture little cowboy kids in my mind. I did anyway. I stared at the ropers and came back to my egg count. I looked at the running baby calves and tried to surmise if it were possible that I could live without children.

Which is when I turned and confessed all this to my very new friend who was very kind and understanding as I ranted about my barters with God: I will give up any lofty career aspirations and settle down as a respectable banker if it means I get to have babies. I mean it, God. I will stop being wild. Errr, I will try really hard to stop being wild, but I can’t make promises once the babies come, because I want them to ride horses, camp under the open Wyoming sky and go on whale watching adventures on the coast.

For some reason just admitting to my barters about being a banker in exchange for babies, while she laughed and said she understood, caused all the egg count and swaddled babies that I might never hold, and ideas that I could possibly be undeserving of a baby to disappear into the Western sky.

I stuck my hand back into the too-salted popcorn box, popping handfuls into my mouth and washing it down with my can of damn fine beer. The sky was a deep blue, yet the mountainous outlines were black against the blue, like a very fetching bruise.

I let out my breath again and decided I’d be okay. This was nice. The young wrangler girl was nice. And the rodeo sure was nice.

As we walked past all the corrals of animals upon leaving, I dreamily took in all their beauty. The wildness of the horses and bulls and even the baby calves struck me and I told my friend, “I want them all!” To which she laughed again and nodded, like why not?

Maybe, just maybe there will be a way for me to have the wildness, the West and little cowboys of my own. If I have learned how to saddle, make fresh cheese from scratch after milking a cow, not take my instructor’s eye out when learning to cast a fly line and rope a plastic calf, then I suppose anything is possible. At least, that’s what the West would have a girl like me believe.