Solo Camping

Musings

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.

Forever West

Musings

I have loved my time in the West so immensely, that I naturally wanted to do a salute to my experience here. I am mostly at a loss for words as to how to tell you of my deep and abiding love for this place and so without the words for it, I have instead rounded up some (errr a lot) of my favorite photos from my time spent here in the mountains.

I hope you sense the love.

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Some Version of Camping

Musings

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About a week ago, after a six day work week of ten hour days spent hustling between tables and scraping leftover bites of pancake into the trash, it was imperative that Kirst and I escaped the lodge for a bit. And truly escaped, meaning no day spent off catching up on cleaning, or paying bills or driving two hours down the mountain to go linger in coffee houses. No, none of that. We were going to instead be one with Mother Nature. We were going camping. Or as my good friend Francis would say, campin’.

We left our trailer in the early afternoon as I wanted to spend an unhurried morning lazily flipping through one of the 12 books on Hemingway I picked up from the library. As I readied the car and looked at the directions drawn out for me by a forest ranger for our designated nature adventure, I spotted Kirst coming in and out of our laundry room—which really doubles as one giant dressing room—with multiple bags. The route we needed to take was what the term “off-road” was coined for. We would need to cross a river that had washed out the road and then go straight up into the mountain, over various rocks and potholes big enough to be considered small gorges. I watched as Kirst loaded clothing piece after clothing piece and bag after bag into the living room.

“Do you want me to pack body wash?” she asked in passing.

“Why on earth would we need body wash for one night of camping?” I asked.

“I don’t know…” she said as she stuffed more clothes into her already heaping bag.

“Kirst, where do you think we’re going? Paris? Why are you packing so many outfits? We are coming back tomorrow.”

She disregarded me as she loaded up another bag with paints and books.

“You do realize we have to carry all this stuff across the river if my car can’t make it across.”

“Oh really?” she looked surprised that any work would be involved in this camping trip.

“We also have to carry the tent, the air mattress, the cooler, the food bag, the fire wood, the blankets, the pillows, the hammocks…”

“Oh…” she seemed contemplative over this information but still unwilling to downsize on any of her “essentials.”

We were going to have to cross the river in the car. Or camp elsewhere. Or I would simply have to accept that camping with Kirst meant some version of glamping where she put on her white wedge sandals for the ride to look the part of fashionable summer gal.

At this point I should note that my tire had all but disintegrated a few nights prior and my good pals had to put the spare on… which was still on. I meant it when I said no errands and no runs to town on my day off, even for tire repair. Which left us with the question of do we ford a river in a somewhat sissy SUV with a spare on to get to Calvin Lake to camp?

Well ya know that joke, Why did the chicken cross the road… To get to the other side. I think the chicken must have worked a whole bunch of overtime, waiting tables at a mountain lodge and had this one beautiful coveted day off a week and he had heard of this pristine lake on the other side of a road that had been flooded and so naturally he was getting to that other side. My only confusion is why this is considered a joke. This is no joke, man. I totally get why that chicken was willing to get plowed down by a vehicle to see what was over yonder. I was willing to risk getting stuck in a river, on a mountain, with no cell service, just for a glimmer of what I knew was tucked into the Big Horns.

When we arrived at said river and the sign that said Road Closed, I hesitated for a moment staring at the water. It didn’t look too deep or fast flowing. Though my SUV is a baby brat, she does have one thing going for her and that is height. I asked Kirst her thoughts and she told me to just gun it. And so I did. I fucking forded a river. In my girly SUV. With the spare on. That’s exactly how Lewis and Clark would’ve handled that slight dilemma too.

Okay, so for making it across the river, my vehicle could not make it up the next road which was straight incline combined with jagged grooves of dirt and rock. I tried going up anyway and made it about halfway before having to reverse all the way back down.

Kirst and I decided to find a camping spot in the nearby woods and mountaintops and then hike up to the lake instead. While setting up our hammocks I went to retrieve rope from the car and felt a presence near me. I lifted my eyes to see a moose staring back at me from about 100 yards away where the grass dipped into a creek.

My heart stopped and I quickly ducked down so he wouldn’t see me. Kirst who was off to my left, tucked into the forest was oblivious. I loudly whispered, “Kirst!” several times until she looked at me and I motioned her over while pointing with big eyes at our visitor who now had dipped his head into the creek. Kirst came over and together we stood on the inside ledge of the car leaning over for a good look.

From time to time the moose lifted his head up, met our eyes, and then dipped back down to munch on grass and gulp water. We were giddy as we repeatedly looked at each other, then looked at him. Well as long as he stayed where he was and we had a ton of steel between the two of us as protection in case he decided to charge.

After hiking up our appetite on the way to see Calvin Lake, we discussed food on the way back down and how I forgot to pack the marshmallows while Kirst was busy packing multiple outfit changes.

“Is there anything else we could roast?” she asked as she navigated her way back down the trail. I followed behind taking photos.

“No,” I said.

“Well I am going to roast your fingers then,” she quipped. I smiled, delighted by her response. “Or we could roast some ants or cockroaches. You know some people do that… Actually I couldn’t be one of those wilderness survival people. I love the wilderness but if I was in that situation, I’d just let wilderness take me down.” I laughed as I watched her touch tree branches and observe Mother Nature.

We got nestled back in our tent just as it began to rain. We devoured our snacks. Now this is where maybe I didn’t get the memo on appropriate camping snacks as instead of buying some ballpark franks and mallows, I had packed proscuitto, goat cheese, hummus, pita crackers, veggies and dark chocolates. Errrr and maybe some mint oreos for extra chocolate measure. Oh and Leinenkugels. Lots and lots o’ Leinenkugels.

We lounged and read and napped and hammocked in the breezy Wyoming high country. We awoke to a clear sky and snorts from a nearby animal. I froze thinking the moose was back and surely would trample the tent with us in it. I peaked out and saw a deer meandering past.

I unzipped the tent and went to make the fire.

We sat beside it basking til dusk and then went back into the warmth of the tent to play Scrabble and await the midnight sky and the star show that would ensue. When we unzipped again, the sight before us was nothing short of Godly in its overwhelming perfection. We oohed and ahhed and shivered and took turns peeing one last time behind the car.

As soon as we were back in the tent we heard nearby snorts again and froze, looking at each other in girlish irrational fear. We each located the large and imposing knives Francis had sent with us. We told ourselves it was just deer and put one knife on either side of the bed and hunkered down in cozy abandon.

I awoke several times in the night shivering in the frigid mountain air, clinging to Kirst for warmth and more warmth, twining my legs around her, to acquire all of her body heat. I borderline wanted her to just lie on top of me, maybe even my head so I could get some relief from the chill, but I dozed in and out clinging to her, breathing hot huffs on myself to perhaps warm my nose.

Even though every time I camp, it ends up being the worst nights sleep of my life: I wake up on a rock, with a dewy tent on my face, my back is stiff, or I am chilled to my very marrow, it seems entirely worth it for the endless stretches in nature, free from Facebook or work concerns and then those happy run-ins with moose and abandoned fishing poles on mountain lakes.

Honestly, if you haven’t camped, or glamped as Kirst and I would do it—with tall wedge sandals and prosciutto—well then, you are missing something truly grand. Even if you have to sleep with a knife under your bed and your sister on top of you.

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