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.

The Winds Are Changing

Winds in the east / Mist coming in / Like something is brewing / About to begin / Can’t put me finger / On what lies in store / But I feel what’s to happen / All happened before.
-Bert, a la Mary Poppins

Lately I have been giving a lot of thought to being lost. While there have been many times in my life that I have felt lost, usually it has mattered little to me as I have always felt a bit un-tethered. Once while on a road trip with a past love, I groused to him that I had tried braiding my hair to tame it, but that it had exploded upon itself anyway.

He replied, “I guess that means you can’t be tamed.”

Even though I had used the word tame in regards to my wild curls, I loved that he threw it back to me in describing my wild spirit. I found it to be a high compliment and nodded to myself that it was so. I certainly could not be tamed.

I realized, however, with my epiphany in the bathroom the other day, staring at my body and not feeling shame, that I feel a little less lost in myself. The importance of this didn’t occur to me until today. Well last night really. I couldn’t sleep because the rain was splattering so furiously on my windows that it kept jarring me from sleep.

Though I checked my phone multiple times to find it was still the middle of the night I started to feel awake and with my alertness, I began to feel a little lost. A few years ago when I lived in Wisconsin I used to feel so lost that I would wake up in the middle of the night, look across the room into the mirror, catch my reflection and not know who I was looking at. I felt like a displaced person inside of myself and it happened all the time. It was unsettling to say the least, but I couldn’t put my finger on why it happened so frequently.

Now I suspect it had something to do with my vast unhappiness in my own skin.

But when I woke up last night it wasn’t the kind of lost I used to feel in Wisconsin, instead this felt like a directional sort of lost. This one I was more familiar with and could identify as part of my gypsy spirit, the part of me that needs something more … somewhere … but I am not yet sure what.

When I left New York City I had the same feeling. At first I knew I needed the flat farmlands of my hometown of Fowlerville, Michigan, to soothe me, but that didn’t satiate me long—it never does—and shortly after abandoning New York I knew I needed the mountains. That’s all I could think was mountains, I need the mountains and their vastness. And their “good tidings,” as John Muir says. I felt claustrophobic after leaving New York City and the mountains seemed the perfect antidote to that.

Now, all I knew was I needed the North. I needed Lake Superior. I needed to be on the lookout for moose and the moving green mists of the Northern Lights. I needed dense forests and zero traffic. I needed my sisters. After that I didn’t know what I needed or where to go to get it but first and foremost the Great Up North seemed to be beckoning in her most alluring way.

I often feel that a lot of people couldn’t or wouldn’t comfortably understand my need for abrupt change, but the best way I can describe it is this:

“Not all who wander are lost.”
-J.R.R Tolkien

So while I feel a bit like Mary Poppins noting that the wind has changed and there is nothing to be done but follow it, I don’t feel internally lost. I feel ready for a good wander. Internally, I have never felt more secure.*

 

***
I wrote this post before I moved yet still wanted to post it, but my secure-ness has shaken a little—err a lot—and my lost-ness has intensified. But alas at one point I felt certainty in the wind change. Now… well now I am just finding comfort in myself, deep down where God resides.