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.

Consider Me Wooed

Okay so the great thing about Wyoming is she is so unbelievable that I find myself in a constant state of awe and wonder. I am perpetually wooed by the state of grandeur, old world charm and epic mountaintops. Furthermore I feel so present in every moment of my existence that I find myself enamored just to be. As someone who has always struggled to stay present in a singular moment, but instead, worries and ruminates over the future, or obsesses over the past, it has been downright shocking how perfectly present I have felt in all of my moments here in the West.

I am present when waitressing and meeting new people and hearing their stories. I am present when off gallivanting in the mountains. I am present when beneath the star speckled night sky in front of a crackling fire, surrounded by towering pines. I am present when sticking my toes in every stream, flowing river or body of water I can locate.

I feel hyper-aware that I am alive. I almost tingle with it. And as someone who is prone to anxiousness, when I am doing something mundane like running an errand, or grocery shopping, I find myself getting anxious to get back up the mountain and continue my tree-hugging, free spirited, high on mountains existence.

But… there’s always a but. I feel somewhat guilty and childish about it all. I know I wax a lot about how I am getting older and how I suppose that means things like I ought to lock down a mortgage or a man. But instead I am flitting about the country. Playing in the hills with a country boy who happens to constantly pick me wildflowers and helps push me up hills when they are too steep and I am out of breath, or brings me a shot of tequila when I have a bad day and joke that I need a shot of tequila to deal with my frazzled nerves.

But I in no way want to lock anything down and that makes me feel like a somewhat useless adult. I want a home sure. I ache when I watch HGTV. But then I love my propensity to roam. And right now my roaming led me to a mountaintop in which my sis and I have been gifted with a beautiful 1950’s style trailer surrounded by hordes of pencil sharp pines, and complete with turquoise appliances and a fire pit . And yes I want babies. But then today in the coffee shop where I am writing, someone came in with a newborn who, while quite cute, kept screaming and I overheard the mother say she hadn’t gotten sleep in 34 hours. I nearly choked on my coffee. Thirty-four hours?! I freak out if I get less than six hours and pretty much go on a war rampage for coffee and then insist on a nap. Actually my new life of high mountain adventure and long work days waitressing has led me to take daily naps again. How could I nap or flit off to Jackson Hole and the Tetons with cute boys and a car full of pb&j’s, wild game jerky and blankets if I had crying newborns?

Okay, realistically of course I will do anything to have my own crying newborns and fixer-upper worthy of HGTV renos one day, but in the meantime, the bonfires, sticky s’mores, spontaneous road trips through jagged peaks and winding rivers, horseback rides, hand-holding with a bearded outdoorsman, and hail-soaked hikes to places called Garden of the Gods seem otherworldly in their present perfection.

And maybe that’s the point of all this anyway. If living on a mountaintop has taught me to be fully alive in the moments of wildflowers and adventure as much as the moments of hail and tequila necessity then I reckon I am exactly where I ought to be.