This is an activity I really don’t get.
Recently, I experienced my first backpacking overnight. We headed for the central Idaho destination with the bang-up name, Fourth of July Lake. Reasonable walk. Acceptable elevation.
However, when was the last time you strolled two thousand feet up wearing a twenty-five pound pack? I’m not wild about walking to my bathroom in a twenty-five pound pack, let alone four miles uphill. Plus those backpacks are made for someone with a long, tube-like trunk. Not for someone fifteen inches from collar to belt. So, physically incompatible, I nonetheless had to stoop slightly, keep my hands under the shoulder straps, elbows at ninet degrees, and be cinched up. While still breathing.
I’m convinced it is impossible to be a successful camper without having served two to four in the armed service of your choice. Camping is an organizationally intensive sport. Second only to rigging a sailboat.
Every item you bring on a camping trip must meet these criteria: be lighter than a green bean, able to perform a minimum of three high tech functions, and fit in a stuff sack. We had seventeen on one overnight. Virtually everything is rolled into a stuff sack. Barbeque forks, stove, underpants, ibuprofen, collapsible doggy bowl. Color coded. By category. The only thing that defies admittance to the stuff sack, is the air mattress. What a useless thing that is. About as comfortable as sleeping on a large pop tart , and, even under the helpful weight of a seven hundred pound grizzly, incapable of losing enough air to get even its little valve in a stuff sack.
The tent is perhaps the most organizationally intensive. Poles are awarded their own sack, as are ground pins. Both are rolled inside the neatly layered ground tarp, tent, and fly sheet. And, if you attended M.I.T., all fits easily into a you- know-what roughly the size of a large sausage.
Of course no level of tent organization overcomes the critical nature of site selection. Now, I looked for a flat spot, but lakes are surrounded by hills. Otherwise, if the surrounding land were flat, they’d be swamps. So, my site had a bit of a slope. Perfect for a good soapbox derby; lousy for sleeping. All night I kept skidding down to the bottom of the tent. Now my sleeping bag is one of those human cornucopias, so, if two-thirds of your body is forced into its depths, your knees get stuck sideways and extraction is virtually impossible. Even if you’re an extra with Cirque du Soleil. Plus there’s the clothes as a pillow thing. Now if you’re snow camping and can roll up an eiderdown snowsuit, that’s ok. But trying to get proper head and neck support on a tank top and nylon shorts? I don’t think so.
Let’s see where we are here. You’ve put up the tent, hauled rocks for the fire safety circle, purified water for the night, destuffed the stuff sacks, and now it’s time to gather wood for the fire. In the abstract this seems almost romantic; Hansel and Gretelesque. In reality, you are on a hill in a western Idaho conifer forest. The wood is either wet, decayed or petrified to the tree. And remember, the hill thing is like living in a fifth floor walk up, with your chord on the first. Tiring. I gathered a stack of wood the size of a gold miner’s lean-to. Gone in under one hour.
But, work and organization cannot out poop the real party poopers. Those flying, sucking, skreeing spoil sports I assumed were busy at sea level in ninety-degree east coast humidity. No amount of B-6, citronella, Skin-So-Soft, or frogs in your underwear can handle the high altitude mosquito. So, I slathered myself in one of the ten early warning signs of cancer, 100% deet. A friend said if you taped that little screech they make and slowed it way down like on “Abby Road”, it too would say, “I buried Paul”. I’d like to rip their vile little vocal chords out.
Maybe camping is ok if you get through all the set up and reach the point of sipping a great Silver Oak, searching the star-laden sky for life beyond Orion’s Belt, and being quietly given a DeBeers brooch wrapped in a dewy leaf.
But I don’t think so.
Hike up to Fourth of July Lake, sit on a log, eat a Power Bar. Jog down. Check the moon out as you drive to your favorite restaurant in town. Sit outside on the patio, bond by the fire, and go home to your soft, squishy queen-size bed with real cotton sheets.
And, if categorizing yourself as an outdoor person is important…leave the door open.