Notes From The Campsite

When I camp, my first withdrawal symptom is time: checking it, knowing it, referencing it, noting it. If you’re camping right, you shouldn’t NEED time: wake up when you wake up, have lunch when the sun is somewhere above your head, start building a fire when it gets a bit dim. Oh but I want it, I crave it. Give it to me pleeeeeaaase. I’m camping where there is no cell reception and certainly no wifi, and thank the fire pit gods for that, or I’d be watching YouTube instead of this cute-ass little newt near my foot. Oh, and that one there. Oh and… dear god, these mini demon lizard dudes have me surrounded.

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I think it was a tool manufacturer who once said “You’re only as good as your tools.” I generally believe that. I’ve had two pieces of equipment fail on this outing: my Coleman 2-burner camp stove (first morning) and my Coleman cooler (as I was packing the truck). Both are vintage, look cool, and are well-made, and old shit breaks. Good fortune befell me, as I had my previous cheap plastic cooler and previous cheap 1-burner stove close at hand. Is the lesson to be learned here ‘always have spares and backups’? Fuck no. I hate carrying extra shit. I hate owning extra shit.

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I always have the urge to bring less and inevitably I bring more. My desire to pare things down to The Basics — whatever that’s supposed to be — is superseded by my ‘be prepared for thirty contingencies’ anxiety-packing. And also my love of snacks. A dog doesn’t help the situation, and neither would another human. But it’s mostly the snacks.

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I loathe the popular view of camping as just being a person’s regular indoor life temporarily moved to a campground: battery-operated coffee grinders, crank up a stereo, run a camper van air conditioner off a generator, little decorative outdoor lights. I expect I’ll eventually see someone sitting on a couch in a carpeted screen tent watching Netflix on a big monitor. Accessories and gadgets and bullshit. Noise and light and noise. I’m not claiming to be immune to the allure of all of it, but I generally attempt to not disturb my fellow campers and I wish they’d do the same for me. You’d think people would go into the woods to… be in the woods. Shut up and stare at a fire and listen to the fucking owls, man.

I’ve never been real wilderness camping, but I’d like to try it. But I also appreciate toilets and potable water and the illusion of a social contract that states I will not be throat-slit by lawless night travelers. I would prefer to not be night murdered. I worry about safety — mine, my dog’s, my stuff. I worry about worry and I huddle by the fire and write about it. What was that noise? There, in the darkness? Anxiety seeps from my pores and mixes with my slick coating of Deep Woods Off™. If a mosquito comes near me it will need therapy.

I take Buddy on a short-but-steep hike up to a fire tower. She is off-leash, a rarity, but she is a Good Dog, the kind that gets a little ahead of you on the trail and looks over her shoulder to check on you. Is this okay? Yes, Good Dog. It is okay. When we reach the fire tower, I pull out my phone. Reception. It is 9:22 am, yes. It’s 78 degrees, mm hmm, yes, my precious yes. 1,697 feet above sea level, you say? Mmmm. The data must flow.


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