Let There Be Light

22 03 2010

While on a tour of Wind Cave National Park, the guide stopped us deep in the underground caves — caves we had reached via elevator — and shut off all of the lighting.  I have never seen dark so dark as that.  There was no light source whatsoever, so there was absolutely nothing for our eyes to adjust to.  It was eerie and unsettling.

We city girls live in a world where nighttime isn’t anywhere near that dark.  At night, streetlights and lights from buildings create a haze and glow that settles over the city, casting shadows but never really going full dark. 

In the woods, it is a different story.

When the sun goes down, you’re father away from the ambient light of metropolis, and the darkness grows thicker, almost tangible.  I have sat in a campground with my hand six inches from my face and not able to see it.  Try setting up your tent after dark, or even at dusk — or worse, try eating in the dark.  Not being able to see your plate is frightening to those of us who are slightly picky eaters.

The bottom line is that when you camp, you need a way to light your space.  I recommend three forms of lighting:

  1. The lanternLanterns are good when you need a little ambient light, and don’t want to move a focused beam around.  There are a variety of lanterns available, using different kinds of power.  We’ll elaborate on this topic for Wednesday.  For now, suffice it to say that there are lanterns that are powered by some form of fuel like kerosene or butane or propane, and there are those powered by batteries or electricity, some rechargeable.  There are benefits and drawbacks to all kinds.
  2. The flashlight.  Having a good, powerful flashlight is important.  I like Maglites because they are durable and powerful — however, they also weigh a ton, so if you’re backpacking you may want a lighter choice.  The Mini-Maglites are good for your day pack, because they weigh a lot less.  Flashlights with LED bulbs instead of regular bulbs are more durable, last longer, and expand battery life.  There are also flashlights that you shake or wind to produce power, but I haven’t tried these personally.
  3. The headlamp.  This is key.  The first time you arrive at a campsite after dark, you will understand why.  Having to set up a tent or make dinner with a flashlight clutched between your teeth or under your chin so you can use both hands is extremely difficult and annoying.  The solution?  A light that straps to your head, so when you move your head the beam moves to where you need to look.  Ingenious.  Don’t skimp on the headlamp.  Get one that is good quality and will last a long time, and that fits comfortably.  It’ll be the light you use the most frequently whilst in the great outdoors.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

Hi, My Name Is

15 03 2010
No it’s not Slim Shady, but that’s what you were thinking. Right?

I’ve lived my entire life in New England.  New Englanders are a hearty bunch: they know how to prepare for hurricanes and nor’easters, trudge patiently through piles of snow and slush, and wait out an eighty-six year World Series drought.  New Englanders aren’t known for being particularly friendly, however.  They keep to themselves, don’t trust strangers and newcomers, and mind their own business.

This is why I was surprised, upon visiting other parts of the country, to have random strangers smile and say hello to me on the street.  I kept thinking, “do I know that guy?”  I just wasn’t used to the idea that a person would interact willingly with the strangers around them, even in passing. 

This interaction with strangers is even more pronounced on the trail — the hiking trail, that is.  Outdoorsy people are a friendly bunch, and it’s considered appropriate to exchange greetings with hikers you pass along the way.  In addition to being friendly, it’s also safety-related; when a hiker nods and smiles and says hello, he’s really saying, “Everything going all right?”  And when you nod and smile and say hello back, you’re really saying, “Everything’s fine, thanks for asking.”

Last week, we talked about the importance of choosing the right trail — and that applies to campsites, as well — in order to find the right balance between your enjoyment of nature and your comfort with the level of solitude you’re facing.  I personally like trails where I can meet other people, and so here we are at the Good Stuff part of picking the right trails:

Meeting People On the Trail (and at Camp)

As always, there’s caution to be taken here, and using your head, and all that other stuff we’ve been talking about for the past six months.  It’s understandable to be a little shy about interacting with others you meet, and cautious about sharing too much information.  That’s just good sense.

However, there are lots of good people out there on the trail.  In particular, if you’re on a relatively populated trail, your chances of running into a serial killer are slim.  He wouldn’t pick that trail — too high a chance of getting caught.  Someone smiling at you might just be being friendly and checking in (in fact, that’s probably what they’re doing).  If you’re very nervous, pick out the people with kids to talk to; they’re too busy making sure their kids don’t fall off the mountain to be dangerous.

Here’s another benefit to making friends on the trail: sometimes, you need someone to give you a push.  One day, when I was hiking the Bright Angel Trail at the Grand Canyon in 110 degree heat, I was in bad shape.  I had another mile and a half to the top, and while I had plenty of water, I felt like I had to stop and rest at every switchback, because while hiking alone, all I could hear was my labored breathing and my heart pounding.  I sat on a rock in a brief piece of shade to take a break, and after a moment a man sat down on the rock next to me, asking if I minded.  I shook my head, still breathing heavily.  We started chatting.  He was alone too, and asked if I’d be his company for the rest of the hike.  That last mile and a half absolutely flew by.  We talked about nothing I can remember, but we didn’t stop again until we reached the top.  Having someone to push, and be pushed by, made that last portion of the hike much more enjoyable (and take much less miserable hot time!).

Meeting people can work in camp, too.  I found that I was more likely to strike up conversations in the morning than at night, in particular if I was moving on that day, because it felt less risky.  Retired couples in RVs in particular like to share their bacon with the daring, interesting girl who slept in that little tent.

Besides, meeting people is fun!  So just smile and say “Hi.”  You might end up with lifelong — or trail-long — friends.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

Announcing Contest Winner!

16 02 2010

Well we didn’t get ten entries, but the entries we got were so good I decided to go ahead and award a prize anyway.

In order to be sufficiently fair, I gave the entries to a neutral third party — a fellow hiker/camper who has no idea who any of the entrants are — and asked him to pick the winner.

In the end, Neutral Guy was so impressed he picked not one, but two, insisting that it was a tie.  So, without further ado…drumroll, please…the winners are:

1. Jennifer Floyd, for her tale of triumphing over adversity, conquering the Boundary Waters, and not clocking her father with her oar.  Neutral Guy said, “I like the ‘I f-ing hate this/ok, keep paddling/now I remember this fondly’ tone of this story.”

2. CityGirlWhoRarelyCamps, for her tale of being awed by the night sky while at summer camp as a child.  Neutral Guy said that “there is not much better than being out at night somewhere where the sky lights everything up.”

Congratulations to both of you!  Select your photo, let me know which one you’ve selected, and I will send along your prize!

Thanks to everyone who participated.  I loved hearing your stories, all of them, and they got the juices flowing on some ideas I have of my own.

You can read all of the entries here.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

Planning is Half the Fun

20 01 2010

If you read last week’s post about Rule #7 (Tell someone where you’ll be), you may be grumbling a little.  I know, I know.  You’re spontaneous.  You can’t be held to a plan.  You need adventure, and that means heading out into the great wide open with little more than a desire to explore.

You, being spontaneous.

This is fine, as an attitude.  I actually encourage it, and embrace it myself.  But a desire to be spontaneous, to let the east wind carry you to the door of your next unknown adventure, doesn’t mean that you can’t engage in at least some planning and preparation.  Remember, when we set out on this journey together I said that solo hiking and camping can be safe — with a little preparation and precautions.  With the preparation, you can stop worrying about danger and get on with the enjoyment…which is kind of the point, right?

Besides, planning is fun.  When I was a kid, I would watch, fascinated, as my dad spent the better part of the year planning our annual vacation.  He would pore over travel guides from AAA, send away for brochures and amusement park maps (this was pre-Internet), make lists and add up prices and plot courses and analyze maps.  He had so much fun doing it, I sometimes wondered if he had more fun planning the vacation than actually being on it.

I inherited this planning fascination from him.  When I took my long road trip, I spent a couple of months planning — researching equipment I would need, places I wanted to go, people with whom I could stay, sites to see, etc.  I looked at driving times between parks, mapped out routes, looked at websites on American roadside kitsch.  (Of course, I didn’t have this blog to help me…)  It was scary — because I wasn’t certain I could do it — but it was also exciting.

Look how much fun they're having!

Here are some good things about planning and not leaving everything to spontaneity:

  • Anticipation: Planning lets you have fun with your trip before you go, because you can imagine yourself on the trip and get excited for it. 
  • Eliminating Potential Problems: No, you can’t foresee everything.  (Unless you can, in which case you know what I’m going to say next.)  You can anticipate potential issues that might arise and make provisions for them ahead of time.  If you know you’re going to be in a place where the weather is cold, for example, you can pack warm clothing and avoid a) frostbite or b) maxing out a credit card buying new clothes.  If you eliminate these issues before they happen, you don’t have to worry about them while you’re supposed to be having fun.
  • Find stuff you never would have seen otherwise.  Okay, this goes both ways.  If you don’t plan at all, you might miss something unbelievable because you didn’t know to look for it.  On the other hand, if you stick too hard and fast to your plan, you run the risk of missing something unbelievable because you didn’t take the time to notice it.  Balance, my child, is the key.  But the point here is that by planning, you might run across something truly interesting that you wouldn’t have otherwise stumbled across on your own.
  • Know what you’re getting into.  This is probably the most important benefit of planning, at least from a safety perspective — and is also connected to eliminating potential problems noted above.  If you know that the hike you’re planning is 5 miles, and moderately strenuous, you can guage how much time you need.  If you have the right map, you can figure out if you’re on the right trail or get yourself un-lost if you make a wrong turn.  All of this makes for safer, and therefore more fun, solo hiking.

Finally, planning doesn’t have to mean you give up spontaneity entirely.  Planning can provide merely a framework…and then you can decide to stick to the plan or not, depending on your whim.  And if you do decide to switch it up at the last minute, you can text/facebook/call/leave a note like we talked about last time…

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.

Thanks for 2009!

28 12 2009

Acadia NP in Winter

Her Side was on hiatus last week in the madcap dash to Christmas (and I still have gifts to wrap and ship…I don’t know how this happens to me), and will be checking out again after this post until January 4, but I wanted to take this opportunity to say:

Thank you.

Thank you for reading, for commenting, for emailing me and telling me that I have inspired you.  Thank you for allowing Her Side to spend the last few months of 2009 figure out how the heck to do this blog thing.  Thank you for providing feedback, making requests, and sticking around.

A look back at 2009:

  • September 8: Her Side of the Mountain launches with a post entitled “Carpe Diem,” a photo of Buffy and Willow, and a joke about carp.  Let’s keep carpe-ing the diem in 2010.
  • September 27: Ken Burns’ documentary series “National Parks: America’s Best Idea” airs.  Someone says to me, “I thought I’d be bored but I couldn’t stop staring at the footage.  There are places that look like that for real?”  Yes, Virginia, there is a Yellowstone.  And not just in our hearts.
  • October 5: Her Side posts a photo of Henry Ford (beside a quirky and topical quote attributed to Ford), and thereby receives a vast influx of visitors because a LOT of people search for Henry Ford each and every day.  Each and every day. 
  • November 7: A couple of Her Side’s friends get lost in the woods in the dark and  provide Her Side with its first real-life reason to say “I told you so.”
  • December 28: Her Side gears up for the new year, makes lots of resolutions, and comes up with loads of brilliant new ideas (see below!).

Coming up in 2010:

  • New Year’s Resolutions.  Yes, let’s make them, and let’s make them fun to keep.  Who’s with me?
  • The completion of posts about the Rules and the Good Stuff.  We’re about halfway there.
  • More (hopefully many more) hike reviews and guides (with photos!).
  • Food.  I’ve been digging into some hiking/camping food sites and cookbooks…once I’ve had the opportunity to try some of this out, I can pass some suggestions along to you and we can discuss.
  • I respond to your requests and suggestions.  So keep ’em coming.

Happy New Year, everyone.

What the Heck Do I Get…Part 2

14 12 2009

So the holiday shopping continues.  As I stand in a sea of screaming children, frazzled mothers, and harried fathers, I wonder why I didn’t start my shopping earlier.  And then I wonder what the heck to get the people on my list.  To help you avoid this, Her Side presents:

Holiday Gift Guide #2:

Gifts for your significant other who claims to hate the outdoors.

When discussing this list with a couple of friends, one of them asked, “there are people who hate the outdoors?”  Unfortunately, the answer is yes.  I know a couple of them personally.  I haven’t been in a significant relationship with anyone like this, but can imagine the inner struggle.  How can you turn around this unholy prejudice, so that your S.O. can embrace the wonders of hiking and camping and nature by your side?  And how can you do so without pissing them off and spoiling the holidays?

While I make no guarantees about the second,  here are a few suggested gift items to help you inspire your S.O. to at least give the outdoors a try.

Earth, the DVD: This mini-documentary narrated by James Earl Jones contains footage from the Discovery Channel’s Planet Earth series.  While some have criticized this movie as a lesser version of the series on which it is based, its length (90 minutes) makes it a little more friendly to those who aren’t already inclined to watch documentaries.  For the full effect, you could opt for the full series, of course…but the idea here is to inspire.

National Parks DVD: For a more targeted approach, and particularly if your S.O. does like documentaries, there’s the Ken Burns’ triumph, National Parks – America’s Best Idea, that debuted this fall.  The images are awe inspiring, and you can follow up the movie with the suggestion that you and your S.O. could actually visit these places and see them for yourselves…if he/she was willing to give it a try.

Go Go Gadgetry: If your S.O. is a gadget fiend, then there are plenty of enticing toys with lots of buttons and functions that can be used while hiking and camping.  Even a relatively basic and affordable GPS device could be the temptation needed to make hiking more interesting for your favorite couch potato.  And if your S.O. is a gamer, you could even look into geocaching…it’s not something I do, but a lot of people enjoy it, and it could turn hiking into something a little more interesting for a gamer than an activity that is  “walking, but harder.”  (Yeah, someone said that to me once.)

Cushion of Comfort: A lot of the time people who don’t like the outdoors feel that way because they think it’s uncomfortable.  Your job, then, is to make this a little easier on their tender constitutions.  Step one: providing a high quality camping air mattress so they don’t have to sleep on the hard ground.  Trust me, this works wonders towards convincing someone to go camping.

Personalized Water Bottle: Maybe your S.O. will be less hesitant if they’re sporting their own water bottle with some photo, name, or saying that has personal meaning to them.  Or to the both of you.  If your S.O. is a Twilight fan, maybe one of these is a good idea.  (Pssst.  Team Edward.  Just sayin’.)

Promise a Home-Cooked Meal: Again with an eye towards increasing your loved one’s comfort (or decreasing their worry of discomfort), you could promise to cook a wonderful meal while on your camping trip.  This will likely be met with skepticism, or perhaps curiosity.  Make sure you practice ahead of time so that you can deliver.

A Trade: Is there something your S.O. really loves and you really hate?  Maybe he/she loves the symphony.  Or football.  Or some other event that bores you to tears.  Well, now is the time to practice what you preach.  Get tickets to the event, or set up a day when you can spend doing what your S.O. loves.  Without complaint.  That way, next time you say, “honey, whaddya say we go camping this weekend?” he/she will feel a little more charitable towards the idea.  Okay, so that’s a little bit of a scam, but in the end, everyone is happy — and that’s what this is all about, right?

What the Heck Do I Get…

11 12 2009

I finally started my holiday shopping, which stresses me out quite a lot.  I wonder if I’m spending too much, or not enough.  The hardest people to shop for, by the way, are fifteen-year-old boys.  (You both know who you are.)

I always poke around gift guides online, but they never quite fit the person whose gift I’m trying to find.  For example, my dad is not a typical dad.  He doesn’t have any interest in tools, or cars, or sports, or gadgetry.  He doesn’t wear cologne, or ties, and is super picky about wallets, slippers, and other things that make normal “Dad” gifts.  But nowhere can I find a gift guide called “gifts for the dad who would rather be reading comic books or going to a Pretenders concert than watching football.”

So I’m going to put together a series of targeted, useful gift guides for your holiday shopping pleasure.  Here’s the first…

Holiday Gift Guide #1:

Gifts for your friend who loves to hike and camp, just had a baby, and swears her “life won’t change that much.”

This list pretty much writes itself, because I do have friends who love to hike and camp and do so with infants and toddlers.  (Once they’re older than that, you can give them a Swiss Army Knife and a package of waterproof matches and tell them to fend for themselves.  Kidding!!!  Kidding.  Really.)

Baby Backpack.  There are these really functional, sleek-looking hiking backpacks that have the normal spots and pockets for your hiking needs…and a place for your baby in the middle!  I have friends who swear by the Kelty brand, but there are a lot of options out there.

Portable Baby Bed.  I actually bought one of these for some friends (though I’m not 100% sure it was this model).  If they’re reading, maybe they can chime in with a review.  I think they look sort of hysterical (it’s a little pod! for your baby!  to protect him…and keep him in one place…), but they’re certainly functional, blocking harmful sun, bugs, and acting as a small playpen all at once.

Baby Sunglasses.  Cause really, this baby’s future is so bright, she’s gonna need shades.

Baby Sunscreen.  While we’re blocking the rays, baby sunscreen is another important way to protect the tot from harm while out of doors.

Hiking Strollers.  Seriously, when I saw this particular model, I did a double take.  I live in a city, so I see those funky joggers’ strollers all the time.  My best friend lives in the mountains of Vermont, so she had a big rugged stroller good for making dust out of boulders and leaping over muddy terrain.  But this model seems to be for hiking, and cross-country skiing.  It has a “child cockpit.”  If I ever have a baby, I want one of these.  Make a note.

Babysitting.  If all else fails, grab some construction paper and glitter (or, if you aren’t that creative, get one here) and make up a certificate for a day of babysitting.  That way your friend can leave the little one in safe care and hit the trails on her own or with her significant other. 

You can find more ideas about hiking and camping with babies here.

Happy holidays!  More gift guides to come…and if there’s a specific category you’d like to see addressed, let me know in the comments!

On A Magic Carpet Ride

4 12 2009

As I’ve been writing Her Side, I have come across a number of other fantastic sites (yes, by using the word “other” I am implying that Her Side is fantastic), usually blogs, usually related to travel or the outdoors, and usually written by women.  Come on an around-the-blogworld-in-less-than-ten-minutes expedition with me.  You’ll like what you see.

The Daily Coyote

The Daily Coyote is a beautiful mostly-photo-but-with-some-lovely-writing blog by Shreve Stockton, author of the book The Daily Coyote (but the blog came first).  Ms. Stockton moved to Wyoming on a whim because it called out to her heart, and found herself loving the savage land, a cowboy, and a coyote pup (now fully grown) named Charlie.  On the blog, she documents how she came to Wyoming, how she came to be Charlie’s mother, and how she raised him along with a cat, a dog, and now a cow and a horse.  Be forewarned: if you click the “start at the beginning” link, be prepared to lose several days reading the entries and gazing at the photos.

Dressed In Dirt

Then there’s Dressed In Dirt.  Dressed In Dirt is the A.T. name of a woman who lives in Portland, OR, spent two and a half months hiking the A.T., blogs about it and hiking and camping and other related things, loves the outdoors, and doesn’t think of herself as hardcore.  I beg to differ, Adelaide, because you’re definitely more hardcore than I am…but as you rightly say, “Everyone hikes their own hike.”  I’m just glad you’re sharing your writing, experiences, and photography with the rest of us — building a community of women solo hikers and campers is part of what I’m trying to do here too.

Around the World with Lillie Marshall

Lille Marshall is in the midst of a “Round the World” solo trip, having decided to take the plunge after six years of teaching and saving.  Having traversed Japan, Cambodia and Vietnam, and currently in Thailand, Lillie is writing about her adventures on her blog.  Lillie also happens to be a co-contributor on Go Girl.  Just sayin’, full disclosure and all.  But she really is fun to read.  Makes me start wondering if I could pull off that kind of trip…

Hiking Lady

And finally, there’s Hiking Lady.  Hiking Lady has a great site with a treasure trove of information and deals (my favorite part is the deals) and news about hiking.

Now, of course, this list isn’t exclusive, and I’ve seen more sites, so more reviews will come.  But in the meantime, help me find these great bloggers? 

What are your favorite camping/hiking/outdoors/female travel sites?

Bring it on.  I’m ready.

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.

Ho Hum.

4 11 2009

One of the questions that I am regularly asked about solo hiking, camping, or road-tripping is: “Don’t you get bored?” 

The answer: Sometimes.  But not as often as you’d think.

Now, I should say up front that whether or not I get bored does not necessarily have a bearing on whether you will be bored.  I was always one of those kids (and am now one of those adults) happy with a book and my own company.  That’s not to say I don’t enjoy being social, interacting with crowds, and being in the company of others.  I do.  But I also like having time to myself.  So I am probably less likely to get bored than someone who needs other people around all the time.

Still, fear of being bored shouldn’t stop you from giving the solo thing a try.  You might be surprised at how interesting you are to yourself.  Or how creative you can be when left alone for a while. 

Here are some ideas for how not to get bored while striking out solo:

Other people.  Yes, yes.  We’re talking about solo camping and hiking and road-tripping.  But just because no one you know right now is going with you, that doesn’t mean you’re entering some bubble where no other person exists.  To quote Willow, in response to Oz’s news that he has to go somewhere and not be around people for a while: “People?  Kind of a planetary epidemic.”

In National Parks, there are often tours and guided hikes that you can join — even informally.  I’ve been known to just tack myself on to the back of a tour (which, when I start asking questions, makes other people look at each other and think “who the heck is that?”)  There are likely to even be other solo travelers you can link up with for a hike, dinner, maybe even a portion of your trip.  Don’t be afraid to be friendly and make friends (of course, using your head and trusting your instincts all the while).

BooksRead.  If you’re like me, there are stacks of books you’ve been meaning to read, but you don’t take the time to do so.  I read snatches of books on the subway, but truly taking the time to lose oneself in a book is rare in this age of constant connection and communication.  When you’re packing for a long hike, go ahead.  Bring a book.  Read for a little while during your lunch break reward.  Read with your headlamp in your tent at night (though, from experience, I’ll caution you not to read a fast-paced cop/murder thriller while camping alone…you won’t get any sleep that night).  Read under a tree on the banks of the Mississippi.  Read in a bar. 

Side note: Oddly, I’ve had more people approach me while I’m reading than not.  Perhaps because it gives them an opening line.  I don’t know, but I’ve met more people over a book than while sitting and staring at a television or noodling on my phone.  So maybe reading can accomplish two things!

SingingListen to music.  So you’re on a road trip.  You’re by yourself.  You’re cruising along on a big empty road out west.  Where better to indulge your love of singing loudly and badly?  No one is around to hear you — or even see you (and if you’ve ever stopped mid-song in heavy traffic to see the guy in the car next to you pointing and laughing, you’ll know why that’s important).  Go ahead, put on your guilty pleasure music, that stuff you don’t want anyone to know you want to listen to.  Who’s judging?

Books on tape.  So this is a bit of an anachronism.  No one listens to books on tape anymore, or even books on CD.  It’s audiobooks, thank you very much.  Whatever you call them, the end result is that someone is reading a book to you.  If you aren’t sure you’d like this (for example, I hate being read to), pick a book you know you’ll like, or go with a recommendation from a trusted friend.  The key to a good audiobook is a) being interested in the book; and b) having it read well.  This second one is probably the most important, and now with iTunes and other online purchasing of audiobooks available, you can listen to snippets and see if you can stand the voice.

Podcasts.  Do I really have to explain this one?  There are bazillions of them.  Surely there’s one out there that will hold your attention.

WritingWrite.  If you keep a journal, you should have plenty to say while traveling.  If you write other things, like poetry or fiction, use the time to compose your epic.  Okay, so I’m a writer.  I am not, however, a journal-er.  I have never been able to keep a journal, something that has bothered me my entire life.   When I travel, however, it’s so important to me to record as much as possible so that I can use it in later writings (hey, like this!).  Alice Steinbach, in her lovely travel memoir Without Reservations, describes an ingenious method of keeping travel notes: send yourself postcards.  Yes, you heard me.  Do it every day.  Find a postcard you like at a place you stop, and that night, write out a sentence or two.  Something that made an impression, or something that someone said, or something you saw.  If that feels too weird for you, pick someone back home and send them a postcard every day.  The nice side benefit of this is that it also focuses your memory and forces you to reflect on what you have seen and done.

Learn something.  No, I don’t mean study physics (unless you really want to).  There are plenty of things to know, and one of the fun things about solo camping, hiking and road-tripping is that you can choose precisely which things you want to know more about.  As noted above, the National Parks often have guided hikes and tours, ranger demonstrations, and even museums.  If there’s nothing scheduled, chat up a ranger — they are usually glad to share their knowledge and expertise.  Go to a museum (even a non-National Park museum!) and wander at your own pace.  Grab the audio tour.  Find an old-timer sitting on a porch and ask him about his childhood.  Learn something.  And then, when you get back, you can impress your mom with stories.

You know what?  Sometimes you’ll be bored.  At least you’ll be bored while doing something interesting on the grand scale, rather than just sitting around your house.  And then you’ll find something else to do, and you won’t be bored anymore.

What about you?  How do you stave off the boredom while traveling alone?

Camping By Any Other Name

23 10 2009
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been talking a lot about camping.  Why mess with that now?  I thought it might be time to clarify what I’m talking about when I discuss camping.  In general, of course, I’m talking about pitching a tent and sleeping in it.  But more specifically, there are different kinds of camping:

There’s backpacking, in which you strap all of your supplies to your back and carry them to your intended site.  Sometimes these can be actual “sites” such as exist on the A.T., with shelters or raised platforms or designated cleared areas.  Other times you’ll have to clear your own spot (taking care to minimize your impact, of course). 

Shelter on the A.T.

Shelter on the A.T.

I’ve never done real backcountry backpacking.  In Ireland, I spent a few weeks with a frame pack strapped to my back and camped there, but it was by no means backcountry.  In high school, on two successive class trips, I camped in the woods at Chewonki, in Maine.  (Chewonki rocks.)  The first time, we pitched our canvas tents on raised platforms, cooked over a roaring campfire, and didn’t shower for a week.  The second time, we canoed and sailed around the Penobscot River and camped on islands and didn’t shower for a week.



Then there’s car camping.  Car camping does not mean that you sleep in your car (though, certainly, that’s a viable option in extreme circumstances).  Rather, it means that you pull your car up to a designated site, and set up there.

Car Camping

Car Camping

Most of my camping experience is car camping, as I note in Read This First.  There is a wide spectrum of campgrounds out there and the amenities you can find at these places.  I’ve seen places with swimming pools and movies and tennis courts and arcades.  Some have Wi-fi.  Others are more limited, with a small supply store and showers.  Some campgrounds in National Parks (though certainly not all) are primitive: no running water, showers, hook-ups, dump sites or facilities of any kind other than perhaps an outhouse.

A buffalo at the Sage Creek primitive campground in the Badlands, SD

A buffalo at the Sage Creek primitive campground in the Badlands, SD

There is also RV camping.  I have never done this.  I don’t really consider this camping, per se (but then, some people don’t think car camping is “real” camping, so who am I to judge?).  RV camping is, of course, when you pull your RV into a spot and park it there.  A lot of private campgrounds (and some in National Parks as well, although there are fewer of these), have dedicated RV sites.  They have bigger parking spots and often have “hook-ups” where the RV can plug into electrical outlets and sometimes even cable and internet.  Like I said, I’ve never done it, although I am intrigued.  It is, after all, a stereotypical American vacation.

RV Camping

RV Camping

So, thinking about all of these options, it got me to wondering:

What is the best type of camping experience?

I don’t really think there’s an answer to this.  I camp for a couple of reasons.  First, I enjoy it.  I like pitching the tent, and waking up in the morning and being a little bit self-sufficient.  Second, it’s a great way to stave off loneliness while traveling alone.  There is a certain comraderie that springs up between campers at campgrounds.  Think about it — it’s easier to meet people sitting at the next picnic table than in the next hotel room.  Third, there’s a transient nature to camping — the packing and unpacking and setting up and breaking down — that fits with and enhances a hiking road trip.  You don’t have to break your connection with the outdoors just because the sun goes down, and it feels nomadic to carry your shelter with you.  Finally, it’s an inexpensive form of lodging, which on long trips (or any trips, really) can be a huge bonus.

With all that in mind, then, what do I look for in a campsite, when camping alone?  Generally, the following: 

  • Bathrooms. 
  • Showers.  They aren’t a deal-breaker (unless I haven’t stayed in a place with a shower for a couple of nights, then I must have a campground with showers), but it’s a pretty strong preference.
  • Attendants.  Some campsites in National Parks, such as the Sage Creek primitive site pictured above, and the campgrounds at Bryce Canyon, aren’t manned.  You pay by finding an open spot, sticking your money in a box, and taking a little tag.  Or you don’t pay, if it’s free.  This is not to say that no one will come around and check on things, and this is also not a deal-breaker, but I really like it when there’s someone manning a front desk in case I have any problems. 
  • A pretense of seclusion.  I know I said that camping is a great way to meet people, and it is.  But I also prefer sites that have some wooded areas so that you can at least have the illusion of privacy between your tent and the one next door.
  • Other people.  When camping alone, at a campground, this is important to me.  At the primitive Sage Creek site pictured above, I arrived after a long drive on an unpaved road during which I had to stop my little sedan several times to wait for Buffalo to move along.  When I pulled in, I told myself that I was in the middle of nowhere and would go back and find somewhere else to stay unless there were other people there.  There were — one other solo tent-camper, and a couple of horse trailer/RVs.  So I stayed.  However, in Moab, UT, I chose not to stay at the campground on the side of the highway where only RVs were present.  It’s just a matter of balance, but having others around is a safety measure.  Also, sometimes they give you bacon (no joke, it happened to me twice on my road trip).

That’s about all I need.  I generally have no interest in pools/movies/arcades etc. when camping, because I use camping as lodging and not as a destination in and of itself.  A couple of nice-to-haves are a supply store and laundry facilities, but again, not terribly necessary.

So now it’s your turn.  What do you want in your campgrounds?

© Her Side of the Mountain, 2009.