Tuesday, October 4, 2011

You Want Me to Sleep Where?

I didn’t grow up camping. I didn’t spend fabled evenings falling asleep under stars, unless those glow in the dark ones you put on your ceiling when you’re a bored 13 year old count. Other than wheezing my chubby buns around a track in gym class, I wasn’t much of an outdoorsman. I did lay down in my fair share of leaf piles, but my love-affair with the crisp golden leaves of the New England fall ended abruptly when a neighbor boy pointed out that countless spiders and creepy crawlers were sharing my bed.  

I’ve come around quite a bit – I managed to become tightly wound enough by the age of 23 that fresh air, peace and quiet and even leaf piles took on a whole new appeal. Simple things like dirt and water and sand and sky provide welcomed counterbalance to my dense schedule.  And of course living in California makes loving the outdoors effortless; everywhere you turn there is an unforgettable experience to be had on a sun-drenched snow-capped mountain or in an empty meadow hundreds of feet above the breaking waves.

I came over to the dark side upon my first camping trip with B. He showed me that you could get comfortably rustic and get lots of exercise and fresh air while having the kind of fun that clears your mind surreptitiously.  There’s nothing better than returning from a weekend of camping and realizing you haven’t thought about work or worried about family or counted the urgent items on your to-do list. For someone who used to frequently have “relax with a book” on her calendar, I quickly recognized that decompressing without even having to try is invaluable. Trust me; I was shocked at how quickly I warmed up to camping. Shocked.  Even sitting here, outdoor personal hygiene, the absence of a dust buster, portable food and potable water and a sleeping bag on the ground sound terrible, but you put it all together and somehow the challenging logistics melt into the background.  If you give Momma Nature a chance, she has the funny way of making everything messed up and negative fall away, and your left with what’s simply right and good in this world.  I came away from that first camping trip short a few bags of marshmallows, but I felt so calm and happy that I knew the body odor and crippling fear of animal attack while peeing in the middle of the night were well worth it.

Since then, we’ve done some great camping trips and plenty of hiking. I wouldn’t go so far as to call me truly “outdoorsy,” but I would certainly say I’m pretty comfortable with “outdoorsy” activities. B is a real outdoorsman; he has the entire Coleman catalogue in a storage space somewhere. My lack of hardcore experience has inspired him to plan and execute what he now refers to as “luxury camping” trips. (If there is a toilet or shower within miles, he considers that luxury.) By his design, our camping trips have existed in a safe zone, a happy medium between extreme and what I can handle. I didn’t even realize we were doing the whole happy medium thing because for the past few years I’ve been too busy being proud of how “outdoorsy” I’ve become.  And then we went camping with a truly “outdoorsy” couple.

We had such a busy summer that by August I was on auto-pilot. I didn’t even notice when the emails failed to list “tent” on the “to bring” lists. I even read some comments about sleeping under the stars and thought, oh, how fun!” Clearly didn’t put two and two together and process that sleeping under the stars meant sleeping completely exposed. I must have overlooked the absence of any sheltering apparatus when B was packing the car, likely because I was busy picking out the right socks. When I was asking if B remembered biodegradable toilet paper, the water filter, our dinner, I didn’t think to ask if he remembered a tent. I was too distracted with cleaning the house for our return. When we met up with our fellow campers and shared hopes for a breeze across our faces as we slept in the warm night air, I was probably considering whether or not I had enough SPF on. I didn’t realize I should have said, “Screw the breeze. How are going to keep the spiders off our faces?”

The trip started with a hike/walk along a fire road in the blazing sun, an enticing river snaking through a gorge beneath us. After an hour or so we dropped into the gorge and with all personal belongings secured in wet packs and trash bags, down into the river. We swam with our packs bobbing in the water next to us, the walls of the gorge narrowing and receding at our sides. We crab-walked across slippery rocks and popped up into the brush on narrow dirt paths and came back out into the sun to plunge into the river again. The afternoon sun filled the wider parts of the gorge with unfettered rays and invaded the narrower parts in angled shards of light that fought through gnarled trees. By the time we arrived at our site, the day was softening into evening. Invigorated but tired, we were beginning to soften into it ourselves.

To Be Continued....Have to help B make dinner!

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