The rain sounds like a wet drumbeat as it lands on top of the tarpaulin ceiling.
Outside everything glistens as the rain drips from leaf to leaf. A gray light envelops the canopy around me. Even though I am dry inside my sleeping bag, everything feels moist. I inch down into my cocoon and turn on my flashlight. I hear a faint humming noise close to my ear, like a miniature drone on the attack. I slap at my neck, but it is too late. The little bug has got me. I inch further inside my bag, closing the gap. “This is nice,” I sigh to myself as I turn the page of my book.
Abandoning the Luxuries
Every so often I become inured to the many luxuries in my existence and begin to bellyache about life. That is when my family reminds me that I should pack my essentials into my rucksack and set out for the woods. It is time for me to go camping. Camping, for me, is a chance to evaluate my mettle and discover how much I can endure going back to basic necessities. It is an experience that lets me do without many of the everyday indulgences I am used to. For a week I put myself at the mercy of nature and her creatures with only the primary elements to aid me: food, water, change of clothes, a fire starter, and my utility knife. With these I venture to survive in the (relative) wild of whatever national park takes my fancy. Within a few days I swiftly realize the many things I cannot live without.
While I have been told by a close friend that unbrushed teeth are the worst thing to experience in the hygiene department, I have to disagree. It is the lack of toilet paper that is the worst thing to experience. I traveled to Death Valley, California to study the salt flats there. In the middle of the night, on my stay, I found myself having to use the campground facilities. Half asleep and sweating from the desert heat, I blushingly realized too late that there was no toilet paper in my stall. Since I was the only one using the bathroom there was very little I could do. Which is why now I always carry my own tube when camping. I have come to see that toilet paper is useful beyond the lavatory doors. It comes in handy as a make shift bandage, a notepad, and a fire starter. I have even managed to rig a rudimentary telescope out of a roll. Most important of all, I am never lacking for toilet paper on my midnight forays at camp.
High and Dry
Having lived in houses built by other people, I began to fully appreciate the splendor of a dry roof only when I spent five days in Cévennes, France during a very rainy May. I had hoped to spend time among the forested valleys and ancient Protestant ruins. Instead, days of pelting storms and flooding rivers derailed my plans and left my tent unable to cope with the wetness. The roof began to leak in three different places, the ground’s sogginess seeped into my tarp cover, and everything became damp. Stepping outside got my clothes soaked and the rains attacked even my sleeping bag. So, for five days I spent my time hiding out, waterlogged inside my zippered blanket. I was never so thankful when the rains finally stopped dribbling down the insides of my tent. Now, before I go camping I always triple check my gear to make sure it is leak proof. I pay great attention to repairing holes, scratches, and abrasions. I put up an extra rain fly on top of my tent regardless of the weather. Ever since, I have appreciated the importance of staying dry.
Where’s the Light?
Rock climbing crimson colored sandstone arches was the reason I booked a trip to Arches National Park. Camping at this southeastern Utah spectacle is a delightful experience. Unless you forget to bring along a light. This happened to me on an autumn trip when I realized the impossibility of getting from point A to point B in pitch darkness. A late evening hike led me further than I thought, so that by the time the stars came out, I was still not near my camp site. I stumbled wildly, unsure if I were going in circles or heading towards my tent. I blindly searched my backpack for my flashlight but could not find it. Who knows how long I would have been tramping about aimlessly if I had not the luck to hear the sounds of laughter coming from a certain direction. Following the sounds, I finally saw the flicker of a campfire and the silhouettes of fellow backpackers. I had never been so elated to espy people. The campers escorted me to a ranger who kindly lent me their extra flashlight to make my way back to my site. Nowadays I am never without a light, preferably one attached to my head.
I love nature, I really do. It’s the insects I don’t love. For some unknown reason, they are perpetually bent on biting me at every chance. Spending time in the forests of Peru, I was so beloved by bugs that there was no inch of my skin that did not have their mark. Covered in weals, I spent days and sleepless nights alternatively itching and trying to itch various parts of my body. Cold water, ointment, aloe: none of these helped my condition. Even weeks after returning home, I could still see the evidence of the Peruvian mites’ enthusiasm. The bug problem isn’t something I can solve on my camping trips, despite trying sprays, wipes, and even a fan contraption. So every time I return from a stinging trip, I am triumphantly satisfied to know that creepy-crawlies won’t be in my house.
The Great Test
Camping is not merely a chance for me to praise the comforts of modern living. It is also an opportunity for me to test myself. To see what I am made of when things go wrong, as they almost always do. Despite the bug bites, the scuzzy teeth, and the soggy sleeping conditions, I still brave the elements to go camping often. It gives me a chance to appreciate my everyday lifestyle and learn to do without it at the same time. So many things can go wrong on a camping trip, and thankfully so far nothing dramatic has turned awry. Yet, it is the accumulation of small inconveniences that really stretches my fortitude. With each camping expedition I adapt, learn more self reliance, and acquire new skills to manage the inconveniences. This is why I enjoy my outdoor survival experiences. It is why I am planning where to pitch my tent next.
Camping, like any nature activity, is best when we leave no footprints. To ensure that there is no harm done to the environment and to provide fellow campers with the same opportunities, please follow the Leave No Trace practices.