Last year my wife and I went off to Sequoia National Forest for a long weekend. Clearly tens of thousands of others had the same idea.
On County 521 in Kernville, we couldn’t help but notice a miles long riverside camping rave underway along the river. Tents were hastily erected stake to stake in treeless roadside culverts, garbage was piled to the side of already burping dumpsters and more than a few errant inflatables were bouncing and floating aimlessly into traffic, not unlike many of the revelers. Barbed-wire bicep tats and bad suspension lifts. A Barstow beach party.
It looked a lot like this.
We snaked our way up the mountain without verbalizing the collective fear that our campground would reflect the scene along the river. It did.
I’m not going to pretend that camping hasn’t long been as much of an excuse to commune with illicit substances as it has been a reason to cook s’mores. Guilty as charged. But at what point do we cross the line? Is there even a line?
I’d like to think what happened in Sacramento was a bit much. We seem to be having a harder time cooperating in groups these days. Add to the mixture of machismo and Pabst an additive of the unrestrained, un-walled great outdoors and there’s a good chance someone is going to end up in the fire.
It’s for these reasons that I no longer camp with groups of people, unless I know they’re part an organization that is outside for the outside, not as an excuse to rage-drink their shitty job/lousy marriage/money troubles into a blur of nature trampeling stupidity.
Sad thing is, there’s no stopping it. We can only distance ourselves from it. Like the skiers and boarders who deem resort trails the domain of noobs, I suppose I’m at the same point with developed campgrounds. Have your flush toilets and couch fires, I’m going camping.
The boss enjoying some grub in Canyonlands
This weekend, October 8-10, is the Campout! Carolina event created and sponsored by EarthShare North Carolina. Consider it the Tar Heel State’s localized version of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great American Backyard Campout.
I grew up camping. Ultimately, it was the best way for my parents to take their four wild animals on a vacation that wouldn’t result in trashed hotel rooms or firm requests from amusement park security to “Never come back again.” So we spent a couple of weeks every summer in a Coleman pop-up Griswolding around the St. Lawrence Seaway, wooded sections of New Brunswick, Canada and just about any place in northern New York State that had enough open space for me and my brothers to run freely without the need for a consistent law enforcement presence. To me, camping was something you just did. Like playing little league baseball and riding your bike in the street. We fished, hiked, had fires and crapped in a plastic green canister. It rocked.
Once I became an adult (which is still up for debate), I found it odd to learn that some people have never been camping. Never. Been. Camping. Seriously, that’s how odd that sounds to me, it makes me write in single-word sentence fragments. The mere mention of a weekend in the woods around a few of my friends elicits reactions not unlike those I would collect by suggesting we spend the weekend clubing rescue dogs.
I can understand why a person has never been backpacking, that’s entirely different. Car camping though? It’s a scratchy comforter and 17” tube television away from a Days Inn. And the coffee is way better.
Ultimately, I most sad about the fact that so few of us really ever know what exists above the shingled plywood roofs under which we slumber or beyond the drywall that encloses us. And even beyond those barriers, far away from city limits and school zones. We need to get out there more, folks. And this weekend is a great time to start. Get the kids, find some friends and go rent a tent if you need to.
The REI in Durham has a lot of the details and ways to get started enjoying the outdoors. Give it a shot.