Camping Memory

I arrived at the campgrounds early. The idea was to get the site established before my fiancé arrived after she got off work. I had a 300-yard uphill climb from the parking area to the spot I selected to call home for the week. My first order of action was to head to kiosk so and make my deposit for the weekly stay. The campgrounds that are more isolated and unused by larger crowds rely upon a self-serving check-in/honesty system. The state assumes that you will be honest and deposit the appropriate funds into the lock-box to pay for your stay. They don’t send as many ranger patrols through the isolated areas and assume that the folks camping there will have enough integrity to assume the registration process on their own volition.

After depositing the funds, I went back to the SUV and started unloading the gear. It took about 7-8 trips to move the makeshift homestead from the back of the vehicle and up the hill to the site. I was fairly winded afterwards, but had a lot of work to go. I spread out the tent, spiked the corners, and then started the pole erection process. I actually found that setting the tent up alone was easier than working someone else. With aid of a few Siberian hitches and some 550-cord, stabilizing the structure and using leverage to get everything into position is rather easy. After the tent was constructed, I had to create our living-room, which consists of a large canopy. I quickly got it set and then unpacked the chairs. I sat down for a moment and then decided to start a small fire to prepare a quick lunch.

With the fire ignited, I poured some water into my pot and positioned it atop the grate so that it would come to a rolling boil. When the water is boiling, I could then pour it into the dried soup mix and allow it to soak into the less-than delicious mixture.

While waiting for the water to boil, I setup the first cot. It’s large Cabela’s Outfitter Series XXL cot. I started using these a couple of years earlier to get my body up off of the ground. We would often camp in early spring when the morning and nighttime temperatures would dip down into the 30’s and being elevated is critical to staying warm. The cots are incredibly difficult to assemble, but strikingly sturdy when complete. I readied the cot with the help of a rubber mallet and cussing. Next was moving it into the tent. Along the side of the cot I have a nice accessory piece that holds a variety of gear. In the corner of the tent ceiling I have a large three-tiered Coleman accessory that that holds the toiletries and other necessities.

By now, the water was boiling and poured it into that plastic pouch and allowed my food to cook. While waiting, I had a visit from a friendly chipmunk. I grabbed my digital camcorder and filmed him playing around, inspecting the site for this week’s visitor. I devoured my food in the late afternoon, enjoying the complete peace and utter isolation. For a misanthrope, this is a great escape.

I sat around admiring my work and observing the various bugs that were starting to get settled on the new stuff that was in place. I saw a few weird spiders and flying creatures that loved to taste the sweat on my neck. What can you do, I’m taking up residence in their space now.

As the day continued on, the sun started to set behind the trees. Deep in the woods, when the sun sets, darkness quickly begins to encapsulate the area. I started to get slightly concerned because my fiancé hadn’t shown up yet. Just before darkness fully consumed the woods, she finally showed up. I walked down the long path to great her and show her the way up. You couldn’t see the site from the parking lot—we were basically tucked away in a small cove that nobody could stumble upon without direct intent. It was around this time that we both realized that the closest bathroom was a good 400-500 yard hike from our immediate spot.

We sat around for a bit and I prepared a nice toasty fire for our enjoyment. We reclined back in our chairs and stared up into the stars, watching the occasional sparks from the fire try to fly up high into the sky. As the night progressed, we decided to go to bed and rest-up for the next day’s adventures.

The following few days, we explored the park deeply and fully, immersing ourselves in the rich history of the area. Years ago, the place was a fully-functional CCC camp (Civilian Conservation Corps). The CCC was the invention of Roosevelt during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Young men could join the corps where they would pack their bags for hard work, food, and discipline. They would get paid for their work, but the bulk of the money was sent directly home to support the families rather than filling the pockets of those doing the work. Supporting the family was the virtuous thing to do, rather than mindless indulgence in unnecessary fleeting pleasures.

Exploring the site led us to some incredible finds. Hidden up in the mountain via a barely recognizable trail is an old oven that used to be part of a large dining hall/kitchen. The crumbled remnants provide little familiarity with the conceptual oven aesthetic, but with a bit of imagination one can clearly see what the decaying skeleton could have once looked like. Climbing deeper into the woods we find a large crypt-like structure. I have no idea what it was, but its presence was intriguing—nothing like coming across a great archaeological find, but interesting to us, nonetheless. As we continued around we find the lasting remains of old buildings, primarily large chimneys extending up into the sky, the foundations of the building long eroded by years of rot.

Forgotten memories linger hard. I vaguely recall visiting the place as a kid. It used to be bustling with people. Families having picnics, kids swimming in the medium-sized lake, and the smell of charcoal and wood smoke permeating the atmosphere. Now, the dam is leaking, the lake is drained, and there is not much left of what was once present. People don’t frequent the area much anymore, save for the occasional drunks passing through on mountain rides. It’s also an active rest stop for folks making their way along the Appalachian Trail. I even remember my grandmother telling me stories of how my pap would take her up to this spot when they were first dating. Groups of young adult’s double-dating and spending time at the lake, enjoying the seclusion and privacy the mountains would provide. While the romanticism may be gone and the part of mere corpse of its once great life, if you look close enough you can almost picture the greatness it once held.

We spend the evenings walking the entire circumference of the park, taking in every possible sight that exists. We find small pieces of wonder and beauty that the passersby can’t appreciate from their vantage point. As night comes, we head back to the campsite and wait for darkness to fall.

I create a shower-like structure around a shepherds hook. The solar shower bag is held from the top while a tent provides a certain degree of privacy. The lukewarm water is more invigorating than refreshing and the camp-safe soap leaves behind a distinct film that, while it smells good, doesn’t exactly give you that truly clean feeling. Changing into clean clothing at night time prior to going to bed always seems like the most logical choice. The semi-fresh feeling of crawling into your cot in clean clothes helps to promote relaxing feeling—fresh socks and clean underwear give comfort!

Sleep comes easy in the mountains. It’s the only place I can experience the deepest and purest forms of sleep. All of the outside distractions are gone, nobody can contact me, and there is no alarm clock to annoyingly rouse me from a deep sleep. Instead, the warmth of the sun beckons me to wake and the fresh mountain morning smell is better than the smell of a hot cup of coffee. Breakfast is made every day while camping. Sometimes it consists of powdered eggs and bannock, other times it may consist of sausage and real eggs. I try to avoid taking coolers along, that way I’m not concerned about ice. Instead, I bring canned goods and non-perishables, keeping things as simplistic as possible.

Occasionally we will play card games, mainly 500. Even the odd Yahtzee game is not out of the question. There are no digital games to play and the more primitive games bring us closer together and enable us to spend time together having fun. Technology is not really needed out here.

As the week draws to an end, the uneasy feeling of reentering society begins to take hold. In some respects, the thought of taking a real shower and having some takeout seem reassuring, but the vacation will soon end and my limited time away from the mundane is abruptly coming to a close. On the last day we begin packing up. Cameras take as many pictures as possible so that we can capture as much of the experience as possible, even though the cameras are entirely unable to capture the very essence of being there.

We haul the last of the loads back the car and scour the campsite to make sure our tracks are covered. Then it’s time to head out. The drive back is made slowly, almost painfully. While it is rather disheartening to see the decayed park disintegrating into nothingness, leaving it is even worse, for the beauty I see is apparent in the stories and visions of what once was. For me, it was an escape—time away—but, the time to reenter is quickly coming.

Reaching the highway and trek down the mountain is surreal. Other cars, people, and life still exists. The world is still out there, even though I couldn’t see it for the past week. And in a couple of days, I’ll have to go back to work. Back to deadlines and responsibilities. Back to serving others and not living for my own vital existence.

Walking in the house is always strange. You encounter the smell of home. When you step into the shower, the stale smell of wood smoke wafts around as you wash away the last of the trip. Eventually, you download the pictures from your cameras and try to remember, try to grasp that feeling of freedom, but only in vain. The realization that 12 long month now stand before you and your next chance to depart this reality and trade it in for the primitive life where the essence of living is truly tasted and the trappings of civilization are long forgotten.


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