Amy Klinger

Something Wild

Come in close. I have something to tell you that I’d like to keep just between us: I don’t love camping anymore.

I don’t love the way my hands never feel clean. And the romance of dinner, cooked cowboy-style over an open flame, has fizzled.

Snores and zippers are never so loud as when they are in the campground. And forget a single pea; lying on a slow-leaking Therm-a-Rest, feeling every thorn and stone beneath makes for a very pissy princess who will take a flame thrower to the 1 a.m. partiers three sites away if they don’t shut the f—.

I breathe. I roll over onto the side whose hip is not aching, whose shoulder is just a little less knotted. For 45 minutes I try to convince myself that I do not have to pee; I am not successful. And it’s not funny to be startled by the mother of all daddy long legs hunkered right on the toilet paper roll. When there is a toilet paper roll.

Up with the crows at 4 a.m., the fairy tale now features a craggy-faced crone with gritty eyes and a dry, bloody nose.

Here’s the thing though. Camping used to fill me up. It restored my senses when they were dull from mental debris and to-do lists. Back then, getting up to pee was rewarded with a panorama of the Milky Way, vast and spilling out over the treeline.

I’ve woken up in a more than a dozen national parks surrounded by stunning, sunrise-lit canyon walls and beside cold, chattering streams and in full-bloom, wildflower meadows. Some of my most vivid, heart-happy memories are of studying the person who would become my partner in life as we raised our tent shelter for the night. Or didn’t when the desert was warm enough to sleep under the stars.

My thoughts take me back to the first camping trip we took with our daughter. Not realizing the toll that 12 hours of travel and a time zone change would have on her routine-oriented brain and two-year-old circadian rhythms, I carried her sobbing and inconsolable through Zion’s Watchman campground until she mercifully fell asleep. We were not well appreciated those nights.

I’m not sure how to reconcile these contrasting experiences. Maybe it’s simply that camping in New England lacks a sense of the wild. And sleeping on the ground among generator-fed camper-vans while traffic speeds by all night on the one road in and out of town feels like asceticism without the spiritual perks.

I may need to put this theory to the test. Dust off the backpack and put in enough mileage on-foot, deep in the Adirondacks to get to a place of solitude and mild risk. My middle-aged bones will still complain of the hard ground, and the crows will still be raucous in the pre-dawn, but I have to believe that, even for me, there are still rewards in stripping away creature comforts in the hope of getting closer to something rugged and beautiful.

18 thoughts on “Something Wild”

  1. Beautiful. And funny in several parts. I prefer glamping in our “not-hooked-up to water or electricity” camper…now that the bones ache and the caffeine-deprived headache inevitably attacks before a campfire can perculate some brown-water, emulating coffee. The bed is warm and dry. The propane fueled refrigerator holds fresh veggies and yogurts. The stove cooks fast and safely. No bugs…. no raccoons or deer threatening to sniff near our ears through the tent….sounding ominously as bear or coyote in the middle of pitch black night.

    It’s middle-aged heaven.
    ….that Milky Way still aglow on the walks we choose and shines overhead, cradling us as we rest on a Serta.

    Sweet dreams, my friend.

    • Haven’t tried the camper thing yet. But I suppose for all the reasons you eloquently describe, it could be the next evolution.

      Still might need to keep the flame thrower handy, though.

  2. Boy, Amy, you captured that so well. I felt like I was right there with you. Did they at least give you the WiFi password when you checked in?

    • Ha! They did have WiFi at the campground. And yes, there was a kid sitting in a camp chair, nose-deep in his tablet sitting.

      Thank you, I’m really glad I enjoyed it.

    • There are still plenty of good reasons, but they won’t be found in a campground on the beaten path.

  3. Yup, you nailed it..camping in the rain? Nope, not anymore…after living primitively for msny years off n on while restoring this house, some of camping lost its glow…i remember one trip to Maidstone where we biked uphill for 5 miles to be greeted by Neighborhood Watch signs and cooler laden campsites..oy vay! I didnt used to think about Grizzlies or scorpions or mt lions ….and there seem to be many comfy places I can sleep with the window open with a view of the night sky ..but OHHHHH the feeling my body gets sleeping outside for days on end, away from electronics and responsibilities..as long as its not too hot, too rainy, too crowded, too lumpy. Yup.
    You sure have a eay with words, neighbor!

    • Yeah, we bailed on the second night once the rain kicked in. That’s a whole other level of misery. Thanks for your response!

  4. This is so great. My mind was suddenly peeling through all of the different places I’ve camped where one or more of these has rung true.

  5. I’m with you!I’m headed over to the ADKs in August for a week of blissful camping & hiking. My little trick is putting up my tent on the meadow of a big ADK camp we rent with a hiking group of all ages. Indoor plumbing & a full kitchen during the day. Front porch for rocking & reading on non-hike days. Shooting stars, bonfire & coyotes calling on Giant Mountain at night. Restorative!

    • That sounds like the best of all worlds, Candelin! I might have to follow that model. Thanks for the idea (and for reading and sharing).

  6. Yes, yes and YES!!!
    I wouldn’t trade my outdoor living experiences for anything. Jungles, deserts, mountain tops… Blessings, all of them. Though some were bivouacs more than camping, they were not without the chance to take in some amazing sights and experiences. I still have much of my gear and I still buy gear, like I’m still that guy that loves to wake up to birds and morning dew on my sleeping bag, or whatever passed for one at the time. I still get excited every time I drive past Campmor or REI. But the reality is I’m just not that guy anymore.

    Now I’m a middle aged guy with arthritis and and somewhat low FTSS (ask me later) and an appreciation for a good night’s sleep and a breakfast buffet.

    I’m thinking about exploring Glamping.

    • It’s a good perspective, Rich. Keep the past experiences close to mind and heart while finding new ways that fill the need for nature’s space and solitude. They make some sweet little camper trailers these days.

  7. This perfectly detailed my most recent camping experience as well! Except, you left out the bit about your dog getting sprayed by a skunk on the edge of your lean-to at 1am.

  8. Wow, this really resonates with me, Amy. I haven’t gone camping for many years, mainly because of your simultaneously hilarious, painful and accurate observations. But you’re inspiring me to think about how to achieve the wonder without the distress. Maybe a nice room near a remote park that isn’t a wooded version of frat party?

    • Glad to confirm you haven’t been missing out, Ken. Maybe there are some remote cabins to be found on AirBNB?

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