I’ve recently discovered camping.

I live in an area that is perfect for the outdoor enthusiast. Amazing scenery, trails and cabins galore. I haven’t been the biggest fan of such things, however. Sure, I’ll pop off to a trail every now and then when the weather is just right and the mood strikes, but I’ve never gone out of my way to embark on an outdoor adventure. This disposition has changed lately; A change that, not surprisingly, coincides with the time I’ve spent seeing someone who is an outdoor enthusiast. This woman, and the group of friends she has, make a point of hiking out to a cabin for at least one night a month, and I’m forced to admit that I quite enjoy the experience.

There’s something about putting civilization to your back, turning off the phone, and trekking out into the woods. A willing severance from that chaotic and consistent stress that is a modern life in the 21st century. Often, the hikes out to the cabin take several hours of wandering through the wilderness, with only the sound of your increasingly heavy breathing and the shifting of the pack on your back to break the silence. Conversations are kept somewhat to a minimum as you just focus on putting your head down and following the trail; while at the same time trying to take in as much as the unspoiled view you are being presented. The moment when you first spot the cabin, you are filled with appreciation. At this point, you’ve probably stripped off a layer or two to combat the sweat you’ve worked up, and the opportunity to drop the 50+ pound back from your shoulders is a welcome one.

You get to the cabin, change out of the sweaty gear you’re laden with, go about nesting by laying out your sleeping bag (and sleeping pad, if you’re smart enough to bring one), settle in, and that’s when the full cabin experience starts. You are now confined to this small area that more than likely can only hold ~10 people, hours from civilization and responsibility. If you’ve planned it right, the rest of the afternoon and evening are yours to waste away in any manner you see fit. In all honesty, this usually involves a fair bit of drinking, because of course!

Often, you’ll take advantage of the remaining daylight to go exploring. Strap up your gear again, and meander along the shore or surrounding trails, depending on the cabin’s location. Once the daylight wanes and you are once again craving the warmth that the (hopefully working at this point) diesel stove provides, you shuffle back to the wooden refuge and settle in. Board games, card games, drinking games, and drunken conversational exploration are the go to methods of spending time. You really get to know another person on a camping trip. Most, if not all, of a persons little quirks and habits are exposed on these sort of trips. How they plan ahead (what kind of gear and/or supplies they packed), how they handle miscues (do they freak out if the stove hasn’t started working yet?), what their sleeping ritual is (some have to brush their teeth and fully get down with the pajamas while others need to make themselves a sleeping bag burrito), etc.

All these things combine into quite an enjoyable experience – and I’d like to share with you a few from the last few months.

The Frozen Lake

One of my more recent camping experiences involved hiking out to a cabin that was situated on a lake. Being waist deep in a colder than average (at least, up to that point) December, this lake was solidly frozen and was safe to walk across. So, after a few beers, of course we set out to cross from one shore to the other .We were blessed to have a clear sky and a full moon to brighten our way, so while we had our headlamps, they proved unnecessary. Before you start to sweat the safety of a frozen lake coupled with inebriated campers, we made sure to take a sledge hammer to the ice beforehand to see if it would hold. It did, and it proved to be no problem. Well, the far shore was a bit slushy where it grew shallow, so we didn’t bother to test it. 

I can now officially say I’ve ran across a frozen lake. Not all the way across, as I kept doubling back to join up with the group, but it was a temptation I couldn’t resist. It was quite the experience – a flat, snow covered sheet of ice that stretched out for a mile, at least, to the very far shore. We didn’t quite go to the far shore, but we trudged across the icy waters for at least an hour. Enjoying the company and the view that the full moon laid out before us. The next morning we were dumped upon by the weather, snow accumulating overnight to the tune of at least six inches. This made for a gorgeous view. We had to take advantage somehow, so several of us hiked out a bit into the lake, and proceeded to carve out the word “REDRUM” in the fresh snow, the letters each standing about 10-15 feet tall. I had just watched The Shining for the first time (I know, I know), so I felt it was quite appropriate. While the word was barely discernible, back standing on the deck of the cabin, we still felt like it was a job well done.

One more note – a dog was with us that trip. His name is Pan, and he belongs to one of the consistent cabin dwellers. This dog happens to be mischievous as fuck, with piercing eyes that dance about as he stares at you (and I swear, this dog is always staring at you). He’s part husky, and will talk to you in that way that Huskys are wont to do. It turns out that this dog is quite helpful, as I’ll detail later on in another camping experience I had, but don’t doubt it, this guy is a trickster. Now that I’ve sort of introduced you to this character, let me tell you what makes me bring him up. The evening that we trek across the lake, he is with us. Running ahead and quickly doubling back, darting in front of us, ultimately tripping one of the people that was in the party, baiting us into chasing him before squirming away. Normal Pan stuff. We reach as far as we’re willing to test the sturdy ice, and double back. This is where Pan gets me. Out of this entire lake, that has to have an area of at least several square miles (and keep in mind, we don’t necessarily retrace our steps on the way back) – I step in the one place Pan decided to take a shit. Imagine that. An entire frozen lake, and Pan gets me to step in his shit. Typical, but yet….impressive. How often can you say you’ve stepped in dog shit on a lake?

The Broken foot / lost dog experience

My second camping experience ever was one I will never forget. It’s just one of those things I’ll look back upon in 30 years and go, yeah, that was one crazy weekend. You’ll have to forgive me for making a long story short, but I’ve detailed the experience so many times since that I can’t quite motivate myself right now to give this story the full detail that it deserves. In fact, it is this camping trip that inspired the story that I am currently working on. I’ll sum it up in bullet points, because who doesn’t love bullet points?

  • Arrive at cabin with 2 others, joining a party of ~6 that had already spent one night
  • Sit down to drink a beer and take a quick breather after long hike
  • People duck off to use swing in middle of the night (pitch black)
  • Girl ends up breaking her foot
  • We drink heavily from that point (after setting her up as best we can and going over our options)
  • I end up getting more drunk than necessary, fall into creek and scratch self up pretty well (scar above right ear)
  • We call it quits on the evening at that point, as our evening is obviously cursed
  • Next day, helicopter comes as we nix the idea to carry out broken foot girl and waters are too choppy for boat rescue
  • Seeing a helicopter land on a tiny patch of flat beach is cool as shit
  • Everyone leaves, me and woman I’m seeing volunteer to be the last to hike back – take back dogs that belong to broken foot girl
  • Dog, unsurprisingly but unaccounted for, freaks out about seemingly vanished owner (she disappeared after that loud thing showed up!)
  • Takes off on me and woman about halfway back on the trail
  • We drop gear and double back
  • Dog ends up going all the way back to the cabin, but then runs off again as we arrive
  • Decide to wait it out. Lost daylight at this point, need gear to not freeze to death in cabin
  • I opt for a solo hike while woman waits for dog
  • I have a kooshdakah experience (half otter, half man trickster of local native culture lore). Like, seriously. No joke.
  • Haul back both our packs (100+ lbs of gear) in semi “pants fully shat” state
  • Get lost on way back for about 10 minutes. Pants 85 percent shat at this point.
  • Finally make it to cabin. Commence waiting for dog.
  • Dog finally shows, cold and hungry and finally willing to tag along. “Oh, I guess you guys know what’s up. I’ll follow now that I can’t stop shivering.”
  • Meanwhile, Pan, the trickster, is being super cool as he seems to understand the stress of the situation.
  • Dog on leash now, we set out again, hours past when we were supposed to arrive back in town. Pan leads the way, stopping and waiting for us at tricky parts of the trail. Like I said, he’s a total bro on this trip.
  • Still manage to get lost several times on the way back, stressing out.
  • Finally make it back to parking lot as the search party is pulling in. Literally at the same time. The timing was uncanny. We were expected back by 5pm. We reached parking lot at 1am.

So yeah, that was my second ever camping experience, one that involved a lot more hairy situations than what I’ve just summarized. It was one where I felt pure elation (seeing that parking lot finally creep into view) and pure terror (hearing the kooshdakah while I’m burdened with way too much gear and only bear spray to defend myself).

I couldn’t be happier to have gone through that experience, however. The scenery, while marred with injuries and miscues, was amazing. It was another blessed weekend of perfect camping weather, if not a bit cold. It turned out to be a solid bonding experience for all those involved, and we’ve shared many laughs after the concerns finally melted away. The woman and I still are abuzz with the shared experience, and I’d be lying if I said our relationship didn’t grow stronger because of it.

Camping – fun stuff even when just about everything that can go wrong, does.

I think it might quickly become one of my favorite activities. I’ve tried to get my own group of friends more involved, and at this moment, I’m freshly returned from a cabin that we boated out to this weekend. It was, once again, quite a fun time, even though it took us the better part of a day to get anything that could generate heat working. Such is the camping experience! Prepare for the worst, but expect to have the best time. Bring some good friends and you’ll bond that much more. Bring some acquaintances (or even strangers), and odds are, you’ll become friends. I can’t sing enough praises about the cabin camping experience, and I’m already looking forward to the next one. 

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