There are essentially two types of people in the world: those who love to camp and those who think it’s absurd to want to pack half a household, drive two hours, unpack it all and pretend you’re homeless. For the record, there is a small subset of the first group that call “sleeping in a house on wheels” camping but I was raised in rural North Carolina and I know a trailer when I see one. Just because you make it shiny, massive and expensive—it’s still a trailer—and it’s not really camping.
I pride myself on being comfortable outdoors. I enjoy running, hiking, and playing hide and seek with my kids alfresco but I’d never really camped or been responsible for all possessions and nourishment while camping until relocating to Montana.
Soon after moving here, we decided to take some out-of-staters to a lake that was pretty civilized and near amenities like emergency trips for ice cream or broken legs. My husband, however, felt like that was no better than camping in the Wal-mart parking lot. He felt that perhaps we should go all wildernessey and go to a place where they hold Mass Murderer Secret Conventions (MMSC).
I tried to have an open mind looking at the links he sent with all the possible camping spots and every single one said, “Remember, this is bear country, so be responsible with your food items. Pack in, pack out!”
I panicked, “What does that mean? How do you act responsibly? What is a neophyte camper like me supposed to do with my Twinkie wrapper? Bury it? Hang it on a pole? Stuff it under the car seat like every other wrapper in my van hoping the bear can’t rip the door off *pant, pant* and if he can’t get it open, will he come to my tent in frustration because I’ll still have a smidgen of cream on the corner of my mouth?”
After lying in bed fretting endlessly in my head, I came up with the worst case scenario:
First, upon arriving at camp and setting up our humongous-we- could- fit-all-of-Haiti-in-here-tent I would feel a small lump behind my ear and know instantly that it was a tick. I would then freak out, run around like my Keens were a-burnin’ and take off down the rough-hewn path, whereupon I would accidentally run off the edge of a ravine and fall down the rocky face only to land head first into a poison ivy plant. My ever-patient husband would then throw down an extremely long rope which would wrap itself around my foot instead of my waist and there I would be: hanging like wiggly bait half-way up. There, on a ledge, would be a 2,000-pound grizzly bear taking swipes at me as I get pulled up, inch by death-defying inch. And that’s how I would die.
Thankfully, I lived to tell the tale after foraying into the Rocky Mountain front and we all ate, hiked and slept without dying. Since this inaugural attempt at camping, we’ve become quite adept at the practice and I’d venture to say that of all the places we’ve lived, Montana has changed us the most—we’re much more out-doorsey and adventurous.
Though I break out in hives just thinking of all the effort and laundry it entails, camping truly has some great advantages. Here in Montana, great swaths of our state have no cell coverage. No coverage=no electronics. Even if my intestines fell out, someone would have to drive a few miles to find cell coverage or someone with a landline. There is no streaming, no googling, no Instagramming or Face Booking. Just Us. And the sticks, deer, a random moose, and possibly a few bears.
I also love that I get to be ugly without explanation or apology. I don’t brush my hair or try at any point to look presentable. No one cares what you look like because you are camping. Everyone is fire smudged, dirt encrusted and all have a healthy dose of eu de campfire that lingers for days.
At the end of the camping day as my husband and I hold hands at the campfire while the last embers are faintly glowing, we gaze up at the millions of points of light over our heads and I’m reminded that our worries and fears are so, so small. I recall that I am blessed to live in this remarkably beautiful place we call home and that each of us are incredibly loved by God and we all need each other so very much.
That phenomenal lesson is worth the packing, the preparing, the cleaning and the hassle of having to walk down a dirt road to the outhouse. The laying awake at night wondering if every rustle or snuffle outside could be a bear who could swallow your children whole is so worth it when they entertain themselves for hours simply by playing in a creek for an entire day.
Who knows? Maybe someday we’ll abandon our tent and get a schmancy trailer on wheels like the rest of America but for now, setting up a neoprene home and roasting marshmallows connects us to each other and God without distractions and concerns of “real life”. I will keep schlepping half of our possessions (and every single blanket) to drive to the cool relief of the mountains just so we can remember what quiet really feels like. And if I perish from either running into the MMSC or not wiping my face properly, please tell my children that I love them slightly more than Nutella and that I went down screaming and in a complete panic because that’s the kind of woman Montana has made me.