Clean

When I’m camping I’m living right on the earth – grass and sand and silt and pine needles and mud and dirt – day in and day out.  It’s one of the things that makes living like this so different from living in a house, and it’s one of the things I love about camping. I don’t think any studies have been done, but I’ll bet that living on the earth like that is healthy for us, for our bodies and our minds.  But how do I keep myself and all my stuff clean?  

 All campgrounds provide a picnic table and a grill and most provide a source of drinking water.  Those are the dependable basics.  Where they differ most is in their bathrooms.  National Park and State campgrounds offer different levels of amenities, from almost none all the way up to bathrooms with sinks and showers, plenty of hot water, plus electricity, sometimes even outdoor showers and spigots just for cleaning feet.  I often choose the more primitive campgrounds run by the Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management, and they usually don’t have flush toilets or sinks, just a vault toilet and, if I’m lucky, a spigot for drinking water.  I’ve been finding more and more campgrounds no longer have drinking water, they’ve ripped the sink right out of the bathroom, even if there’s still electricity and a flush toilet, and closed off the drinking water spigot.  That’s how the State and National campgrounds are saving money:  they’ve fired the guys who used to check the chlorine levels in the drinking water every week. Our government certainly has our best interests at heart, doesn’t it?  

 I like my tent to be neat and clean, and that has turned out to be easy.  I have a welcome mat at the door, and a rug just inside, so I never have to let the bottom of my shoes touch the tent floor.  I use a dust pan and brush when needed, and every time I take down my tent, as soon as the rain fly is off and the stakes are out, I turn it upside down, give it a shake, and voila – clean!  It’s another advantage of having a tent that weighs so little.

 What about dishes?   Some people who are living in tents, bless them, wash their dishes after every meal by heating up enough water for the soapy dish pan as well as for the rinse pan, but that’s too much work for the likes of me.  Here’s again where eating no dairy or meat products helps:  I just pour a bit of water out of one of my water jugs over my dishes and cooking pots, scrub with my dish brush or steel wool scrubber, and then wipe it all clean and dry with some paper towels.  Every time I do it I can feel my ferociously ecologically aware daughter Susan frowning at me for using all that paper, and I send her a rebellious smile.  It’s not only teenagers who enjoy rebelling against a family member.  

 Oh, you’re wondering why I like the more primitive campgrounds?  A couple of reasons.  They’re often further off the main road, tucked away in gorgeous places.  And they don’t have all the things most RV people want:  electric hook ups, hoses to fill their water tanks, places to dump their waste water (imagine: huge RVs travel down the freeways with gallons and gallons of their bathroom and grey water sloshing around in big holding tanks).   Best of all they often don’t have long enough parking spaces for the really big RVs which means that maybe there will be mostly tents.    

 I don’t do much to clean my car until I get home at the end of the entire trip.  Then I have it cleaned inside and out to within an inch of its life.  During the trip I work hard to keep it as neat and uncluttered as possible.  This takes a bit of work every day because the whole back of it, under the hatchback door, is my pantry.  I keep all my food in there, away from all the animals that come sniffing around.   I back in as close as possible to my kitchen set-up on the picnic table so everything is right at hand when I cook.  In the front on the passenger seat I keep all my maps, snacks, hand lotion, purse, lots of miscellany.  It’s usually a big mess, and every now and then I straighten it up.  

 I allow my clothes to get dirtier before I wash them than I do at home.  And I bring along lots of clothes, both so I don’t get too bored with them, and also so I can wait a few weeks before having to make a trip to a laundromat.  

 And what about my body?  Luckily, I’m not someone who has ever felt the need to shower every single day.  I have a box of handy-wipes in my tent, and when I get dressed in the mornings I give myself a sponge bath with them. When I car camped with Mike I’d find us a shower at least every week, but now, traveling alone, I sometimes go two or three weeks – yes weeks! – before seeking a shower in a nearby town.  Waiting this long has its rewards:   when I finally stand under the hot water I moan in rapture. 

 My feet are the biggest cleanliness challenge for me since I wear sandals or go barefoot almost all the time unless it’s cold.  This summer I added a plastic pan to my gear, a pan that my feet exactly fit into.  Every now and then I heat up a pot of water, make it soapy, and sit comfortably with a book, soaking my feet.  A pedicure follows, often a manicure too, and then I feel socially acceptable again.  My campground neighbors watch me with amusement.  

 Speaking of toilets, I always have a Rubbermaid plastic container with a tight-fitting lid under my cot, carefully chosen over the years for just the right size and shape.  I use this at night.  I’ve done it for so long that I can do it almost without waking up.  I’ve even figured out how to pee into it without making a sound, an important consideration in the absolute deep silence the night holds out in nature, away from traffic and other sounds of civilization.  I like to  listen to the silence but also to the breathing nearby, maybe a little snoring.  I imagine us all lying there in the field or the woods or on the bluff above the beach, all next to each other but with bits of metal or nylon fabric between us so we can pretend we’re alone and not connected.  A wild pack of humans, asleep on the tundra! 

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Evenings

In my little town of Oracle we all spend a lot of our daytime hours outdoors, hiking, biking, running, drawing and painting, sitting in the patio of our local cafe, gardening.  When the sun gets near the horizon we all tend to move indoors, close the windows and blinds, turn on electric lights and some music or TV, cook and eat our dinners, all in our separate houses unless someone’s having a dinner party.  I see this same pattern, without the dinner parties, in campgrounds that are full of RVs:  in the evenings there are few people walking around because everyone is inside their metal box with lights on and blinds drawn, and often the flickering of a TV screen can be seen.  This is one of the many things I detest about the RV method of travel.

Evenings might be what most differentiates camping life from home life, especially for those of us in tents.  For us there’s no holing up with the lights on and the curtains drawn, we’re still all outside under the trees or by the river or up in the mountains.  Let me tell you about some of my evenings in one of the campgrounds I stayed this past summer, so you get an idea of what I mean.  Altair Campground, in the Olympic National Park, is in the forest on the Elwha River.  I got the el primo site, right on the river, looking out across it to fields and snow-capped mountains.  The campground is small, only 36 sites, and the huge RVs are too big to fit into the parking spaces.  There were often more tents than even vans or campers.  I was so happy there that I stayed for three weeks.

Some evenings I just sat by the river, for two or three hours, watching the light change the mountains and finally make them disappear.  I always sat in my little LLBean chair that’s right down on the ground so I could stretch my legs out as though I had an ottoman.  I usually had a cup of tea or a glass of wine on the ground next to me.  An exciting moment always came shortly after 8pm:  hundreds of bats would suddenly swoop down to the river from up in the trees, zooming right past me on both sides and above my head but never bumping into me.  They’d swoop back up, then down again, and keep doing this for about 15 minutes every night. It was thrilling to sit there in the midst of them, and there were no mosquitos or gnats left when they’d finished.   After sitting there till around 10, watching the night fall, I’d go in to bed, feeling that I’d had an interesting and fulfilling evening, and feeling deeply relaxed.  Why do I never spend an entire evening like this at home?  I have a gorgeous view from my veranda, out over the San Pedro River Valley to the Galiuro Mountains beyond.   I look at this view all day long in amazement, but only for seconds or minutes at a time.

Some evenings I’d sit and read in my little chair with my solar flashlight. Sometimes I wouldn’t get around to cooking supper until almost dark, so I’d wear my headlamp and spend the evening cooking, then eating at the picnic table, watching the river.  A couple of times I took myself out to dinner, but finding dishes on the menu that didn’t entail butter or cream or cheese was never easy.  Two evenings were rainy and cold so I went into the nearby town, Port Angeles, and sat reading in the library there.

One evening a wild storm raged – such wind and rain and thunder and lightening!  I took down my canopy as soon as it started so that it wouldn’t be torn to shreds.  Then I zipped myself into my tent, got into bed and lay there with my MacBook Air on my chest, watching a movie. Yes, a movie!  It was incredibly cozy in my sleeping bag, and hilarious to be watching a Woody Allen film in a tent (“Crimes and Misdemeanors”) in the middle of nowhere with the wild storm raging around me.  It felt almost as though I was doing something illegal, which greatly added to the pleasure.

Late at night I almost always took a last walk through the campground when it was pitch black out and everyone was in their tents.  It was magical to see all those tents under the giant trees, all lighted dimly from within by a flashlight or two, as though they were glowing in the dark.  Now and then mysterious shadows would flit across the walls of a tent if someone inside moved around. Sometimes I could hear quiet murmuring.  It’s one of my favorite tent sightings, and anymore it’s rare to be able to see it.  A campground full of RVs with the electric lights on makes me retreat into my tent and zip everything up so I can’t see out.  Even in the dark of night RVs are a blight on the landscape.

I made two different friends at Altair and we three became inseparable until they went their separate ways after about five days.  Only five days!  Friendships in campgrounds, when they happen, tend to be intense and immediate.  The three of us would stand around together in the mornings with our tea and coffee before we went off to do our separate things, talking and talking.  We would wander over and talk whenever we caught sight of each other during the day. Best of all, we spent our evenings together.  In the late afternoons we’d meet by the river, each bringing a chair and a glass for the wine that one of us had.  Then we’d pool our food and have a magnificent meal, followed by talking until the wee hours around the fire that one of us would make.  We all spoke completely openly about ourselves and our lives. We laughed a lot.  We loved each other for those five days.  If I were to run into one of them now I would feel just as close to them as I do when I see an old friend that I’ve known for years.

Later on I made another friend who was there at Altaire for only one night with her partner.  I met her when we were both brushing our teeth one evening in the women’s bathroom (it had a sink and a cold water faucet, quite a luxury).  I sat with the two of them for hours by their fire.  They left the next morning, but we’ve been emailing ever since, continuing to deepen this serendipitous friendship.

Tent, Cot, and Canopy

A lot of you have asked me to get specific about the gear I use.  What works for me may not be the best choice for you, but it will give you a place from which to start your own experiments with different tents and cots and canopies.  Let us hear about good things you find!

 Comfort is the bedrock of a good trip, and it begins with physical comfort.  Wherever I set up, my homestead consists of my car, the picnic table, and my tent.  When I first became a camping soloist I used the tent that Mike and I had used for years.  It was a terrific tent, almost 7 feet high and big enough so we both fit in it with plenty of room to spare.  When I started putting it up by myself, though, it was a real struggle and it took a long time.  I always felt that I was performing a comedy act for the people around me, leaping around to get those high tent poles finally standing up together.  My reward came one day when I talked to two very young buff guys at REI, asking about possible tents that would be easier for me to use (they had no suggestions).  When they heard I had been putting up the REI Hobitat4 all by myself they looked at me in wonder:  “Wow, we couldn’t do that, and we’ve tried.”  Payoff for my comedy acts.   

 It wasn’t until I searched online that I discovered that there are room-size  pop-up tents, tents that have the poles already set into the seams so all that’s necessary is pushing up the center, like opening up an umbrella.  I ordered the lightest one, the 4-person ATuffy Instant Tent, just right for one person.  It weighs only 14 pounds, and that includes the fly, and it has changed my life.  My camping life anyway.  I like the fact that it’s dark green and blends into whatever landscape I’m in.  I like it’s size, it’s like a little room, and tall enough so I don’t ever have to bend over in it.  I like that the guy who designed and sells it has an email address, which I use whenever I have any sort of question about the tent, and he always answers immediately.  I’ve used it for a number of summers now.  I’ve seen it swaying and bending in gale-force winds, but never breaking.  I’ve put it up lickety-split in a thunderstorm with the rain beating down hard.  It has shielded me when I’ve had to sit in it most of a day when the weather is terrible, and it always feels cozy to me.  If it’s facing away from the wind I can sit in it with the whole front open and still be completely protected.  It’s wonderful to wake up in every  morning, to look up at what a friend calls “the cathedral ceiling,”  the colors and stitchings are just right. I can reach out and zip it open right next to my bed if I want to watch the sun rising from snug in my sleeping bag.  Can you tell?  I love my tent!  I love it so much that I take pictures of it on all my trips, in all its various surroundings.

I auditioned a number of cots before finding the one I use now.  I like the ones that fold up into a small bag, but the most comfortable one I’ve found doesn’t.  It’s the Deluxe Swedish Camping Cot.  It’s got bamboo slats, close together across the whole frame, so there’s no sinking down in the middle at all.  It provides a perfectly flat surface for the 2 inch foam mattress that comes with it, as well as the 1.5 inch memory foam mattress I put on top of that.  It’s every bit as comfortable as my bed at home, maybe more so.   The only downside is that it’s fairly heavy (26 pounds) and bulky to pack into the car, but completely worth the effort.  A good bed is absolutely essential to enjoying a long camping trip.  The sleeping bag I use is slightly larger than the generous size of the mattresses, so I can keep a pillow between my knees and still have plenty of room to toss and turn.  For a bit of added warmth I throw on a woolen blanket.  I always bring along a large down-filled mummy bag for when it’s below freezing, it fits right into the other sleeping bag, and I also add one or two more layers over my pajamas.  I haven’t frozen yet, or even so much as shivered in my bed.

 Now to the kitchen.  I absolutely adore cooking outside, wherever I might be.  Standing at the helm of the picnic table, looking out across a river at a field full of wildflowers or into woods or at the ocean or up at snow-capped mountains, chopping and stirring and tasting – it’s heaven.  In the Southwest where it almost never rains, I rarely use a canopy, and then more as a sun shade.  This summer up in the rainy Northwest I used one every day.  The canopy is the only piece of equipment I’m not completely happy with yet.   I’ve tried a number of them and most are too heavy.  The one I got recently that clamps right onto the picnic table, The ShelterLogic, fits all wooden tables but not any of the National Park cement tables.  It’s exactly 1/8 inch too small for them – what were they thinking?  It’s brilliantly designed, except for that 1/8 inch, and shabbily made, three different things tore or broke the first time I put it up.  I keep going back to my original TexSport 10 x 10 Silver Dining Canopy.  It’s light (9 pounds), folds up into a small bag, and is the nicest looking one of all I’ve tried.  It’s a gracefully curved tarp with four tent poles attached, and they have to be staked down by two ropes each, three if it’s windy.  It’s tricky to put up by myself, but I get better each time I do it.  The thing about a canopy is that it’s essential if it’s raining, otherwise it’s like trying to cook in a kitchen whose roof has blown off and the rain is pouring in.  I know, I know, I could just eat out when the weather is bad, but for the past two years I’ve been eating only plant-based things (no dairy, eggs, meat or chicken) and it’s hard to find restaurants that cater to that.   

 On the other hand, eating that way has greatly simplified one aspect of my travels: the ice chest.  I don’t use one any more, and it’s such a relief. They take up so much space and attention and time – the melted water has to be poured out every day or so, and then every few days comes the search for block ice rather than cubes, followed by standing in the store’s parking lot emptying out the entire box, putting in the new ice, then returning all the things, some of which now don’t fit because the block is too big until it melts a bit.  I’m much too lazy to want to do all that.  There are downsides of course, but it does make it extra exciting when friendly neighbors offer me a cold beer from their ice chest.  

 I still use my old Coleman 2-burner stove, it’s one of the few things they make that really lasts.  Even if the burners get wet I’ve found that all I have to do is turn it upside down and shake a few times, then it lights right up again.  

 

Truth

Now that I’m home from my trip I’m noticing that a subtle, yet quietly momentous, sea-change took place within me this summer while I was off with my tent. Funny how that happens. While I’m living such a different life, away from all my familiars – home and family and friends – I’m totally outer-directed, taking in all the sights and sounds and experiences that come with exploring new territory. I’m a tourist doing my touring. I sometimes visualize myself as a form that looks like a person but is actually a powerful magnet, pulling in every sensory experience it can catch. I’m just taking in, taking in.

And because I travel alone, I’m not aware of myself the way I would be if I had someone by my side, even in silence. I can completely lose my sense of Self. And that’s what’s funny. Because while my attention is riveted on my surroundings there are important things going on behind the scenes, somewhere deep within that Self. I do think it’s my being alone that makes it possible for that to happen. It’s one of the reasons why I take these solo trips.

And what is this quietly momentous sea-change? For the first time I really can feel myself as being in the old age stage of life. Yes, it’s partly the increased wrinkles, the arthritic thumb (you’d be surprised how much that can affect daily functioning), the not-as-strong muscles. But it’s not because of any physical aging that happened while I was traveling, I’m talking here about something much deeper. I don’t feel older, I feel different. It has to do with how I experience myself in the context of my entire life. It has to do with seeing myself more truthfully.

For years I’ve been focussed mainly on the ways that I look and act younger than I am (don’t we all?), as though I’ve been squinting at myself and seeing only what I need to see to keep the status quo. What I now feel, through and through, is that I’ve changed, I’ve moved into a new phase of my life. It’s every bit as momentous as going from childhood to adolescence, and happily done with far more consciousness.

How did this all happen while I was living in my tent in campgrounds, hiking or walking long distances each day looking at everything, chatting now and then with the people around me? I think it’s because I took myself out into the world as a stranger with no ties to anything or anybody, living a life pared down and simplified to basic levels. I experience myself in that situation in a different way, there are no fancy trimmings, nothing to hang on to. People who hike into the wilderness hoping to find themselves know what I’m talking about. My trips are different from theirs in that I’m around people, people who are all strangers and whom I most likely will never see again. That adds a dimension, it means I experience myself in a very different social context, one in which there are no preconceived notions, none of my personae are called into action. Everything is new, here-and-now, immediate. There’s no past, no future, only the present moment.

It’s subtle because of course this isn’t a dramatic aha! moment, I’ve been working up to it for years. It was back on my 70th birthday that the door opened for the first time onto something new – old age – and I stood in the doorway just looking in. It has taken me seven years to step fully into that next phase, and it was my trip this summer that got the whole of me across that threshold.

Yes, I might very well have come to this even if I had just stayed at home. But maybe not. There’s something about being out in the world, unprotected by all my familiar people and things, that brings me face to face with myself in a way that I’m able to avoid at home. Because let’s face it: self-knowledge is hard, no matter how much we want to attain it. It’s much easier to live with our fantasies about ourselves and just go merrily along. I’m as good as the next person at doing that.

Hey, wait a minute, I meant to write about my camping gear today. Well, a case could be made that my body and mind are, after all, the gear I carry with me wherever I go, along with my tent. Next time I’ll write about the other gear, my tent, my cot, etc. I promise.

Campgrounds

I call it camping alone, but I’m actually rarely alone. I camp only in campgrounds, and only campgrounds that have at least three other sites being used, hopefully by couples or families. I don’t go hiking if there’s no- one else on the trails. I’m 77 and I’m realistic, if anything happens to me I want someone to find me within a reasonable amount of time. I used to think of campgrounds as mere way stations, somewhere to sleep while exploring the area outside the campground. In and of themselves they were of little interest beyond complaining if the site wasn’t level or the toilet smelled or there was too much noise.
This summer I realized how much my attitude has changed: now I consider each campground a little village that I’ll live in for a day or a week, or more if I’m really enjoying myself. Now when I enter a new campground I think of myself as joining a loosely connected tiny community and I find that my trips are deeply enriched by all the experiences I have with the social aspects of each place I stay. The friendships that I make, because they are so time-limited, can be very intense and for a few hours or days surprisingly close and intimate, and delightfully unfettered by the complexities that long-term connection entails.
I always choose a campground that’s within about a half-hour from a town, preferably a small interesting one. The public library is the first place I scope out, where it is and the hours it’s open. Libraries are, hands down, the unsung heroes of this country. I go to them to connect to their wi-fi and to charge up my computer so that I can use it in the mornings back at my tent for writing. Their bathrooms have running water, even hot water. They also often have used books for sale, which is handy because no matter how many books I bring with me I always run out long before I get home, or the ones I brought don’t appeal to me at the moment. These books have sometimes introduced me to fine writers that I didn’t even know existed. Librarians are a rich source of information about the town, if you catch them when they’re not busy. I like to find out if anything interesting is going to be happening while I’m there, where the good restaurants are for when I’m tired of my own cooking, and as much about the people and the workings of the town as the librarian is willing to divulge. If the evening is cold or wet, and the library’s open, I can sit comfortably in warmth and entertain myself there until bedtime.
Next I find out when the town’s farmers’ market is held and where. Not only can I stock up on fruit and veggies, I also get to meet some of the local people from whom I can learn more about the town and its inhabitants, as well as any possible entertainments coming up. Visitors’ Centers, Chambers of Commerce, and Rangers’ Stations usually have a good map of the town and brochures about places and events in the area.  
It’s after I’ve set up my homestead and walked around the nearest town finding out where these useful places are that I return to the campground and take a walk around the whole place, seeing who’s there and what gear they have. I’m always happy if there are families with kids, and if there are other tents, and if at least one person smiles and says hello. It’s a real bonus if the last camper left a pile of wood at my grill, or if my tent is going to be in the shade in the afternoons, or if there’s no wind, or if there’s an interesting- looking older man camping alone that I can flirt with (spending an evening by a campfire, just me and an appealing man, is a rare treat ever since I’ve become a single woman again), (no, it doesn’t stop just because I’m old), or if the water spigot is just a few steps from my site, or if there’s a camp host, someone who can answer questions and who provides a sense of security, or if I don’t have an RV right in my face, or if no-one can see into the back of my tent so I can sleep with it open if I want to.
I list these bonuses because I hope they illustrate how very basic one’s thinking becomes when camping. This is one of the things I love so much about it, one of the things that feels so freeing. Daily life becomes greatly simplified. Isn’t that odd? We think of all our labor-saving conveniences, all our amazing luxuries, as freeing, but for me, when I get home after a trip, they feel just the opposite. My house feels so full of distractions, there are so many THINGS cluttering up my fairly sparse house. Yes, I can go in and take a shower whenever I want, instead of having to find out where in the nearest town I can buy one that’s clean and has a good supply of hot water. But it means I’m living inside a space that includes that shower, along with so many other THINGS, and they have to be cleaned and maintained.  Most of all, they are my immediate surroundings, they’re what I look at all day, consciously or not, rather than mountains and forests and lakes and deserts and the sea.

Alone? In a Tent?

Here’s the thing: when I’m away from home, off for a few months of travel in my Prius with my tent, I’m about as footloose and fancy free as anybody can possibly be. As I drive away from my lovely house in the little town of Oracle, up in the mountains above Tucson, I can feel ties and strings and even a few chains loosening, some coming totally undone. By the time I’ve driven for a few hours I start to smile and sing as my car settles into a comfortable fast pace towards the campground I’ve chosen for my first stopping place.

I’ve done this for five summers now, ever since I started living alone again. Each summer, for two or three months at a time, I’ve explored a different part of the country: southern Utah, northern New Mexico, Colorado’s San Juan mountains, northern Arizona. This summer I went further afield, up and then back down the Pacific coast of Oregon and Washington. I’m just now back from that trip and I don’t feel at all ready to immerse myself again in my Oracle life, so I’m going to reflect back, give some thought to all these trips, how they affect me, even change me, why they’ve become an indispensable part of life to me.

I’ve been thinking of writing about my camping experiences anyway because wherever I go women come over to my picnic table and ask the same questions: you’re camping alone? and in a tent? how do you know how to do it? how do you decide where to go? how do you stay safe? what do you eat? isn’t it uncomfortable? aren’t you scared? have bad things happened? how do you know what to bring? how do you fit it all into your car? aren’t you lonely? Those questions are often followed by a faraway longing in their voices: “Oh my, I wish I dared to do what you’re doing, I know I’d love it, although I don’t know how my husband would feel about it.” I had all those same questions before I got up the courage to do it the first time, and I wish I’d had someone to help me learn more quickly how to do it well. If reading this gives someone the courage to give it a try themselves, then hallelujah! And, since I’m a retired psychologist, maybe I can come up with some ideas about the husbands too, how to help them feel positive about their wives going off by themselves now and then.

What all those questions underline is how unusual it is for a woman in her late 70s to be camping alone, in a tent yet. I find that very sad. Though I must confess I do enjoy all the attention and admiration I get from people just for doing what I want to be doing anyway. My daughters would laughingly attribute that to my being a Leo. I know I’m the object of speculation when other campers run out of other things to talk about: Did her husband die or leave her? Is she homeless? Maybe she’s a bit “off?”

Now don’t get me wrong, I like camping with other people too, and I like traveling via hotels and B&Bs, and visiting family and friends wherever they live. Here in Oracle we often put together a small group to go camping together for a few days in some nearby place of wonder (the Southwest is filled with these, we’ll never have seen them all). I enjoy these trips immensely, they’re fun and interesting, social and short, and totally different from my solo trips. I also travel often to faraway lands since my three daughters and their families live in Maine and Amsterdam and New Zealand. I love these trips too, I even love flying, and I certainly love every minute I spend with my family.

A woman traveling alone is a rarity in every campground I’ve been, and tents too are becoming more and more rare each year. I find this terribly sad, in fact disturbing, though I have to admit that while I’ve been sitting out a wild storm in my tent or a scary weird man nearby or a below-freezing night I’ve been able to acknowledge that there might be some benefit to having a small trailer or van or camper. (My anger at huge RVs continues to grow, year by year, as the RVs themselves do, both in size and in number, and I will never have a positive thing to say about them. Never ever). But those difficulties are short-lived and temporary, and when they’ve passed I bristle at the thought of sleeping inside some metal box. Instead, I try to figure out how next time I can be better prepared for these events – more stakes to hold down the tent, some mace spray, a second sleeping bag and warmer socks, that kind of thing. It’s how my gear keeps getting better and better.

Living out of my car, outdoors and in nature, traveling alone for months at a time – it’s an extraordinary experience, unlike any other, and I want to see if I can get down in words here exactly why I find it so compelling and satisfying. I’m still learning how to do it as easily and comfortably as humanly possible, and now after five years the learning consists mostly of tweaking and improving. I’m always on the lookout for new inventions in camping gear, but I think I’ve got the basics down pretty well.

In fact I feel downright smug sometimes amongst the RVs, traveling so lightly and setting up my whole homestead so quickly (about 15 minutes when there’s no wind, and that includes my kitchen on the end of the picnic table). Not to mention getting 50 miles per gallon. The people in the RVs are usually retired people, often interesting and likable and always unaware of the devastating effect of their choice of travel. They don’t seem to realize what a blight they are on every landscape they enter. A few times I’ve found myself the only tent amongst maybe twenty or thirty RVs, my little set-up tucked into a city of huge glaring white metal boxes, and when they add the audio of their generators to the horror of their visuals I’ve had to pack up and go to my next destination. This camping in a tent isn’t without its challenges.