I would consider myself a pretty experienced camper. I’ve pitched in the middle of nowhere where I’ve had to carry my life on my back, I’ve hiked a mountain and had to dangle a bear bag off a cliff, I’ve slept (or at least tried to) at a festival where I wondered if my tent would be pissed or vomited on in the night, I’ve camped in a civilised campsite, on a beach, in a forest, in a thunderstorm, and in the desert. And I love it.
I can appreciate why camping may not be everybody’s cup of tea. I mean, there can be obstacles putting up or taking down your tent if the weather is not cooperating, you can get cold if you don’t have the proper gear, you can wake up to a sauna if you’re somewhere hot, you are hyperaware that there isn’t a toilet handy, you can get invaded by various animals and insects in the night, and you can have noisy people next door etc.
However, despite all that, there is something so incredibly magical about being tucked up in your sleeping bag when the rain starts to fall, or you’re next to the beach and can drift off to the waves crashing or owls hooting or crickets chirping or whatever else resides in your surroundings. There is something so liberating about being able to carry your house with you, as a hermit crab does and stay where your mood takes you.
It is also where I do some of my best thinking. On my most recent venture I was pitched up in a designated campsite on the Pembrokeshire coast. The view across Fishguard Bay was breath-taking and the facilities on site of an impeccable standard. However, as I lay there drifting off to sleep, all I could thinking about was how safe the area was. I could drift off into a deep slumber knowing that no bear or wolf would stop by in search of food. I was safe. But the trade-off is that you are fully aware you aren’t in the wilderness. It’s the outdoors in a box.
Compare the above scenario to when I was camping in Arizona two years ago. I was in the Chiricahua Mountains with two friends; we’d hiked for hours, well into bear and mountain lion territory and set up camp as dusk infiltrated the evening air. We spent the next few hours building a fire, cooking some steaks and casting our eyes upon some of the clearest night skies I’d ever had the pleasure of encountering. It was true nirvana.
Before bed, we put everything into a bear bag and dangled it off a cliff edge about 100 metres away from the tent. I drifted in and out of sleep that night, startled by any sounds of scurrying outside of the tent for fear we were about to encounter something much bigger and stronger than any of us. We were miles from any help and really had to have our wits about us.
The next day we awoke to a sparkling sunrise and after a good breakfast began our descent. We’d made it through the night and despite almost dying of dehydration by the time we had reached civilisation, we had had one of the best camping trips of our lives.
This was adventure; real Lewis & Clark style travel. To feel like a pioneer and feel the air of unexpectedness puts all of life into perspective. You are ignited by excitement and awe at the world and all the majestic creatures which walk this earth; and you are filled with a profound respect for the wild that you enter into.
It’s a funny trade-off: safety vs adventure. You can camp somewhere pretty and sleep soundly, or camp somewhere majestic with the risk of being savaged in the night. I think you’ll find the latter to be the one you’ll hold closer to heart.