“Up there, alone with the wind and the sky and the steep grassy slopes, I nearly always find after a while that I am beginning to think more clearly. Yet “think” does not seem to be quite the right word. Sometimes, when it is a matter of making a choice, I do not believe I decide what to do so much as discover what I have decided. It is as if my mind, set free by space and solitude and oiled by the body’s easy rhythm, swings open and releases thoughts it has already formulated.”
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“I am not at all clear when it happened, except that it must have been more than ten years ago. I do not even remember for sure whether it happened in Africa or in North America. But the salient contours stand out boldly. I had come to some natural boundary. It may have been the end of a trail or road, or the fringes of a forest or the rim of a cliff, I no longer know which. But I do know that I felt I had gone as far as a man could go. So I just stood there looking out beyond the edge of the world. Except for a wall of thick, dark undergrowth, I am no longer sure what I saw, but I know it was wild, wild, impossible country. It still looms huge and black and mysterious in the vaults of my memory.
All at once, quite without warning, two men emerged from that impossible country. They carried packs on their backs, and they were weatherbeaten and distilled to bone and muscle. But what I remember best of all is that they were happy and whole. Whole and secure and content.
I talked to them, quite briefly and in considerable awe. They had been back deep in the wilderness, they said, away from civilization for a week. ‘Pretty inaccessible, some of it,’ admitted one of them. ‘But there’s a lot of beautiful country in there --some of the finest I’ve ever seen.’ And then they walked away and I was left, still awestruck, looking out once more into the huge, black, mysterious wilderness.
The awe that I felt that day still hangs in my memory. But my present self dismisses it. I know better. For many times in recent years I have emerged from wild country, happy and whole and secure and content, and have found myself face to face with astonished people who had obviously felt that they were already at the edge of the world. And I know, now I have come to consider the matter, that what I have seen on their faces is exactly what those two men must have seen on mine, many years ago.”
-- Colin Fletcher, The Complete Walker (Alfred A. Knopf, 1968)
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The month of May means the start of wilderness camping season for some of us, Does that include you? No camping experience is required if you’d like to join us.
Some of our members have been camping with us for many years and come on 1-3 overnight trips each year. Others of you have yet to try a camping trip.
No activity is “for everyone,” of course, and if camping in the wild doesn’t appeal to you, no problem. But I periodically hear comments from some campers about how much those who have never tried wilderness camping are missing out on.
Many of us feel that most other vacations pale in comparison with a wilderness camping trip, which for some people can even become a life-changing experience. At the very least it’s usually a memorable time, and sometimes the highlight of a year.
Based on inquiries, phone discussions, and comments from non-campers, it’s clear that there are a few obstacles that keep some people from participating.
One is the inability to take showers or baths “in the wild” -- even though there are actually inexpensive “solar showers” (some under $20), consisting of a large plastic bag that attaches to a tree branch and provides a warm-water shower.
Many of you have traveled to other “less developed” countries where showers and baths aren’t always available. There one can still keep clean by washing at a sink.
Likewise in the wilderness, where hot running water isn’t available (although some water can be heated on a stove). You can always clean up after a day hike.
On most of our camping trips we’re close to a stream or lake, and occasionally we do have to carry water to our campsite from a stream or river, but anyone can keep reasonably clean, including by taking a sponge bath (or swimming!)
A second obstacle is the absence of bathrooms in wilderness areas, except for outhouses, some of which (but not all) are reasonably clean and well-maintained.
Yes, many of us do appreciate the comforts of modern bathrooms. But it’s also true that human beings did fine without such facilities for tens of thousands of years.
Nothing could be more natural or healthy than “answering nature’s call in the woods.” If you have trouble believing that, you may need to speak with some of our experienced campers, many of whom will tell you that it’s no big deal!
Women, of course, have certain issues that differ from mens’. If you’re a woman, there are sure to be others in the group who would be more than happy to offer assistance regarding how to “take care of business,” if you need advice.
Another common concern has to do with the thought of “roughing it,” including the belief that sleeping on the ground must inherently be uncomfortable. Not true.
Today thick foam pads are available that offer extra cushioning, along with your sleeping bag, which help assure that you’ll have a cozy and comfy night’s sleep.
Still another source of worry for some is about dangers from wildlife, especially those who have seen too many scary movies depicting fierce predatory animals.
In 38 years of trips we’ve never had anyone bitten or harmed (or even come close to being harmed) by any form of life other than insects. And in my own personal journeys, including hiking the 2200-mile Appalachian Trail many years ago, I’ve never been threatened even once by a wild animal. Unprovoked attacks are almost unheard of in the Northeast.
Are you someone who is tempted to try one of our camping trips but has some concerns? If so, get in touch with any questions you might have. Either way… why not go for it?!
Here’s our schedule of 2018 overnight trips:
And you’ll find lots more info about wilderness camping here:
-- Charlie Cook