I have come to learn: there are things I will never enjoy doing no matter how much I want to enjoy doing them.
I speak of camping alone.
I can’t deny there is a certain amount of appeal to the idea of camping alone. It evokes visions of myself – a grizzly, rugged western stud – sittin’ by the fire playing the harmonica under the stars, drinking bourbon out of my canteen and puffing on a cigar, cowboy hat tilted over one eye, boots crossed, the horse tied to the tree, the oxen in a circle by the wagon, singing songs of ol’ Kentucky…
But no, none of this is even remotely close to reality. I’d like to think I’m independent enough to deal with the burden of pure solitude for a mere evening, but I’m not. Here’s what usually happens: (as explained in the second person for some reason)
1. You drive to the campsite, thinking about how nice it will be to get some time with your own thoughts. You start to notice, as the sun heads towards the horizon, the air temperature gets a little …crisp. You want to complain about how cold it will probably be, but there is no one around to whine at, so you start talking to yourself about the weather. Thus marks the first step of losing your mind.
2. You pull out your tent and immediately remember how much it sucks to pitch a tent by yourself. You start to bicker with yourself over how to best pitch a tent. “No, asshole, you’re supposed to put the poles in BEFORE snapping on the hooks.” “You sure about that, wise guy?” “Pretty damn sure, Amigo.” “Dude, the fly doesn’t go on like that.” “Hey now, who’s pitching the tent right now? You or me? …that’s what I thought.”
3. You find out there’s a burn ban in your state and you can’t legally light anything on fire. But that’s okay. It’s not like your entire dinner plan relied on a campfire or anything.
4. As you’re choking down cold hot dogs, the sun goes down and the air temperature drops twenty degrees. You put on every article of clothing you own, but you’re still cold because you spilled camp water on your jacket. “I told you to bring an extra jacket,” you say to yourself. But you don’t respond back, because you’re giving yourself the silent treatment as revenge for calling yourself an asshole. That’ll show you, jerk.
5. It’s 8:30pm. You look at the stars. God they’re beautiful. For a brief moment, you experience the rapture of solitude in the wilderness.
6. It’s 8:32pm.
7. Damn it. What did I do before when I actually enjoyed camping? …oh, that’s right… I talked to people. You pace around your campsite for a while, because, well… shit.
8. You decide to read a book by lantern light. You turn on the lantern. Every moth in the county decides to join the lantern party. After swatting around bugs for five minutes, you give up.
9. You crawl into your sleeping bag because you can’t figure out what else to do. It’s 9:00pm. You stare into black space for about three hours before feeling tired.
10. In what will be the shittiest night of sleep you ever get, you will wake up at least every quarter hour in panic. It begins when you look at your watch and notice it’s 1:02am. Then you fall asleep. You wake up. You look at your watch figuring you must’ve been asleep for at least two REM cycles. It’s 1:14am. You hear the cracking of twigs, and you’re 100% certain that a bear is breathing outside your tent. This bear, combined with what has to be below-freezing air, is what keeps you from peeing all night long, even though you really have to.
11. You wake up to the hospitable warmth that is your leftover cold hotdogs because you can’t build a fire to cook the bacon you were so excited to bring. You eat a packet of instant oatmeal and realize now more than ever how little those “real blueberries” taste like real blueberries.
Curse you, blueberries. Curse you.
I want to like you, Lone Camping. I really do. You resonate with my dream of freedom and independence, and someday I’d like to become a rural hermit. But you make it so hard, Lone Camping. With your boredom and your loneliness, even with the sublimity of your celestial sphere, I find no peace in your embrace. Maybe I just need people to talk to. Maybe the joy is camping is found through the joy of camaraderie. Maybe I just don’t cut it as a quality companion for myself.
I’m sorry, Lone Camping. It’s not you, it’s me. I am weak, and my intentions are narcissistic. Please forgive me for my arrogant sense of self-importance to think that camping alone is the means through which I can craft my self-indulgent delusions. You deserve better than a wannabe cowboy.