As I held the small nylon rope in my hands, looking up to see the impossibly small tree it was tied to, I imagined me and my overstuffed backpack tumbling down the steep headland on the Olympic wilderness coast.
There was no way to go around — the ocean slams against dangerously slippery rocks at impassable headlands on that route along the beach. There's no hiking trail carved into the rock. Just a sheer, 30-foot muddy wall and this little rope. The only way to go is up.
So I took a deep breath, stuffed my boots against the slippery hillside and pulled myself up, one shaky step at a time. The fear of falling grew the higher I got, but then a beautiful thing happened. Despite my seeming lack of strength, my self-doubts and my fear, I made it. At the top, I shouted the adrenaline-driven internal mantra that had repeated in my mind: I AM ALIVE.
Whether I'm backpacking in the wilderness, or with friends at a popular campground where you can pack chairs and fancy camp stoves into your car, I've found that the simple act of eating, sleeping and existing outside is a constant, beautiful reminder of that. I'm stronger than I think, and I am alive.
Camping offers a break from the stresses of work and forces us to live in the now: I'm cooking breakfast. I'm swimming. I'm staring at the hypnotizing beauty of a fire. It reveals how much we rely on creature comforts at home, humbles us as nature displays its awe-inspiring power, and reminds us of the simple comforts of a hot meal.
Thankfully, anyone can experience that. You just have to take that first step outside.
GETTING STARTED: PICK YOUR CAMPGROUND
A good place to start is making a reservation with one of the many beautiful campgrounds in the Inland Northwest.
Many popular sites fill up early, but don't get discouraged. Can you take a few vacation days and camp mid-week? Can you go later in the season? Does another park nearby have space?
Here are some beginner-friendly sites:
Farragut State Park on Lake Pend Oreille offers more than 200 forested campsites on what was a World War II naval base. There are bathrooms with running water and flushing toilets, and the park offers hiking trails, a swimming area for kids, and a boat launch, all to help you get closer to the beautiful, massively deep lake. Reserve through Idaho State Parks.
Luby Bay Campground on Priest Lake offers spacious campsites perfect for people who want to get out on their boat. The family-friendly site with flush toilets is close to the lake, where people also kayak, canoe, hike and swim. Be bear aware: Bear-safe containers help keep your food and coolers close at hand but safe from Yogi. Reservations at recreation.gov.
Steamboat Rock State Park on Banks Lake offers a unique grassy oasis in the middle of the hot scablands of Central Washington. With fish-cleaning stations, boat launches and bathrooms with showers, the site has a little something for everyone. Go swimming, hike the butte, or drive up to Grand Coulee Dam for the nightly laser-light show. Reservations through Washington State Parks.
WHAT TO BRING
Every good Girl Scout will tell you to always bring the 10 Essentials, whether you're going for a day hike or camping for a week, including:
1. Food: Bring more than you think you'll need.
2. Water: Bring extra in case you get lost, your car breaks down, or it's just hot.
3. Shelter: Tent, sleeping bag, pillow.
4. Clothes: Plan to layer for hot and cold, and wear wicking fabrics (not cotton).
5. Fire: Matches or a lighter.
6. First Aid Kit
7. Navigation: A compass and a map. (Yes, they still print them!)
9. Sun protection: Sunscreen, hat, a bandana (can help with injuries).
10. Knife and tools: I'll share a secret passed on from my dad: Tongs are awesome. Need to turn a log on the fire? Tongs. Flipping bacon? Tongs. No bottle opener? Tongs.
TIPS FOR COMFORT
- Air mattress and pump: Goodbye back pain.
- Tarps (with rope and stakes): Stay dry and provide shade.
- Handwashing station: Bring a 2-gallon jug of water with a pour spout, poke a small hole in the top so it can breathe, and place a bucket underneath to catch your soapy water (good to put out the fire).
- Cooler Hacks: Crack your eggs into a cleaned out coffee creamer container to take up less space in your cooler, freeze your meat so it stays cool longer, and pre-chop veggies and put them in sealed containers.
- Fire starters: Pack dryer lint into an empty egg carton, melt paraffin wax and pour it into each vessel. Snap into 12 individual fire starters. ♦