By Ben Olson
Imagine a place where the coronavirus doesn’t really exist. Where the petty squabbling on social media is just a silly memory. Where there are no armed protesters or conspiracy theorists invading your quiet afternoon with their petty disagreements and weird hobby horses.
If your imagination is anything like mine, you are probably picturing a peaceful campsite and a weekend of solace away from the constant noise.
As the days grow longer and nights more pleasant, more and more of us are turning to camping in the great outdoors to escape reality.
What is it about camping that appeals to so many of us here in North Idaho? Is it eating charred smokies cooked over an open fire? It is sleeping on the hard ground and waking up smelling like campfire smoke? Is it coming home stinking like a hobo?
Most of us who enjoy sleeping out in nature were exposed to it at a young age — usually from camping with family and friends. Some of my favorite memories from childhood involved camping at Round Lake or Farragut State Park, or primitive camping in the mountains with my friends in high school and college. I spent a good part of my 20s searching for the ultimate spots around North Idaho and western Montana — some next to rivers, others deep in the woods where you were almost guaranteed solitude. Then, when passing on the location of these spots to trusted close friends and loved ones, I lived vicariously through them as they built their own memories in those places.
On its face, camping seems ridiculous to those who have never been. We have evolved and advanced over thousands of years to reach our current — so-called — pinnacle of human achievement. We have roofs over our heads, running water, heat and electricity, and all the modern gimcracks to entertain us. Why in the world would we drive off into the hinterlands and sleep like animals when a new episode of The Bachelor is on? (barf)
I’ll tell you why: It’s damn beautiful out there.
Time passes slowly when you’re camping. Hours go by without a word spoken; the only sounds being the waves lapping against the shoreline or the river singing its song through the canyon or the grove of trees creaking in a warm afternoon breeze.
While camping, I’ve never had someone call me a hack and a terrible human being. I’ve never received an email pointing out some dumb typo while I slept in a tent. I don’t get angry phone calls because the phone and computer either stay at home or spend the trip turned off and shut away. Let all that crap wait until Monday morning. For the time being, the only things that matter are gathering enough firewood to last the night, keeping the beer cooler out of the sun and enjoying the company of those with whom you spend this precious time.
If you delve deeper into why we camp, you could argue that it’s a way to connect with our ancestral roots. Trace back our family trees far enough and you’ll reach a point where camping wasn’t called camping, it was called living. How wonderful it is to disconnect from the troubles of the modern age and return to a simpler way of life — if only for a weekend.
Yet, no matter how far we drive into the boonies to get away from people, the rough touch of man’s hand can still be seen. I’d say nine times out of 10, when we arrive at one of our favorite hidden camping spots around North Idaho, we aren’t greeted by a serene, peaceful scene, but instead there are fire pits full of dirty diapers and busted air mattresses, broken glass and piles of human waste in the bushes, marked by the mounds of toilet paper left behind.
In an effort to help us all disconnect from society in a positive way, I offer a few suggestions to make both your trip — and the trips of those coming after you — a little better:
Pack it in, pack it out
It’s that simple. If you brought it, you need to take it away. The only thing I leave behind when departing from a campsite is the firewood that we didn’t get a chance to burn. Nobody wants to clean up your mess. Also, make sure your fire is completely out before leaving the site. Just last weekend, I had to dump a half dozen buckets of water on a fire that was left burning by some inconsiderate campers down the shore. That’s exactly how forest fires start.
Leave all the electronic b.s. behind
I don’t want to tell anyone what to do with their own precious life. If you like to bring your computer and phone into nature and connect with the world, so be it. But you’re missing the whole point. Unplug the cord and listen to the river, for crying out loud.
It never ceases to amaze me how people have no manners when it comes to camping right next to another site.
There was a time when Cadie and I canoed to one of our favorite spots on the lake. We reached it in less than an hour, set up camp and built a fire. Just when that warm glow of isolation finally started settling in, a motorboat zoomed up to the shoreline right next to us and disgorged some people who set to work unloading gear. I mean, it was right next to us. A child could have thrown a rock through the boat’s windshield.
I hollered over to them, asking if they wouldn’t mind moving to one of the half-dozen spots I knew about down the beach, where we wouldn’t be camping on top of one another. They looked at me with that classic “I-smell-poop-face” and continued setting up their camp. The wife even shouted, “There’s nowhere else to camp!” I yelled back:“You’re in a powerboat! I can direct you to a dozen spots right now that you can reach in less than five minutes.”
They didn’t like someone else telling them what to do, so they dug in their heels and set up right in our sightline. I then gave up the effort and went for the jugular: I pulled out a trombone I had brought and for the next hour proceeded to make a horrible noise that sounded like an elephant dying.
Maybe next time they’ll think twice about pulling on shore right next to another campsite when there are so many other great spots just minutes away. I have no regrets.
Leave the fire pit in a reasonable condition
Better yet, scatter the rocks if you want to leave it pristine. I don’t understand why sometimes I’ll arrive at one of our spots and see someone has spent what looks like weeks building a fire ring that’s four feet high and full of broken glass and bottle caps. Why the hell does a fire ring need to be this stout? And no, that isn’t a trash can.
Do not, under any circumstance, share your ‘secret’ campsites with tourists
I don’t want to be a jerk, but they haven’t earned these spots that we spend our formative years finding. I always tell them to go to Green Bay or somewhere that has already been discovered. Chances are, even if they mean well, when you show them one of the magical primitive spots around here, they’ll tell their friends and then next time you pull up to the site it’ll be full of Kootenai County or Washington plates.
The bottom line: Enjoy yourselves in nature, leave all the nonsense behind and respect the fact that other campers do what they do because they don’t want to see or hear you. Leave the guns and firecrackers at home, bring a good book and give Mother Nature a chance to get a word in edgewise. She speaks the truth.
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