A live-and-learn camping experience

After I went camping for the first time, I couldn’t wait to get out there. I had bought a small tent (2-3 person), already had a sleeping bag and I figured I was set. I planned to go to a different campsite from last time, I felt adventurous and was looking forward to a fun, but simple and uncomplicated experience. Boy, was I wrong.

This was my 2nd or 3rd time camping. The campsite I chose was in the mountains (not far from Shaver Lake, Ca), it was supposed to be free, no reservations required, and open already (it was only April and some campsites don’t open until May 30). There was supposed to have vault bathrooms, and each campground would have a bench and a fire ring. I looked up directions on my phone and on my laptop. Because they slightly differed, I printed the one from the website and took screen shots of the other one on my phone just in case I lose service. You could say I was super careful and prepared.

I took my tent, sleeping bag, backpack with some extra clothes, water, enough food for 2 days, and a few utensils and disposable foil containers -> I was counting on having a fire grill (that’s what the website said). I also had my dog, Oso and enough food for him. I got in my car, my dog Oso jumped in ready for adventures. That’s when I snapped this picture.

Lesson 1: have a backup plan just in case you can’t find the campsite / it’s closed / or otherwise inaccessible Well, only one thing went wrong. Couldn’t find the campsite! I drove around for an extra hour, went back to earlier points to follow each of the directions I had. At a couple of places the signs were confusing, so I drove down on all the roads. I was way off road by then and was risking getting stuck. It was very frustrating, but I didn’t want to go home, I said I would go camping, and that was going to happen one way or another. I was driving in the forest (Sierra National Forest) and told myself I will just get off of it wherever I can, drive into the forest and camp out. You can camp in a national forest anywhere, unless it’s noted.

So that’s what I did. I couldn’t find a spot to park and camp close buy, so I had to carry everything and hike for a bit. I wasn’t prepared for that, but I had all sorts of clips and carabiners, so I hooked everything on me or my backpack and hiked in for about 20 minutes.

Found a nice flat, grassy area (after I walked through a swampy grassland) with some pine trees close by. It was very pretty. Set up my tent, and went for a very quick hike to look around. Came back way before sunset to make a fire and start cooking.

Lesson 2: have a back up plan to cook your food. Foil would work, or a stand up grill or something that you could suspend. Only then I realized: there is no fire ring!!! How am I going to cook my food? I had foil containers, but what was going to hold them up? I had a little foil, but I didn’t think of wrapping food in it and throw it in the fire. (I realized that later when I thought back, wondering what I could have done differently) I brought a couple of zucchinis, potatoes and ground beef, these had to be cooked.

I panicked for a minute. But then I looked around and noticed all the huge trees fallen on the ground. They still had their long, skinny branches sticking out. Interestingly, right there, staring at me was a branch that came out from the tree, went into the ground, then came back up ad ended in a fork.

I could make a fire underneath, put my food in my foil containers and place them on the middle of the fork! I did just that, and it worked out wonderful. It was as if someone put that tree there for me. At first I set the fire, put my food on the fork, and then realized the fire was going to burn the wood that is holding my food! Had to put out the fire, gather new wood, and start all over. This time I wrapped the end of the work in foil, hoping it would keep it from burning. It worked ! The trees were also so big, that the trunk was almost flat, not so curved, so could sit on one and use it as a table cutting up my food; and it served as a table for eating my dinner.

Dinner was delicious. The night was uneventful, except for I woke up any times, not able to sleep. Because I didn’t even have lanterns, once the sun went down and my fire went out (maybe 45 minutes later) there was nothing for me to do (and nothing to see) so I went to sleep so early that by 3 am I was well rested.

Lesson 3: take pictures on your way on a hike. Also turn around and take pictures of what’s behind you. This is what you should see coming back. The next morning I went for a longer hike. I almost got lost, even though there was some snow on the ground and it was great because I could see my footprints from earlier. Or not. That how I realized I must have taken a wrong turn. I didn’t panic, since it was early in the day, no darkness was threatening me. I basically remembered which direction I was supposed to be coming back, and knew that I couldn’t be too far off, since the hike was only a couple of hours. It was interesting that I was very close to my campsite, but I was looking straight forward, and it was more to the side. I turned back, and looked at my pictures I took on the way, they were very similar, but from a different angle. That’s when I learned to take pictures on the way to your hiking destinations, (it would be better if you turned around and took pictures that way as well), because you can compare and know that you’re on the right track.

Overall it was a great trip. First of all it was beautiful. I was up in the mountains, so even though it was April, there was still snow on the ground, but the weather wasn’t super cold. Back then I didn’t have a heater and didn’t have blankets, or even a mattress. I was sleeping on the ground, and it wasn’t too cold. For two days I was surrounded by only the pine trees, the snow, the beautiful views and my dog, didn’t hear a human word. It was very peaceful. This is basically what dispersed camping is: you camp in nature, using only what you have, leaving nature exactly the way you found it.

It was also very liberating, knowing that even with my very primitive, basic set up, and wit things going wrong, I was able to camp out in the “nowhere”. I also learned a lot of valuable lessons, and I will never forget them as we learn best from experience.

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