This is a story about how camping is not only camping for me. It is about how it all started and why I hashtag most of my Instagram posts #naturetherapy.
The first time I went camping I had almost nothing in terms of camping gear. I had a sleeping bag. I bought a $5 emergency foil tent; I didn’t know if I would stick with camping and didn’t want to invest a lot of money in a tent. I had no lanterns, no stove, no heater. For cooking I took a few disposable foil containers, forks and spoons, a knife, salt and pepper, and matches to start the fire. For food I took some zucchini, a couple of potatoes, carrots, a bag of Top Ramon soup, some crackers and cheese. And water. I had one medium size backpack and all my clothing had to fit. I also had one German Shepherd and food for him.
This was one day + 1 night and 1 morning on a trial bases. I Googled campsites, and found Pine Flat Lake only about an hour and a half from me. They had a campground that cost $20 for 1 day, the site gave me a metal bench, fire rings + grill, running water, a nearby bathroom with flush toilet and even showers. There was a boat launch ramp next door which didn’t mean much since I didn’t have a boat.
I arrived at the site excitedly and wondering how it will go. I set up my “tent”, tried to gather firewood. There really wasn’t any around, I was able to gather a lot of twigs and some medium size wood, but nothing thick enough to sustain a fire for a couple of hours, which I didn’t know then.
The ranger arrived to collect payment and she told me about all the campsites along the lake and the Kings River which feeds into the lake. I decided the next morning I would take a drive around and visit each site.
I wanted to go hiking so grabbed my backpack, my dog and his leash and started on foot. As I discovered there really wasn’t anywhere to hike. I mean I hiked up a huge hill only to discover more hills and more after that and they just never stopped. It wasn’t a trail, just the hills. It was good exercise, but not the best experience. I knew I had to get back by the time the sun started to go down, because I had to make a fire, cook my food and eat it, because once it was dark, I couldn’t do anything.
Making the fire proved a little difficult, as we all know twigs and small wood will burn out very fast. It wasn’t even enough to boil my water for the Top Ramen! I eagerly cut up the zucchini, carrots and some potatoes and added it with the noodles. The water never boiled. Well, luckily, because Top Ramen noodles are already processed, the noodles became soft enough to eat even in the warm water. I had to scoop out all the vegetables and gave them to my dog. That fire was sad and burned out quickly, but I was still enjoying my time.
There weren’t many people around. There was one gentleman a few sites down from me who was just there collecting moths. I was bored, my fire was out, it was getting a little dark so we started taking. He gave me locations of sites and trails I might want to try out. I had my big German Shepherd, Oso with me, who after sniffing him a few times, didn’t seem to care. At one point I looked down and saw that he positioned himself perfectly between us. He was just standing there on four legs, like a table. That’s when I realized he did that to protect me. If this stranger wanted to do anything, he would have had to go through him first.
This was a wonderful realization, because I had only adopted this dog 3 years before. He was already extremely well mannered and very calm, but I never new how protective he would be, how much I depend on him and didn’t know a whole lot about him. That night was the first night I took my dog camping and I never went without him. He is my camping companion, he keeps me company and makes me feel safe. I know he would protect me from wildlife and people (my mom always worries about the people part, I always try to tell her that nature loving people are peaceful people). But if I hear strange noises, and think that something is out there, all I have to do is look at my dog and I know if my fear are realized. Not that I’m afraid. Like I said I feel 100 % safe with my dog. And just one look at his face shows how happy he is to be there with me. I’m his leader and he knows his job is to protect me and he loves to hike. He is what you would call a “happy camper”.
The night was uneventful although I was kind of cold. My dog laid directly above my head, looking out for danger. The next morning I had some instant coffee, some crackers and cheese and hung out with my doggie. I packed up my primitive campsite, hopped in my car and drove down to see the other campgrounds. I had never been to this lake so I didn’t know what to expect.
Most of the places were either boat launch sites, or RV camping, or day-use hiking areas, but then I drove all the way out to the river and found a wonderful site. I have been to this site during the last 2 years many times, even with my daughter. It’s called Kirch Flat, it’s directly next to the river. There are 17 campsites there, a lot of them are spaced apart from each other. Each one is spacious, some has room for 3-4 tents, and have a couple of benches. Each has a fire ring with grill, and there are vault bathrooms right there. And it’s free. I love this campground.
During this trip I realized that the best thing you can do on the weekends is get away from your every day life. There is no cellphone reception in most of these places, so you can’t obsess with who’s doing what on what social media. You can read a book, talk to your dog, talk to your self, sleep, relax, hike, think about things, or not think about anything at all. I really don’t mind going camping by myself, and I actually prefer it. I love the peace and quiet. I’m a high school teacher and all day long either I’m talking, the students are talking, we’re both trying to talk at the same time or I’m telling them to stop talking. So a weekend without human words is like heaven to me.
Needless to say I also learned a lot from this trip. The next week I bought a small tent, I learned that getting wood is a high priority. But it was a long time, 9 months before I felt the need to even buy a lantern, a stove or a heater.
I was roughing it every weekend, it was not very comfortable but I loved it. What I didn’t tell you is that this happened right after I broke up with a boyfriend who briefly introduced me to the outdoors (one camping trip and one hunting trip). The trips I took by myself every weekend were extremely liberating for me, as I was always thinking “I don’t need a man to do my thing”, and time spent in nature was and is always very therapeutic. This is why a lot of my outdoors pictures are hashtagged #naturetherapy