When your first camping trip in adulthood is a blissful weekend spent in Joshua Tree National Park, it’s pretty easy to assume every camping trip is going to be amazing and transformative.
Well, it isn’t. Some trips are really going to suck and you’re going to ask yourself why you bother camping at all.
Some trips suck because of unforeseen circumstances: Unexpectedly chilly weather or, worse, wind. Some trips suck because the campsite isn’t what you had in mind, or your favorite campsite was taken when you got there and you’re stuck in the dregs.
A-a-a-a-n-d some trips suck because you just didn’t plan very well.
The camping trip we took for our first anniversary was a trifecta of suckitude: Bad weather, bad campsite and bad planning.
Among the myriad things that went wrong included:
- Pulling up to the campsite late in the evening to discover temperatures in the 30s that were not in the forecast.
- Oh, and one of our flashlights didn’t work.
- The lantern didn’t work either.
- So, I had to turn on my car’s headlights so we could see.
- As we unloaded the car, the headlights grew dimmer and dimmer.
- That’s when I walked into the picnic table at full speed, banging my shin into it and leaving a divot that is still there to this day.
- And that’s when I said, “Forget this, I’m going to bed.” No dinner, no nothing. Darren stayed up to eat sausage and beans by the campfire alone.
- I climbed into the tent and put Rufus in the sleeping bag with me. All right – this one didn’t go wrong. It’s one of my favorite memories ever. He was such a great snuggler.
- I shivered all night because I didn’t bring socks like an idiot.
- Neither of us slept a wink, thanks to high winds that knocked our tent around.
The next morning, we looked at each other and said, “Let’s go home.”
So, we packed up the car, jumped in and started it. Nothing.
Turns out, using the headlights as a light source was not a brilliant plan, as it had drained my battery. Fortunately, a fellow camper hooked us up and we got out of there.
F lessons learned
- Always check your gear. Check your batteries, check your light bulbs, check your fuel and make sure you’re stocked with extras. Especially if it’s been several weeks or months between trips. How dumb were we to show up without having done any of that? Pretty dumb!
- Always be prepared. No duh, right? Have socks and other cold-weather items on hand. Bring an extra blanket for warmth. Don’t just assume that a warm forecast is going to remain that way (I mean, unless you’re in Death Valley in June or something). I now pack the full range and am prepared for any and all types of weather.
- Have a “First Things” bag. This is one of the best things to come out of that disastrous trip. Now we have a bag that’s the first thing we pull out of the car. It has everything we need right away, including flashlights, lanterns, matches, mallets, stakes, fire starters, rope. No more fishing around in the dark to find your stuff! Do this now. It will make your life a thousand times easier.
- Cut your losses. When a trip just isn’t fun or what you expected, there’s no shame in cutting it short and going home. We didn’t regret it one bit and managed to salvage our anniversary weekend anyway, even if it wasn’t what we had planned.
- Accept that there will be dud trips. Not every camping trip will be amazing or change your life. And that’s a pretty unreasonable expectation anyway. Instead, just be open to new experiences, think about the larger picture: You’re seeing this great country! You’re spending time with pals! You’re disconnecting! And when things go wrong, find the lesson in all of it.
That last point is especially important, I think. It helps us keep it all in perspective when things aren’t what he had hoped. For example, in Wheeler Gorge. We all took it in stride and agreed: It’s not a great place, but we’re having fun, we’re here now and we should just enjoy it.
Now go forth and plan.