Every year, as the Labor Day holiday creeps closer, I always get an itch to wind down a narrow dirt road, lined with trees, until I see the familiar brown sign with yellow writing: National Forest Campground.
Now, when I was a kid, my folks had a motor home. The thought of sleeping on the ground never occurred to be a good one to my mom, whose own parents had a cabin when she was a kid. So I canít say that I ever knew what ďroughing itĒ meant until I was an adult. I think I was 28 years old before I ever slept on ground that wasnít someoneís backyard. However, I have since learned that doing exactly that can be a fantastic way to spend a weekend Ė alone or with friends. Both have their advantages, but if you haven't camped alone, I suggest you give it a try.
First, if you havenít camped before Ė solo or with others, I do recommend that you do your homework. Camping isnít for the faint of heart, but it can definitely help you steel your exterior with experiences. Itís also an amazing opportunity to get back to nature and see the world through different eyes. I love camping because I get to see squirrels, birds, fox, and sometimes elk, deer, moose and even an occasional bear from safe distances. Or sometimes, youíll get to see their tracks through your campground, and it gives you a special chill that youíre sharing this planet with more creatures than just your cubemates at work.
You also get to see stars in ways that you never thought could be so beautiful. With all the light pollution, even the smallest cities dampen the view of the night sky. If you want to see an inky blue-black sky covered in diamond dust Ė go camping.
Second, find a campground thatís monitored. A GREAT resource is www.recreation.gov. Add it to your bookmarks and look at all your state has to offer! Itís amazing whatís in your own backyard. If you plan ahead, you can even make your reservations online. And you DONíT have to have a tent. You can find campgrounds that have cabins. The cabins generally donít have luxuries like running water and electricity, but they do have stoves, beds, and other furnishings if youíre not ready for tent camping. You can use this site to find spots you can reserve for tent camping, as well, however.
Another great thing about camping in National Forest campgrounds Ė the cost is so affordable. The highest cost Iíve seen on a reservation is $30.00 a day, and most are between $10 and $18. A four day/three night vacation paying less than $50 for your spot? What a deal!
Also, monitored campgrounds provide you with some peace of mind that someone will notice if youíre gone. The rangers and other folks who stop by camp spots to collect fees will generally pay attention if something seems amiss. Also, take the time to keep someone close to you informed of your whereabouts before you take off. (See Security and the Solo Trip).
Okay, so youíve found your camp spot. If youíre planning on using a tent Ė hereís an important key: practice setting it up before you leave. Donít get the box, throw it in your trunk, and head for the hills. Itís a guaranteed recipe for disaster. Find a spot (your house, your yard, or a nearby park) where you can take your time and learn how to set it up. That way, if anything happens and you end up trying to set your tent up at night, you wonít get frustrated trying to read directions or find pieces.
Okay - we've laid the groundwork with finding a camp spot. Next time, we'll look at solo camping essentials!