Thursday, March 25, 2010
I have had mixed feelings about camping over the last 10 years. As a girl who grew up spending a large part of her childhood on the road, or living in campgrounds and sleeping in a tent as part of a lifestyle, I never really saw the draw to do it if you had money and a place to sleep in a bed at night. When I was kidnapped to Burning Man the first time, I had to borrow almost everything, and swore that they would “vote me off the playa” before the sun even set on the first night. (Joking aside, this was actually a real fear of not being able to “hang” with the survival camping.) But I made it, in a very limited camp, and even after a little distance from the experience, had a desire to go back.
In the past few years, I’ve not only returned and flourished on the playa two more times, but I’ve also found myself camping in neat places like Big Basin, Kirkcreek and Fernwood in Big Sur and Sequoia National Park. I was more and more prepared, borrowed less things and generally improved my attitude and experience all around with each visit. While I am nowhere near being nature girl, I’m definitely not someone who is shy of the outdoors anymore, and I’m really beginning to enjoy it. In January, I purchased a new tent to replace the playa-fried one that I had been using the last few years, and I was anxious to try it out, and to have a reason to finally splurge on a new warmer sleeping bag, simpler pad and a camp stove of my very own. Unfortunately, trying to coordinate schedules with various people and myself left it weeks before there was an open night for me to sleep in the stars and I was really bummed. On top of it all, this April was starting to look a little down for me, since the previous two years, I had done outstanding adventures by myself. I spent days powering through the east coast cities of NYC, Philly and DC and then one upped myself last year and traveled across the Atlantic to Amsterdam and Paris. Each time, being forced into situations and challenges during those adventures that forced me to test my independence and self-reliance, I was able to grow and learn more about myself. Without Burning Man in my future, and without the cash laying around this year to plot out something bigger than Paris, I was really struggling to find something introspective to push myself forward.
I started thinking that I really didn’t need anyone to go with me to satisfy my need for wildflowers and outdoor slumber, and I could really use a few days away from it all. A self-admitted technology addict, you literally have to take me out of range of wifi and cell signals to get me to disconnect, and disconnecting is something I desperately need to force myself to do more often. On top of that, I also think sometimes when you do things with other people, there becomes an average of your limits. It’s hard to truly test your own personal limits when you have to compromise and either push yourself further than you want, or are not sure you’re pushing far enough. It was time to see what some of my own limits were. So it was decided, solo camping it was, as soon as possible. I got the last of my gear, and started researching places to go. I had some requirements. I wanted to leave on a Friday from work, and be able to drive home Sunday, and not spend most of the weekend in the car. I needed to feel safe enough hiking and camping by myself, so there needed to be people fairly close by, no real hike-in spots for me this time. I also wanted to save some places to explore with my boyfriend, or places that were close enough for us to spontaneously camp on a Saturday night this summer. I was looking for some place fairly lush, I wanted wildflowers and flowing water. If I couldn’t have the ocean, I wanted a big stream or a waterfall or something wet. I didn’t want dry and crunchy. I had it down to Pinnacles and Big Sur, but a reminder that the first would be too hot in the coming months, and it seemed to fit most of the other requirements, I was in. (Plus, it’s one of the cards in my Bay Area Back Roads Deck!)
Pinnacles National Monument is an Ancient Volcano. NPS says "Rising out of the chaparral-covered Gabilan Mountains, east of central California's Salinas Valley, are the spectacular remains of an ancient volcano. Massive monoliths, spires, sheer-walled canyons and talus passages define millions of years of erosion, faulting and tectonic plate movement."
I took a ½ day on Friday, drove down the gorgeous highway 25 past fields of flowers, and found myself setting up camp with no one else around. It was sort of nice to be the first in my group of 3 sites to be there, allowing me to set up in quiet and arrange myself how I wanted without being watched. I was also a little self conscious about being out there alone and didn’t really want to talk to anyone or answer any questions about it.
I set up camp in under an hour, thanks to the tent practice the night before, and had plenty of daylight left for an adventure. I talked to the Ranger, and plotted myself out a little 6.5 mile hike for the evening, which I did in just under 2 hours.
It was fantastic to be out there almost completely by myself, and walking through such diverse areas of the park. I was glad I knocked this off on Friday, because on Saturday it was loaded with people, and it was easy to cut off this part of the trail group with a shuttle. I think I saw a dozen different wildflower types within the first hour, and was amazed by how many lizards and birds I saw as well. I remember saying out loud over and over that it was just so freaking beautiful. It was neat to take note of the flowers that grew in the lush shade by the river stream, or the flowers that thrived in the sun. I found myself thinking about the traveling of the patches year over year as the seeds blew in the wind, propagating for future generations.
Some things I learned:
I spent a lot of time contemplating my own personal definition of “beautiful” in Nature. As I said above, when I started planning for this trip, I realized that I was looking for some place lush and green. After 2 days a bit inland, I realize that I need to alter my definition of beauty a bit. Especially because so much of this world isn’t coastal, realizing that there can be beautiful things in the high hills or the desert is probably something good to my future travel pleasures. I was so pleased with the variety of landscape in the park, and was really quite shocked how much I found appreciation for the crunchy shrubs.
Reading and relaxing is an important thing. I need to do this more.
I am not patient. Wait, didn’t I already know this? Yes, but I generally give myself grief for not being patient with other people. This trip confirmed that I’m not even patient with myself. There was a handful of times when I was so frustrated and I knew that I just needed to take a deep breath and shift focus, but I just got angry instead. A good example of this was setting up the tent the night before the trip to realize I didn’t have the instructions, couldn’t find them online, was quickly running out of both daylight and time to do the rest of my chores, and ended up wanting to throw a fit. I didn’t, but it was definitely a test.
I do not like people around me in nature. I did a lot of contemplating about this during the weekend, because it’s such a balance for me. After the last few years of traveling around the world to popular monuments and museums and realizing how much I have space issues, I have this selfish part of me that wants these places all for myself. Then I realize that if they were more exclusive, that I’d likely never be able to see any of them, because wait lists and requirements would just be outlandish. So while I was overwhelmed by the shuttle line, and at times felt like I was in Disneyland with the numerous children buzzing around, I really can’t complain about all the people. I think it’s great that parents are taking their kids to outside places at all instead of keeping them in front of the TV. I felt the same way about the campground. While I really wish my tent was further away from my neighbors, or there was some blockage in between us to create privacy, there really isn’t a lot of options if we all want to be there and enjoy the monument. Either it’s more private and less people come, or we can all deal with a little bit of crowding. I guess I’ll deal.
It doesn’t matter if I’m by myself or with someone else – I’m going to go hard, and then bitch about it. I powered up the heated side of the hill, forcing myself through “just one more switchback” before stopping. I remember the uphill hike at Sequoia and how I never thought I’d ever want to hike again, that Mike was going to dump me from my whining, and that this was all seriously lame. I also remember at the end saying that it was worth it to see the butterflies, the bear and the lady bugs, and that I actually felt pretty accomplished and awesome physically for doing it. The hike up on Saturday was very similar. When I walked up to a world of children, I asked the ranger where they were going, and where they would not be, so I could pick that option. They chuckled, but I was serious that I needed some thinking time in quiet areas, and after being in boy scout land back at camp, I knew their echoing screams were going to ruin my day the way they had my night. The first 2 miles seemed like a serious mistake most of the time. I have serious “running out of water” paranoia, especially after Sequoia, and was afraid to drink too much, was scared I was going to trip and break something and die, and I still had more than ½ of the hike left once I actually got to the top of the hill. But a few hours later, as I was hobbling my blistered feet to the shuttle to take me back to camp, I was certain that I had made all the right decisions that day, and the extra effort was worth it.
While Oak is fantastic wood to burn for hours, for the second camping trip in a row, I’ve forgotten both newspaper and cheaper fire starting wood. There was absolutely no wood gathering here, plus the ground was a little wet anyway. I struggled a bit Friday night to get my fire going, and Saturday gave in and bought pine from the ranger’s station like we did in Sequoia. While I was greatly disappointed in my fires both nights, I decided the important part was that I got them going and didn’t freeze. It doesn’t really matter how it happened or what I did it with, just that I had a challenge, and I found a solution.
So in summary, it was a really freaking beautiful place that I had never been too before, and it was really neat camping by myself, and seeing how I worked things out. For a test of self-reliance and self-sufficiency, it probably could/should have been at least a day or two longer, but it still served a great purpose and got me outside and away from it all for a while. AND, it’s actually a few less things that I’ve never done!
See all the pictures from my adventure here.
What's your favorite place to camp? Have you ever camped alone? Have you been to Pinnacles - tell me about your experience?
Monday, March 22, 2010
Driving down Highway 25 to Pinnacles National Monument, I was blown away by the hills covered in yellow. It was exactly the sight I wished for.
I've also now been camping by myself. That's pretty damn kick ass. I'll write more about it as part of a post on the Pinnacles, but for now it's enough to say CHECK, one more life experience on the list.