A Mind For Camping
I have spent a lot of time hiking the outdoors the last few years. Almost 750 hours as of this writing. I have logged that time and the steps and miles and have really enjoyed my time. The one thing that was missing was spending a few nights in the outdoors. Not even backpacking but camping of any sort. I did a bit as a kid but as an adult, on this journey, I have stuck to the day hikes. I was just never sure that I had a mind for camping.
The Hiking Mind
I have talked a lot about the mental aspects of hiking, especially hiking alone. It is one of the most surprising aspects for me. I thought that walking for miles would help my physical health but the rows of trees, gently flowing streams, and endless views from peaks have found a way to clear my head. The more chaotic the terrain the easier it is for my mind to hit the blank slate I need to find that inner peace. I don’t know if it is the vastness of the woods and mountains that keep me grounded or if by the end of the of a hike my exhaustion doesn’t allow me think about anything but my surroundings. Either way it seems to work.
I had a friend ask me about it recently and I explained that when I am stuck thinking of the past I feel sadness or depression move in. When I think about the future is when the anxiety starts to show its colors. When I stay in the moment that is when I feel the most at peace. That is what hiking does for me. It keeps me in the moment. I can’t think about how much further the trail may stretch but instead I focus on the ground in front of me. The parking lot and trailhead are but a memory and the peak a distant point on a map. But I am right here. That mindset has made a huge difference.
For me that is the power of the outdoors. It is huge and small at once. A million acres surround the foot you stand in. If you think of the million acres it can be overwhelming. Especially when you realize how many bears, cougars and snakes live in those acres. Hopefully, there are no bear in the foot you stand in! Hiking has allowed me to focus on my little spot on the map without being overwhelmed by the map itself. So camping can’t be much different, right?
The First Night
I was offered a camper van to spend a couple of weekends in to test out for this website. The van would start my journey into the world of camping. While I was excited, and honored to be allowed the van, I was a little bit nervous about spending a night in the woods alone. The future anxiety creeping its way in. I mitigated the best I could and booked a campground in a state park where there would be people around so I felt safe. Then the day came and, of course, there was a spring storm. Snow and cold with low clouds that turned the sky dark early.
Once I parked the van I hiked through the snowy trails and found myself in that tiny space in the woods. Secure in my spot. Soft spring snow piling on my hat bill with a familiar crunch of the snow under my boot. Nobody else was braving the conditions with me and the trails were empty. I was in my element. When I made my way back to the van though that element had changed. Everyone in the campground was fleeing the snow storm in the warmth of their vans or trailers. It was quiet, calm. When the sliding door closed, the warm and cozy van cabin was cut by a chill in my soul.
Alone. The hero in most of my outdoor adventures had now turned to the villain. As I sat in the silent van, watching the snow gently fall outside the windows, my mind bounced like a teeter-totter. First, the future. Not just this evening but every evening moving forward. Like racing toward a tunnel and not being able to see the other side. Then teetering back to the past. The mistakes I have made. Some recent, some long forgotten. My mind could not stop moving even as my body laid still. My small space felt like a million acres again. The odd part is I live alone, in a small space. There was just something different about that night in the snow. Something different about a mind for camping.
The following weekend I had the van again but this time the weather was completely different. From snowsuit to sunburn in a single week. I found my campsite, did some hikes but was able to sit outside by the fire as the sun went down. This time I sat under a million stars but felt at peace in my small space. The crisp and cool night air tried to send chills to my bones but it could not cut through the warmth of the moment. As the flames danced then returned in each momentary breeze, my mind was able to stay in the simple moment. Sitting under the open air. Alone but not lonely.
When the sliding door of the van shut this time it wasn’t about locking out the cold of the world but keeping my warmth in. My mind’s only occupation was finding a pillow to recharge for the next day. No racing. No teeter or totter. The outdoors had cleared me of that. The stars had filled me with the same wonder as they always do. The stars live in the past but they arrive only in our present. That peaceful moment between the past and the future.
So the mind for camping was more about being outdoors after all. Alone didn’t feel alone surrounded by so much space. The sheer size of the woods, the world, and the night sky made me know exactly where I stood. Sometimes it takes knowing how small we are to feel like we are in the right space. Just the few feet in front of us. The sins of the past absorbed by the grand scale of the world. The worry of the future too far away to see. Just right, in the moment.
More from The Fatman
If you enjoyed this post you may enjoy more of the posts on my Fatman’s Rambling page. Blogs such as “Screw it, I’m Trying”, “Hiking Alone not Lonely Hiking“, “Winslow, Arizona” and “Lost in the Woods” as well as many others may interest you there. If you have any comments or topics you would like me to cover, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can keep the conversation going by following me on any of the below social media platforms.
I’ve been camping only once and that was last year when I did the Sunrise Ascent.
The outdoors truly can heal what ails us.