An Itch to Camp

I just finished a book where the characters went camping in the mountains, and it made me itch to go camping again. The fact that the campers in the novel ended up dead or maimed didn’t affect that yearning, and maybe even made it stronger for some perverse reason — perhaps for the feeling of putting in a total effort, pitting oneself against nature. Chances of my ending up with a wilderness guide who is also a serial killer like the characters in the book aren’t that great especially since I never used a guide on any of my treks, and probably never would.

The book I am reading now takes place not far from the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, which is intensifying the camping itch. I so enjoyed that area that it was one of the few places where I extended my stay. Not only did it feel as if I were living in a southwestern botanical garden, but I met some interesting people. One woman, who was the age I am now, more or less stayed there all winter, even though there is a limit to how long you can stay at one time. The people running the place let her stay because the place wasn’t packed, and because of her financial situation, I think. She camped out for long periods of time because she was alone and her teacher’s pension didn’t afford her enough money to live otherwise. I often thought I would do what she did, and in fact I’d planned on it, figuring I would go north in the summer and south in the winter, but fate intervened and I ended up with a permanent place to stay.

Despite the itch, I will probably never go camping again, though “never” is a long time. For now, I’m still enamored of my house, and don’t particularly want to spend a night away (I’d worry more about the house than my own safety, which seems a recipe for disaster). But as time goes on, and the feeling of newness wanes while the feeling that the house will still be safe waxes, I might head for the hills.

Although I stopped at many campgrounds on the cross-country trip I took several years ago, I didn’t visit any of the most prominent national parks, such as Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. And while I took several trips back to Colorado when I was away, I didn’t camp out here either. So there are a lot of unlived adventures if I ever want to answer the itch.

Apparently, despite my saying “never” to camping, I haven’t totally given up the idea since I’ve kept all my camping gear — all the big and heavy stuff for campground camping and all the super lightweight stuff for backpacking.

It’s funny, though, how different things are when you are leading an intermittent nomadic life (periods of staying in one place punctuated by periods of being on the move). I was able to take chances back then because I was still under the influence of grief and felt I had nothing to lose, so any worry about driving a car that’s a half century old into remote areas was shoved to the back of my mind. Now that particular worry doesn’t want to be shoved. And rightly so, perhaps.

But who knows. I might be considered elderly (statistically speaking), but I’m still a young elderly and haven’t yet reached my dotage, so many things are still possible. Perhaps even camping.


Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Gear Talk

I once read an article by a woman who quit the Pacific Crest Trail mid-hike. One of the reasons was that she never quite found her “trail family,” though I got the impression she was even more disappointed by her lack of “trail tail.” (Yep, that’s a real thing.) Another reason was that she found the thru-hiking culture elitist — apparently, all anyone ever talked about was how many miles they’d walked, when they’d started, and what gear they carried. Mostly they talked about their gear, with the ultra-ultra-light folks looking down on those who carried a few extra pounds, whether in their packs or on their bodies.

What made me think of this is that a woman contacted me a couple of days ago. Four years older than I am, she is also thinking about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s been nice connecting with someone more in my demographic than is generally prevalent in the hiking forums, someone who shares my particular worries.

Our last few exchanges have been about — drum roll — you guessed it! Our gear.

Since neither she nor I are planning on doing monster miles (don’t you love all these thru-hike terms I’m throwing at you?), we both agree that comfort is more important than a bit of extra weight — a comfortable pack, a comfortable sleep system, a comforting amount of emergency supplies. (Some of the lightest of the ultra-light hikers dispense with such “unnecessary” things as an emergency medical kit, a compass, extra socks, iodine tablets or something like that for a backup water purifier.)

In case you’re curious, these are my “big three” — the term for pack, tent, sleep system: Gregory J53 pack; Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 tent, Big Agnes double z insulated sleeping pad, and a zero-rated Enlightened Equipment camping quilt.

I couldn’t decide what size tent to get, so I ordered the UL2 (which means an ultra light two person tent). I immediately regretted not ordering the UL1 (a one-person tent) because it would have been a bit of weight saving, but the tent I ordered is a good size for me, and the weight just doesn’t seem worth worrying about. (Though thru-hikers worry about every fraction of an ounce. Some even cut off the handle of their toothbrush and trim the various straps on their backpacks.) So far, the only time I’ve used the tent was on my cross-country trip — I was so cold, I put the Big Agnes inside my big dome tent. I really enjoyed having a canopied bed!

A zero-rated quilt or sleeping bag is one that will keep you alive, though not necessarily comfortable, at zero degrees. My quilt barely keeps me warm when the temperature drops to thirty-five degrees, but I also have a second, lighter quilt I could bring, or perhaps half of a fleece throw. Why a quilt? I don’t like sleeping bags. Too confining. And it takes too much time to unzip. With an aging bladder, I figure I need to be able to get up as quickly as possible. (Too much information, I know, but this is the sort of thing I have to contemplate that young hikers don’t.)

And the sleeping pad — what can I say? It’s a bit heavier than what some people bring, a lot heavier than what the ultra-ultra light hikers use, but it is comfortable, and it keeps the ground temperature from being a problem. (Normally, I sleep propped up on a few pillows, but somehow, I can’t see me wandering the wilderness with a huge mound of pillows tied to the outside of my pack, though it would provide amusement to anyone who saw me.)

My “big three” weighs a total of ten pounds, which doesn’t sound like much until you consider all the other stuff I will need to carry. I’m hoping to keep clothes and the small bits of gear to a maximum of eight pounds, which would give me a base weight of 18 pounds, which is respectable, but I don’t know if I can do it. I, for one, need to have extra socks and other such amenities. And then, on top of that, there is all the food and water that needs to be carried. This should be enough to make me want to give up on my impossible dream, but oddly, all it does it make me consider how to get rid of the impossible part and keep only the dream.

There. Now you too got to participate in gear talk. Wasn’t that fun?


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Planning for Sponteneity

It seems silly to spend so much time planning to be spontaneous. I mean, isn’t that oxymoronic? Spontaneity by definition implies a lack of planning. Just go ahead and do . . . whatever. As a matter of fact, that’s what I always thought I would do — start walking, and see what happens. After all, that’s what The Peace Pilgrim did. And she survived for decades living a totally spontaneous life.

There was only one time in my life I was truly spontaneous. It was the first years right after I met Jeff. His very presence in the world made the world feel friendly, and I felt comfortable taking chances. Over the years, I settled back into my worrisome self. Our lives became constrained by his health, our finances, and various matters beyond our control. He told me once it bothered him that our shared life had destroyed my spontaneity — but he never understood that he was the one responsible for whatever spontaneity I had developed.

campingWell, now that he’s gone, I am determined to be spontaneous once again to honor him and to honor myself, but I am discovering that it takes a lot of planning to prepare to be spontaneous. If I have everything I need for emergencies, if I have shelter, bedding, food, water, and a way to carry it all, I can just take things as they come without undue stress. Take chances (within reason. I will never be one of those who lives for risk.) Most of all, I’ll be able to enjoy the journey.

At least, that’s the plan.

Meantime, all I do, it seems, is research. There are an incredible number of resources on line, and I could spend the rest of my life researching the adventure of a lifetime (or a lifetime of adventures), but I am at the put up or shut up stage. Put up money, that is. As I mentioned a few days ago, I got my tent and backpack.

Yesterday I ordered a solar charger for my phone, specifically, a Powertraveller Powermonkey Extreme 5V and 12V Solar Portable Charger, Yellow (Because the yellow was $10 cheaper.) It supposed to charge larger electronics as well, so although the reviews all mention how slow it is to store the charge, I’m hoping it will do just fine for my phone. I’d hate to be somewhere with a signal and have no way to send in my blog! And besides, I have a GPS, on my phone, and can get various apps that will tell me where I am and where I should go. (Apparently, these electronic services don’t take the place of a topographical map and a compass, so I still have to learn how to do things the old fashioned way.)

I also ordered a Sawyer Products Mini Water Filtration System. And a PStyle. (Why should men be the only ones who can urinate standing up?)

Finally, I ordered Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt 800 2-Season Sleeping Quilt and a Big Agnes, Insulated Double Z, NAVY, REGULAR WIDE sleeping pad. No claustrophobic mummy bag for me! The quilt is only rated for two seasons, but the warm sleeping pad and appropriate clothes will add to the comfort zone and make it usable for a third season.

I still have to deal with emergency supplies, clothes (cotton clothes are supposedly killers for hiking, and that’s all I own),  and dozens of other things, but I think I’ve got the major items covered.

I’m sure this is all as boring for you as it is for me, but what the heck. It’s all part of the adventure.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Shopping for an Adventure

I spent most of yesterday online researching various camping products, such as a solar charger for my phone. What a frustrating task! There are dozens of reviews for every product as well as descriptions galore from the manufacturers. Not surprising, every opinion is different. The products work. They don’t work. They chargers charge fast. They charge slowly. Sheesh.

It does seem silly that a phone is necessary equipment for backpacking considering how new the technology is, but the device is too valuable to leave behind, or to take and leave uncharged. GPS, maps, emergency calls, blogging, photos. Amazing what that little thing will do! (And my phone is very little. A mini.)

I had to close up my computer and get something to eat to stave off the circular thinking hunger was creating. (Remember H.A.L.T.?) I kept wondering what I was doing, buying all this stuff for a life I might not even like. I truly am a homebody, and therein lies the problem. When I settle down, I gradually give way to inertia, and then stagnation sets in. Oh, my. That is not what I want at all!

So far, there is little chance of my settling down. I checked out an apartment over the weekend, and though it was nice (but pricy), it depressed me. I could feel the walls closing in on me after just a few minutes. Was thrilled to escape when the tour was over.

So back to researching. And buying. I never have understood the joy people get from shopping. That, too, depresses me. I don’t like spending money, don’t like looking for things to buy, and I don’t like trying things on. Not only did I try on an apartment this weekend, I went tried on shoes. (Can’t go walking without adequate shoes, so those are a must.) I bought two pairs, one of which I will have to return. The shoes felt good in the store, but when I tried them on today, they seemed big enough but felt like ill-fitting casts. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

And then there is gear. Sleeping system. Tent. Backpack. Water filter. Clothes. Food. Emergency supplies. Daily necessities. The challenge of fitting one’s home into a backpack is incredible. Even the lightest of the items add up. Three pounds for a backpack. Almost three pounds for a tent. Almost three pounds for a sleep system. (What makes it worse is that some equipment like sleeping pads are not geared for shorter and wider people. To get the width, I have to get extra length, and that adds to the weight, but I did finally find a sleeping pad that was wide without being long! Yay! And I decided on a sleeping quilt instead of a sleeping bag. Double yay.)

I could go lighter on all that equipment, but then there would be no point to any of this because I would be so uncomfortable at night, I would hate every step I took during the day. It’s possible I’ll hate it anyway, because carrying thirty pounds of gear for any length of time seems nigh impossible, but I will, of course, try to get acclimated little by little and see where that takes me. If nothing else, I could use the things for car camping. As someone pointed out — if it can fit in a backpack, it certainly could fit in my car. (There was a snide remark somewhere in the comment from that person about my car being a backpack, and I hate to admit it, but there is some truth to that. A VW Beetle is not the most spacious vehicle ever made.)

I thought the hard part of all this would be to actually go on an adventure, but I have a hunch by the time I set out, I’ll be so delighted the shopping is all done that I’ll just float away on a bubble of glee.

Or not. I always seem to be shocked by the difference in how I expect to feel and how I really do feel.

I am also surprised by some of the reactions I am getting. One sister is delighted I am planning a solo hiking/camping/backpacking trip. One brother is freaked out by it. I guess I’ll just have to wait to see how we all end up feeling.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.