Adventurous vs. Disastrous

I find it strange that I like camping. I have always been a reader, not a doer, and I have always preferred being comfortable. Despite all the improvements in camping equipment, camping is not often comfortable. In fact, it can be downright miserable when you factor in adverse weather, inconsiderate neighbors, and insects. My last foray into camping included such unpleasantness as lawn mowing operations, interminably screaming children, aggressive dogs, and even more aggressive spiders. (They happened to find two places I missed with the insect repellent — jawline and knee — and one place I never even thought of putting it, the top of my head that’s still healing from my tumble down the stairs. ) I suppose the bites could be from my old nemesis, mosquitoes, but the ping-pong-ball-size swellings indicate otherwise.

And yet, with all that, I came away from that last night in Kansas at Meade State Park with a feeling of satisfaction. A feeling of being soul-fed.

Even the horrendous day of driving afterward seemed more adventuresome than disastrous. After all, if I had wanted to zoom across the country problem-free, I would not be driving a forty-four-year-old VW bug.

Heat, hills, head winds were too much for my air-cooled engine. It vapor-locked on me, once when I was driving, and once after I stopped for gas. (I had to push it into a parking space and wait until the engine cooled.) To be fair, the fault lies not with my poor old car but with modern gas and its low burn point.

As I sat in there in the blistering heat, looking around unsuccessfully for a bit of shade, I couldn’t help thinking how nice a bit of rain would be. As if on cue, the wind blew in a few clouds to offer me and my vehicle shade, and after we were back on the road, rain came. Not a lot, just enough to take the burn out of the over-heated air. And so I was able to continue my journey for a while longer. Actually, a lot longer. Five states worth. The only state I drove all the way across that day was New Mexico, but I started in Kansas, caught the corners of Oklahoma snd Texas, and stopped for the night just over the Arizona border. I wimped out and stayed at a motel. The bug bites worried me, and I didn’t want to risk more bites. Nor did I want to have to worry about my car not starting if I were in the wilds. Actually, it probably wouldn’t have been in the middle of a wilderness area but in a state park, which brings me to my final excuse for staying in a motel. Although I never felt unsafe in a national park, staying in a state park made me feel vulnerable. It was too close to civilization and access was too easy for anyone out looking for mischief.

I’d better get going while it is still a bit cool out. See you on down the road.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and 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.”)

***

Living an Inconvenient Life

I asked a friend why she hated camping, wondering if there was something in the equation I am missing. She said it wasn’t just having to deal with the weather and the bugs, though she didn’t like them at all. It was more the inconvenience of the experience. Nothing was . . . well, nothing was convenient.

cleanWe live in a society of convenience. Most of us live in solid structures, with roofs and walls that keep out the weather. We can adjust the inside temperature, our personal “weather,” however we wish, no matter what is going on outside our walls. Body wastes are quickly dealt with by the push of a button, so we never have to consider how our bodies work — the in and out of the various substances we call “food.” We neither toil nor spin (most of today’s “work” is far from backbreaking, taking place in front of various machines that remove one sort of toiling out of the equation, and add in another sort of toil — toil by tedium).

We don’t even have to entertain ourselves — there are televisions and computers, movies and shows, books, music. All available to us at the touch of a button without having to crack a single drop of mental sweat.

I am certainly not adverse to convenience. I have lived a life that while not exactly luxurious, has certainly been one of comfort. Not financial comfort because I’ve never had much, but physical comfort. Warm beds, even when they were simply mattresses on the floor. Piles of comforters to snuggle under. Stacks of books ready for perusal. Good food made from scratch.

And yet . . .

There is more to life than comfort and convenience. Or at least, that’s what I surmise. I am still in the zone of comfort, though I am preparing to step out into the raw world to see what it has to offer. Maybe nothing. Maybe I will hate the inconvenience of it all, the struggle to stay warm without electricity or heat, the attempt at living a more wild life. But the truth is, I love the idea of it, and I especially love the preparation and how it makes me look at everything from a different angle.

When preparing for an extended road/camping/hiking/backpacking trip, you have to look beyond the daily conveniences and find other ways of doing simple things. Some people take to RVing, but that is not for me. RVing seems like more of the same — convenience and comfort, though in a mobile setting. I’m more interested in the basics. What I need for survival. What comfort I can’t do without. What is important, and more importantly, what can be left by the wayside. (Figuratively speaking, of course. In a “leave no trace” philosophy, one leaves nothing by the wayside.)

It seems silly to have amassed a carload of gear in what is supposed to be a trip into simplicity, but there are vast numbers of goods to make things even simpler. Tents. Sleeping bags, pads, and quilts. Ready made food. Tiny but functional stoves. Emergency equipment and rations. Although I have a vision of myself as another Peace Pilgrim, setting out with nothing but a comb, toothbrush, map, and pen, I am smart enough to know that I don’t have the faith such a venture demands.

Someday, perhaps.

At the moment, doing a more traditional trip is still plenty wild for me, especially considering my lack of experience. I do know how to use most of the gear I have, though. I know how to walk. Know how to be by myself.

Oddly, the thing that worries me the most about living an inconvenient life is what to do with all the time freed up by the simplicity of it all. I don’t intend to drive more than a couple of hours a day. Can’t sleep more than eight hours. Am unable to walk more than three or four hours. (Even less if I am carrying extra water and a few items in case of emergency.) Assuming the inconvenience of setting up a home every day takes up another hour or even two, there is a whole lot of time leftover. A minimum of eight hours.

What does one do with such a surfeit of time? No movies, no books, no music to fill it. No dance classes. No housework (not that I do much of it now). No errands. I will have pencil and paper, of course, but still, there will be one heck of a lot of time for . . . I don’t know what.

I guess I’ll find out.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and 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.”)