7 Reasons Not to Camp and How I Overcame Them
I'll confess - I'm a huge Tolkien fan. In 'The Hobbit', Gandalf tries to persuade Bilbo to join an adventure. What's Bilbo's response? Rather similar to my initial thoughts about camping - "We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”
I never considered doing a long road trip, much less a 7,600 mile car camping trip from our comfy home in North Carolina to the big sky country of Montana and back again. But there you have it. In the summer of 2018 I packed my four daughters and me up in our 2008 Chrysler Town & Country, said goodbye to my husband and sons, and went off on an adventure that would change our lives forever.
There are so many reasons not to camp - it can be rather overwhelming to start. I'd like to help dispel the fear and show you how I overcame each of my concerns. Because if I can camp, anyone can camp!
1. I don't camp.
The rest of the family would go camping and I would (sensibly) stay home with my familiar creature comforts - good for them and good for me. Then a business trip to Asheville came up, and somehow they talked me into camping at the Mount Mitchell campground for single night.
"Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick."
~Bilbo, The Hobbit, J.R.R Tolkien
What I learned.
- Just because I came to our marriage with a Coleman 2-burner stove does not mean that I have ever camped.
- Remember that the past does not define the future. Watching everyone at ease setting up the campsite equipment, I felt completely clueless. But I could learn. I just needed to practice.
- Look at the forecast. It’s cold at the top of a 6600 ft mountain at the end of May – the temperature in Asheville at an elevation of 2100 ft does not in any way reflect the temperature on top of a mountain 4500 ft higher.
- Recognize the budget value of camping. For $13/night, we spent one day in Asheville and the next day hiking the Mount Mitchell trails before heading home. Suddenly, faraway places were opened up to us.
2. I don’t like to drive.
My family and friends know all too well that I prefer to drive no more than a few miles from home - and if I can walk, even better. Driving to a nearby town less than 15 miles away - surely I need a passport! So it was a genuine concern trying to figure out how I would handle driving long distances as a solo driver for the majority of the roadtrip.
"The world is not in your books and maps, it’s out there."
~ Gandalf to Bilbo, The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
What I learned.
- Find the root cause. For me, it wasn't the driving, but the monotony. Does anyone enjoy driving round and round on the same beltway? It turns out that I loved the drive - the changing landscapes and new vistas- even Kansas!
- Use audiobooks and music playlists. They help prevent boredom and build shared memories. The girls and I camped for the week along the Blue Ridge Parkway. When we went 30 minutes in the wrong direction, it just meant another fun chapter in the audiobook Cheaper by the Dozen instead of fretting over a missed turn.
- Take shakedown trips. For example, we wanted to replicate a driving day with hiking so the girls and I drove a couple hours to Hanging Rock State Park, hiked the trails, and returned the same day. By the way, we had such great fun preparing for our long trip - the mini-trips were like delicious appetizers!
- Consider a relaxed schedule. As a mostly solo driver, I scheduled no more than 5-6 hour drive times between destinations and usually reserved two night stays at campgrounds – time for recovery and for exploration. However, I broke that rule a few times - sometimes we just needed to move on.
- Remember google map estimates are strictly drive times only - it does not account for lunch breaks, bathroom breaks, traffic accidents, getting lost, or weather. Add extra time.
3. I was afraid of the van breaking down.
I mapped out the trip - it was a lot of mileage (7,600 miles total). The question "what if the van broke down" haunted me. Would I be stranded in the middle of a deserted road with four young daughters? In the end it wasn’t what if but rather when the van broke down.
“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
~Thorin II Oakenshield to Bilbo, The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
What I learned.
- Tune up the car beforehand (we had).
- Buy a AAA membership. The nicest guy from AAA helped us in DeSmet, South Dakota, when we left the interior lights on and drained the battery. He even waited to make sure that we were on our way before heading out himself.
- Remind yourself that people are kind; pay it forward. An Idaho couple on a Harley whipped out what I called a “miracle in a pocketbook” to jumpstart our van at Old Faithful. We now own a jumper battery.
- Schedule buffer days. We used one to fix a tire and another to buy a new battery.
- Have plenty of food and water and take less remote roads as a precaution. Stuff happens - be prepared.
4. Wildlife Dangers
When I would tell people we were preparing for an extended road trip out West, bears and snakes came up a lot in conversations. It wasn’t high on my worry list, but I suspect that knowledge reduces fear.
"It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him."
~The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
What I learned.
- Learn the rules of each campground and then follow them. Seriously. I was surprised at the number of people that disregarded the food rules at Yellowstone National Park – endangering themselves, fellow campers, and the bears (sad story).
- Read about camping and hiking in bear country. Never eat food in your tent and store food and scented items in a bear box or a fully locked vehicle. Do not feed the bears! Fun fact: While camping along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the ranger warned us to lock our vehicles. The bears know how to open doors.
- Snake safety– again – know before you go. Watch your step and look where you place your hands when climbing rocks or collecting firewood.
- Generally speaking, animals are not interested in you. They just want you to leave them alone to do their animal business.