Stumbling In The Dark
Setting up a tent at night requires a special gift – and a headlamp. I many not be a fan of the process, but I am capable of setting up a tent for five (that’s what the packaging says) in complete darkness. I recall the night I set up my two-woman tent in southwest Montana in the dark, just down stream on the Madison River from Yellowstone National Park. I also arrived at Theodore Roosevelt National Park well into the night, courtesy of the poorly marked construction in western North Dakota, not that it was all North Dakota’s fault (see They Closed Canada from February 2020). One of the learnings from setting up a tent in the dark is waking up in a setting that wasn’t even imaginable the previous night. Am I facing a body of water? Am I covered by a canopy of trees? Did I set up my tent on an ant hill? I guess I’ll see in the morning.
More importantly, over time (despite my late-in-life start), I’ve realized that I enjoy sitting at a completely assembled camp site enjoying the sunset. Don’t think I am otherwise opposed to sunsets, but prior to these dark constructions, I prioritized the stops along the way to the campsite rather than my nightly destination. I am still opposed to assembling my equipment in the rain (dark or otherwise), but those are also situations when I wake up in a lighter, brighter environment. The pink sky over Lake De Smet, the spans of Mackinac Bridge, and the Cedars of Lebanon around me all might have been more enjoyable upon arrival. Granted the last one wasn’t as much about weather as trying to haul ass over a long distance, but at least I wasn’t alone in the darkness (see One Bark And One Bark Only from January 2021).
The Path Of Most Persistence
Let’s be honest: cruising along Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park and journeying by foot along the Appalachian Trail (see Finally Making Time from April 2020) requires allotting time enough for the sites to be absorbed and enjoyed, so yet again my daytime activities put me into my campsite after the sun vanishes behind the horizon. Tonight’s destination, Congaree National Park, lies across one Carolina to reach the other and I follow the directions and eventually reach the campground with the single mercury vapor lamp over the vault toilet as the only illumination. I know that the most distinct feature of this campground, even in the darkness, requires me to hike into my campsite. My system of setting up and breaking camp now also involves strolling the length of a football field for each load of camping equipment, quite possibly ten or twelve trips, all in darkness.
My four-legged girl takes each stretch of the emptying of the vehicle, my arms loaded with gear, in stride. Looped around my wrist, she leads me along the dark, partly muddy, partly sandy, highly pitted path towards our campsite. When we finish our back and forth, she watches as I assemble the tent until we are settled enough to zip the tent closed for the night and turn off my headlamp. I manage to catch a few glimpses of the campground – palmetto bushes, pine trees, and flying pests – using the illumination strapped to my head, but I, once again, will see new sights when the sun returns. Even in the light of day, though, I will have to hike in and out of the campground again, spending more time walking than refolding the gear I’ve assembled. I expect when I awake, despite my curiosity about the scenery, I will opt out of an empty-armed, scenic morning hike.