First tent camping trip in 30+ years

This is a recap of my first tent camping trip in 30+ years. I will attempt to explain both my motivation and how I prepared for the trip in this post.

It was 2015 and I had a close call with drowning in the Columbia River while at a clothing optional beach in Portland Oregon. Yeah, that read right. Both the part about being fished out of the river by a former lifeguard, and the nude beach. You see it was a few months after my life flipped upside down and moved a little to the left. A heart attack will do that for you. Two years later and here I am. Having methodically collected some starter camping gear now over the past four months. It was time to put my money where my mouth was. “Jump in,” so to speak.

With the memory of the guy who pulled me out of the Columbia River, I decided to look around for some local gay campgrounds for my first trial run. I have to admit my goal with being outdoors is to face my anxiety. I’m a city dweller. I lived smack in the middle of downtown Dallas Texas and I am now enjoying the same life in vibrant Columbus Ohio. More to the point though, I live just several blocks away from my hospital. I work in the same zip-code of it as well. I usually wear a Med ID bracelet and carry 4 emergency aspirin with me when I run. Always.

Anxiety is ever present but I have learned to dance with it a bit. Running was my first refuge from its constant dialog. Then came meditation which really helped me to learn how to observe objectively and stop short of reacting. Of course seeing a therapist helped. He gave me the frameworks I use constantly to personify anxiety and deal with it like I would any person in a meeting. Acknowledge, be polite, listen and then moving on to my next task… leaving anxiety behind until our next meeting.

As I’ve posted about before, I’ve been facing my fears this year. And yet it was this weekend when I met a younger man who was “doing things he’d never done before” when it struck me that we are all on our own journeys. Culturally my choice of locations was perfect. Freedom Valley. Has a nice ring to it. Oddly enough it was voted #2 gay campground in the Nation. It was safe, friendly, well thought out and the weather was crazy perfect for the end of July. Almost chilly at night but sunny and breezy during the day.

With my goal of hike/camping in State Parks, gear is very important as my brother Aaron has mentioned. This being my starter kit, I wanted to spend as little money as possible in case the whole thing ended up being a disaster and left me hightailing it back home. The most expensive thing I bought was the cooking kit which is called a Jet Boil. This thing is super compact, lightweight and efficient. Cooking with it entails boiling water then either making instant coffee, that took me a little courage to warm up to, or pouring it into packs of dehydrated food. It was pretty astronaut.

 Gear list with things I cut out of the repack for the next trip based on this experience in red.

  • 2 Led Lamps (1 next time)
  • Tablet viewer with movies preloaded (leave this at home)
  • 2 Books (1 next time)
  • Journal & pens
  • Headphones & Fitbit
  • Toothbrush & paste
  • Instant decaf coffee
  • Red wine
  • 3 shirts, 1 pants, 1 shorts, 2 underwear, 2 socks, swim trunks, running shorts (this will be paired way down next trip)
  • Good REI Sandals & running shoes
  • Warm flannel shirt
  • 5 dehydrated meals by Mountain House (3 would be fine for a non-hiking 3-day trip)
  • Fruit and nut bars (I bought a lot of these but only had 2 in the end)
  • Rain jacket
  • Tent lining tarp
  • 2 person Coleman tent
  • Jet boil & fuel
  • Enamel bowl & cup
  • Headlamp (didn’t use it but this is a handy item to have)
  • Compact tripod chair
  • Sleeping bag, thin air mattress, pillow
  • Compact water bladder
  • Water
  • Lighter
  • Off Mosquito Repellent Area Candle (optional)
  • Two types of Mosquito body & clothing repellent (go with one next time)
  • Plastic bags
  • First aid kit (pack this down into a smaller package)
  • Paper towels (I will not take a whole roll next time)
  • Shower towel
  • Body wash (use a smaller container)
  • Sun block
  • Flowers for Eddie to let him know I’d miss him
  • Backpack for testing (mine is on the heavier side but still lighter weight – I am going to repack and walk around the block with it packed sometime between now and mid-August when I go again)
  • Weekend bag (this ended up being for overflow which is a bad idea for hiking camping)
  • Medications (packed by type but next time I’m going to pack by time of day to save space and complexity)
  • Phone charger (I need to add a solar charger here as power was always something I needed to find)
  • Hammock & hooks/straps

So while I packed comparatively minimal to other folks I met, I suppose our goals are somewhat different. Once again I chose this spot to help me with the anxiety of being outside of the City overnight outdoors under the stars in the open air with heart disease. To hear the wind in the trees and see a star filled night sky. It was perfect. I made a few new friends, had some really great conversations with down to earth professionals. All of us just decompressing and having a tree bath. People with strong opinions and open minds. Kindred spirits.

And back to my gear, I packed too much for my goal of hike camping but for this trip, it was totally OK. I came back with enough information to help me to edit with and, of course, lessons learned about sun block. Yeah, there was a pool. And while I could only wade waist deep as a result of my back tattoos, I had a great afternoon sunning and talking with a group of very cool strangers. Some of whom became friends through the process. While I applied SPF 50 to most of my upper body, I used “man logic” to tell myself that my legs would be fine because of all the hair. Yeah… I won’t do that again.

So I’ve repacked my backpack, everything now fits inside, it’s lighter and ready to go. I’d say this trip was pretty fantastic. A success on many levels and a great way to reconnect with a part of myself that has been long absent during my adult years. While the heart attack introduced me to anxiety and depression, it also brought me back to play and mindfulness. Just like Aunt Lora said the week after I got home from the hospital, “it may seem like the world is ending right now but you will find that this experience gives you strength and unique gifts.” This weekend, half marathons, a reinvention of my relationship to food, meditation and intimacy are all part of my journey.

Lora was right. As evidenced by the feelings I experienced while laying on my back and looking at the tree tops blow in the wind as the starlight filtered down through the tree canopy. It felt like home. Like peace.

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