On Thursday and Friday I went for a short hiking and camping trip with a pair of old friends. We drove up to the Catskills–two hours north of New York City, parked at a trailhead, hoisted our backpacks on to our backs, and went for a walk. Our planning had been minimal; our destination–Table and Peekamoose Mountains–had been agreed upon only the night before; I had borrowed a tent from a friend–who kindly donated me hers after hearing me describe the pitiful moldy condition mine was in; we bought fuel for my stove and basic food shortly after we settled on our plans for the night we intended to spend out under the stars.
We didn’t get lost–small mercies; we got rained on–not all the time; we clambered up rocks–some mossy, some dry; we sat on rocky ledges; we exclaimed over inspiring views; we felt a breeze cool our sweaty brow and back; we saw no animals–disappointingly; we fought off bugs with bug spray; we purified water; we used sunscreen; we didn’t eat most of the food we brought with us; we brewed coffee using ground coffee and a stove-top brewer, sprinkling our Spartan endeavors with a touch of urban luxury; we told many lewd jokes, conforming to the stereotype of male activities in the woods; we started fires half a dozen times and failed; we finally succeeded–thanks to an overly efficient wood collection endeavor and some useful advice from a fellow camper–and happily watched flames leap up and flicker brightly in our darkened campsite; we groaned in disappointment when the rain drove our campfire’s flames ground-ward; we slept in sleeping bags on little mattresses unrolled on tent floors; we clucked a few times about the stiffness in our old bones; we fell asleep the sound of raindrops on our tent flaps, cascading down noisily from the gigantic canopies above; we awoke to the bright light of the forest dawn.
It was, in short, a typical camping trip out of the city, undertaken by spoiled city slickers.
You realize, on a camping trip, as you have so many times before, that it is both harder and easier than it looks; you are thankful the modern technology of the tent makes its pitching and packing so much easier ; you are relieved at how light your hiking boots feel. You are amazed at the length of your pre-hike packing list; you are pleasantly surprised by how little you actually need once you have put some distance between yourself and all the things you use–or think you need–on a daily basis. You realize–as you have, on every single hike you have undertaken before–that food and water taste so much better when you have been carrying a backpack around–and preferably uphill–for a little while. You realize that walking toward a destination is the most elemental of physical endeavors, the simplest to imagine and execute.
You dream of a return, again and again, to these moments, away from all that preoccupies and vexes and consumes.