Not Another Walk in the Park – Weekend Trip vs. Long Term Travel

schwabacher landing grand tetons

When we both had full-time jobs, camping was a weekend thing. We’d get off work on Friday and head straight up to the mountains. We were lucky if camp was set up before dark, but no worries. The weekend would be all about relaxing and disconnecting.

Dinner is easy the first night because we pick up a couple of subs from Wawa on the way in.  No prepping, cooking, or cleaning and I’m happy about it. It’s campfire time. We bring the wood from home. It’s been sitting in our backyard under a tarp for months so it’s dry and lights right up. No need to venture into the forest in search for downed trees to chop up only to realize the pieces of wood we worked so hard for were dry enough to trick us into going through all the effort but just wet enough to produce a billowy, smoky, cough causing fire. Not tonight! Our wood from home has us sitting by the fire, sipping a couple of beers, and listening to some tunes in no time. 

It’s Friday after a long work week which means we’re beat. We fall asleep in our tents immediately. Sleeping through the night is no problem because the weather is perfect. No pattering of rain landing on top of our tent rain tarp like the inconsistent beating of a broken drum. No need to stay up and watch the lightning storm in the distance to ensure it’s not heading our way. No waking up to one side of the tent caved so far inward by the 40 mph wind gusts that it’s basically acting like a 3rd blanket. No fear of the branch directly above us snapping and crushing us as we sleep. No water bottle freezing coldness or chap-stick melting heat. We sleep like babies, rain-tarp off, under the stars. After all, we picked this weekend to go camping because we checked the forecast before we left. It’s perfect camping weather.

The next morning, the sun wakes us up. We make some coffee and sit around a morning fire. After breakfast, we go for a hike. We did our research ahead of time. We know exactly where the trail head is, where to park, how long the hike will take, what wildlife to expect, how much change in elevation there is, whether or not there’s water on the trail, which direction to go, and what the forecast is for the day. No need to drive around in search of cell service just to download a .pdf of a map. No off-roading necessary just to get to the trail head. No arriving at the trail head only to realize the trail has been temporarily closed due to increased bear activity. No outrunning thunder storms on a “beautiful blue-bird day” or rock scrambling in flip flops on a “short two-miler” with 1,600 feet of elevation change. No wading through water or hop scotching on rocks. No tip-toeing across a rock slide or shimmying across a river on a downed tree. No cutting across local’s properties because we lost the trail or climbing up a dried river bed used as a dumpsite for waste. No fear of leaving the trail and setting off a UXO. No fog so thick the next trail marker is out of sight. We have a plan. We park in a parking lot, go for a stroll, and enjoy the overlooks along the way. 

After the hike, we decide to drive into town to visit a brewery and have dinner. We’ll be back at our campsite to swing in our hammocks and enjoy the sunset later. But first, a pint. There’s plenty of places to order food around the brewery. Do we want fried chicken? How about BBQ? What about tacos? No need to rush back to the campsite to cook a dinner before it gets dark. No need to get creative with the limitations of two burners, one small pot, one small pan, and the foresight needed to buy all the food ahead of time because we’re unsure when we’ll see a grocery store again. No need to account for how long a cooler stays cold or how short the shelf life is for a pound of ground beef, a head of lettuce, or a block of cheese. There’s no need to avoid boiling water because the propane may run out before the pasta reaches al dente.  It’s unnecessary to haul in all the water we need. No need to wash dirty dishes with the water we carried in or to capture the dirty dish water in a Tupperware container so that it can be properly dumped into a vault toilet at the end of the road. Being “Bear Aware” isn’t necessary while indoors enjoying a snifter of Berliner Weisse while chomping on some french fries from the food truck outside. There aren’t sausage stealing ravens or pasta snatching bees here!

The smooth, convenient, safe, hassle free, relaxing weekend camping in a familiar place is sometimes just what our minds need after a long work week. It’s a a welcomed digital detox after sitting in front of a screen for 50+ hours in the last week. It forces us to disconnect from technology and connect with nature and each other. We return to work on Monday, refreshed and ready to go.

But in this time off, away from our jobs, we didn’t made many concrete plans. Being on the move all the time with limited cell service, hasn’t allowed much opportunity to plan the details of everyday. Waking up without a plan has allowed us to be flexible – a level of flexibility we’ve never experienced in our 30+ years, but with it comes obstacles. We often go the better part of the day, not knowing where we’ll be sleeping that night. We make regular trips to visitor centers to fill up our water bottles and determine the day’s itinerary. We usually borrow a few ideas from the visitor center exhibits, guide books sold in the bookstore, or wealth of knowledge offered by park rangers. We guess at the weather and hope for the best but pack ponchos just in-case. We shower when we can, keep our toothbrushes stashed in the car door, and consider ice a luxury. We scrape food together from our packs in hopes we can form a meal. We huddle together when it’s cold and desperately try to stay hydrated when it’s hot. Working through the day to day obstacles of being on the road has been more than another walk in the park. These unplanned, unpredictable, uncomfortable, obstacle-inducing adventures of the last year have expanded our comfort zone, practiced our patience, sharpened our team work, increased our efficiency, forced our creativity, and helped us gain a new found appreciation for the little things we had been taking for granted for so long. A weekend in the woods to escape, disconnect, and relax may help us get to Monday, but this year off to explore, adapt, and work through hurdles will help us get through life. 

Always packing emergency ponchos.
Grand Tetons, WY. We shower when we can but manage to stay relatively clean between showers by adopting a sponge bath routine using two bowls of water and a washcloth. It’s REAL fun when it’s freezing cold outside.
Grand Tetons, WY. Capturing dirty dishwater and food scraps. There wasn’t any place to wash dishes at this campground.
Canyonlands, UT. I guess plastic tent stakes don’t like 40 mph wind.
“Is THIS enough mushrooms?” But seriously, fruits and vegetables can be hard to find on the go.
We don’t always know when and where we’ll be able to get our next meal so we usually have a bunch of non-perishables packed away.
Basque Country, Spain. Here, the fog was so thick, we couldn’t see the next trail marker. The hardest part was making the call to turn around.
Basque Country, Spain. Had no idea it was going to be this cold and wet out.
Rock slides in Picos de Europa in Spain.
Quilatoa Loop, Ecuador. “This landslide isn’t on the map.”
River crossing in Ecuador on the Quilatoa Loop.
Hiking trail in Laos where Unexploded Ordinances (UXOs) may still remain left over from carpet bombing by the U.S. during the Vietnam War.
Yellowstone, WY. I’d rather face a male grizzly than a female grizzly and her cubs.
Canyonlands, UT. We successfully outran a thunderstorm and made it back to our car before getting soaked.
Quilatoa Loop, Ecuador. “Okay, now we’re definitely on someone elses property.”
Quilatoa Loop, Ecuador. We confirmed with this kid that we were going the right way.
“This stream was NOT here earlier.”

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