I’ve been reading “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” by Cheryl Strayed. A memoir so raw and beautifully written you can feel the mortar of her life crumbling like bricks turning to dust, “Wild” recounts Strayed’s decision to hike 1,100 miles alone from the Mohave Desert north to Washington.
There are many things about the book that are striking: Strayed’s grief over the death of her mother, who died when Strayed was only 22 and her mother 45, the falling away of family, the self destructive acts born of heartbreak. I admire the grit it took to set one foot in front of another, “Hunching,” as she titled Chapter 3, “in a Remotely Upright Position” under the weight of an extremely heavy backpack.
Many years ago, I climbed Mt. Marcy, the tallest peak in New York State, the trail ending at Lake Tear of the Clouds, source of the Hudson River. Like Strayed, I carried my gear on my back, though my trek was a lark compared to her journey. I slept in lean-tos and traveled with companions, “roughing it” for only three days, not three months. This was 30 years ago, when my internal frame was younger and stronger. I’m glad that backpacking is part of my history, both in the sense that I’m glad I did it and glad that it’s history. Just reading about the preparations and the load Strayed bore–clothing, dried food, camp stove, sleeping bag, tent, camp chair, cooking pots and utensils, toiletries, books, and water—just the water weighed nearly 25 pounds—made me cringe. I couldn’t do it. I can’t imagine wanting to do it—now.
I’m neither proud, nor embarrassed to admit that, at this point in my life, I like a measure of comfort. I enjoy camping with my daughter, Grace. I love waking to the cacophonous sound of a hundred birds greeting the morning. I love lying back in the beat-up vinyl lawn chair watching vigilantly for shooting stars. I love wading in cold mountain streams and racing leaf boats with Grace. But I do not love sleeping on the hard ground or going long sweaty days without a shower, or having to carry anything weightier than a thermos, an insulated lunch bag and a book. I like having my car nearby, if only to keep food away from prying raccoons and bears. And yes, I like being close to a bathroom with electric lights, flush toilets and warm water.
For these reasons, Grace and I tend to camp at state parks, pitching our tent in shady sites that offer nature and privacy, but are never far from basic amenities. And if there’s a sandy beach with kayak rentals and an ice cream shop nearby, all the better.
Every year, I visit Campmor.com and add to our collection of camping equipment, making our adventures a little easier. Last year, I bought a grill basket so I could cook four hotdogs over the fire at once, instead of one at a time at the end of a stick. This year, I bought the long-coveted (by both Grace and myself) larger tent and two sturdy cots. I can stand up in the new tent, meaning I don’t have to lie on a leaking air mattress struggling to get into my jeans. And the doors—there are two!—are generously wide. While I still have to stoop to get out, I no longer crawl. These are accommodations that allow me to focus on time with Grace, rather than my own discomfort.
I want to raise a daughter who is determined and focused and strong. Who will create her own adventures, struggle through her own hardships and emerge wiser. Who may, one day set off into her own wilderness. And, as I see her off, I’ll be cheering from the comfort of my camp chair.