Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ways to Camp

It was Columbus Day weekend. We had been to the Kentucky Daniel Boone National Wilderness with the Boy Scouts in June the year before and decided to return for a family backpacking venture for the long school holiday weekend. We hiked in from the National Park and planned to go out a few miles into the Wilderness and camp the night and then hike back into the park the next day. We had hiked about our planned number of miles when we began to look for a campsite. The trail there follows along more or less the route of a river and there are rules for how close a campsite can be to the trail and to the river. Leave No Trace rules say you should use an established campsite if they are available instead of camping on native plant life and possibly damaging the ecosystem. Unfortunately, due to extremely lax enforcement for quite a long time, all the campsites were too close to either the trail or the river, so we kept going. We had just spotted one we thought would do that was empty so we headed down a little switchback to it and met a couple coming up. They had just taken down their tent and were moving on because a ranger had rousted them NOT for being too close to the river or the trail but for being too close to the embankment because he decided it was steep and high enough to count as a cliff. So we moved on. Finally we found a flat spot far enough off the trail with relatively little vegetation to be crushed and set up our tents and juggled some logs to serve as chairs around our tiny camp stove to boil water for our dehydrated meals.
Then, breaking the peaceful quiet of our lovely hard won camp, we heard a rustling and a snapping and the obviously rhythmic crashings of footsteps and of something apparently very large. Deer? Bear? Nature is fun and good, but animal nature of the large kind is . . . .scary. I do not remember if I had reached for my camera, but I probably did. We were staring in anticipation and apprehension in the direction of the crashing when out tromped . . . a young man in t-shirt and jeans carrying . . . a bed pillow? We gave each other puzzled looks. No backpack, no tent, alone in the wilderness with a giant white pillow? We watched where he went, apparently just to the other side of a cluster of large dense shrubs maybe 50 yards away. We waited a while and surreptitiously crept back into nature far enough to see around the shrubbery and there they were . . . maybe a half dozen of them . . . massive tent, coolers, barbecue grills, boom boxes . . . apparently we had hiked so far looking for our perfect rule abiding campsite that we had hiked back OUT of the wilderness and into the park and to within less than a quarter mile of a parking lot at the junction of two main trails. They drank and laughed and hollered and partied pretty late, but we were too tired to care that much, and in the morning when we broke camp and had our breakfast and prepared to resume our hike, it was so quiet over at Bear, I mean, Beer Camp it was like they weren't even there.

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