It all starts innocently enough. One uniquely New York City 105-degree scorcher during which the breeze sears your face and you contemplate frying an egg on the sidewalk. Freckles pop up on your cheeks in real time. Someone suggests camping again and this time you don’t laugh in their face. Now facing another blazing, humid weekend without air-conditioning, you’re ready to click together your ironic Mary Janes and chant: “there’s no place like the forest!”
Camping is one of the best activities America has to offer. Stunning scenery and plenty of room for everyone (including kids, pets, gear and cars) combine to provide a thoroughly refreshing alternative to the city. Camping is the “gateway drug” to country life, especially for those who work remotely. If you can work anywhere, why not a bolt-hole in the woods? You can’t find out the temperature by popping outside in your underwear in New York City.
Camping relaxes even the most hardened city folk. Just the first few gulps of fresh air on the Taconic State Parkway have you thinking you can taste green. As you drive up Route 87 with the car window down, you can feel the remarkably hefty burdens of the city fly off into the wind like jettisoned cargo. As you pull into the campsite at dusk, you wonder what all the fuss was about back in the Big Smoke: a big fuss about nothing. Your editor was once an inveterate city girl but this is how you get turned.
Instinctively, I feel certain that Forest Rangers are some of the smartest people in the country. I could be wrong. I have no evidence apart from their louche cool, knowing smile and the way they survey Mother Nature in those fantastic outfits. Plus, they bestow you with free maps and make you sign in for hikes (Daddy!).
My first camping experience was revolutionary, but when it was first suggested to me all those years ago, I backed a few steps away in terror. I was astonished when we arrived at our first campsite and my companion jumped out to the campsite store and bought a bundle of wood. Then, lo and behold, we get a whole patch of forest for about $20 per night, by a babbling brook with a picnic table and fire ring. It’s like Legends of the Fall; I’m expecting a bear to wander over any minute. We see our neighbors through the trees and can just about hear them talk. My companion whips out a newspaper and darts around, lunging to and fro, enthusiastically gathering kindling while I stand there dumbfounded. He erects the tent; builds a massive fire and cooks me some dinner; hangs a tarp between the trees in case it rains; whips out two chairs from a tiny bag like Penn & Teller and we sit blissfully watching the river as the sun goes down, sipping whisky and playing cards. Best thing about camping though: watching grown-ups freeze in sheer terror when a skunk comes ambling by, minding its own business.
Since then I’ve been all over the states camping in national forests and had some of the best holidays while taking in the stunning scenery. I once spent the day in Rocky Mountain National Park. We were above the hawks for a change and saw herds of elk roaming the ranges. At 12,000ft, I was literally breathless.
Suffice it to say, I’m now a fan of the Discovery Channel. Who hasn’t followed the interminably cheerful fellow Brit, Bear Grylls, as he bounds across the blazing Sahara kindly informing us how to prevent our retinas exploding when it’s 135 degrees, drinking his own urine and shacking up inside an empty camel carcass for the evening?
It’s hardly a surprise that few Americans have a passport. Hiking is one of the simplest pleasures when you have thousands of square miles of great wild outdoors: well maintained and patrolled trails. Pack up the car and get out here.