When my housemate asked me to go camping with him and a few friends in the Catksills over October break, I can’t deny that a pang of terror pulsed through me. No heat? No showers? No coffee? Can I bring my moisturizers? These were actual questions I asked him. Needless to say, he guffawed at all of them.
Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m not exactly the “nature” type. The closest thing I’d done to camping was sitting on my deck roasting marshmallows over an open grill. Sure, I’ll wear flannel and Bean boots, but not for any practical reasons. Those boots were as pristine as the day I first bought them. The idea of going off the grid was entirely novel
Perhaps the not-so-distant reality of graduation was sinking in now that I was beginning my last October break, but I decided to push myself outside of my comfort zone and ignore my apprehension.
Who knows when I would have this opportunity again? I was going to camp, and camp like a champ at that. Isn’t that what they say college is for—exploring new realms, taking on new challenges?
So the four of us—Niko, Kevin, Thomas and I—packed up our camping gear (all of mine was borrowed from the outing club) and hopped in Thomas’ suburban to venture into the wilderness.
I saw my phone service dwindle: Two bars – one bar – none. I was excited and spooked by my newfound disconnection from the civilized world. We were going to hike The Great Ledge trail, which ends at one of the Catskills’ highest peaks, and camp for a night at the campsite at the top. There would be no Facebook, Instagram, Gmail or iMessage. Just us and the great outdoors.
Thomas is an Eagle Scout, and Niko has camped in the Alps several times, so I knew I was in good hands. Nothing á la Blair Witch was going to happen, or at least I assured myself of that. And we had a hearty supply of food—sausages, eggs, potatoes, liters upon liters of water, apples, cheese, and, most importantly, wine.
Stepping out of the car I saw my breath condense in the cold air. Apparently the weather forecast of 70 degrees was a lie. I shivered in my too-tight H&M jeans and light sweatshirt.
“You okay, buddy?” Niko asked me with a grin.
“Oh, yeah, totally,” I said. “Let’s do this.”
As we started the ascent I began warming up, and was able to take in the striking beauty that is the Catskills in the fall. Under a canopy of red, gold, amber and green we climbed. The crisp air filled my lungs, more satisfying than the tepid air I swallow down on the stairmaster in Walker.
The trail was pleasantly empty—probably too cold for most campers. Once we reached the top we took in the view, red mountains undulating across the horizon. Evidently, the Great Ledge is actually made up of four different little ledges, all of which look out into the valley.
Ah, so this is why people put themselves through this, I thought.
After taking in the beauty until, frankly, it got boring, we headed back to the campsite to set up a fire and put up the tent. I was enlisted to search for sticks—varied sizes, good and dry. Other than that I was a pretty worthless camping companion.
Niko and Thomas assembled the fire, saying all the things you hear in movies that I, at least, didn’t think were said in real life: “This stick’s too young,” or “we need more embers, it’s choking out.” I found the whole thing comical and incredible.
Before I knew it, they had created a roaring fire that cooked our food—no hot pans necessary—and warmed our soar limbs. Sausages sizzled on the cast-iron pan, and the aroma of melting cheese filled our nostrils. The only cooking mishap was potato-related. We wrapped potatoes in foil and placed them in the fire, but as the flames grew they became hard to retrieve. Still, the resourceful Eagle scout salvaged them once the fire was all ash, and we saved them for breakfast the next day.
In a giggly wine-drunk haze, s’mores in hand, we swapped stories, squinting through the thick smoke that stung our eyes.
Camping—and maybe a little wine—I discovered, can really bring people together. I hadn’t spent much time with Thomas and Kevin before, but here we were sharing stories about our pasts.
Pardon the cheesiness, but there’s just something about removing yourself from your normal life, taking in the natural elements, and really focusing on those with you that fosters friendship.
I slept like a log that night, too exhausted from the day to notice the near freezing temperatures, or that my sleeping bag allowed less mobility than a baby’s swaddle blanket. Coyotes howled in the distance, but other than that it was dead quiet. Alas, no run-ins with the Blair Witch.
The next day we climbed down the Great Ledge and headed back to reality, back to homework and class on Monday.
One night was enough for this virgin camper’s first stint, but I would definitely like to do it again. So long as I’m accompanied by an Eagle Scout or Alpine hiker to help me along the way.