I love camping because it’s a lot of work.
I know that sounds crazy, but I do. Camping is life in the most basic, primitive state and there is something so simply satisfying about the work that it takes to survive.
In a world where everything we need is at our fingertips, it’s incredibly refreshing to not have every little detail of life be so easy.
When we went on our massive road trip last summer, I was worried I would get bored. I hoped I would have ample time to contemplate and to figure out the trajectory my life was going to take. But when you spent forty some days and nights living out of your car, sleeping in a tent, cooking meals out of a cooler, it’s crazy how much work it actually takes and how little time you really have for that sort of contemplation.
There’s nothing that makes me relish this simple work more than morning coffee. At home, I stumble out of bed and fill the electric kettle, pack the french press full of grounds and voila! Coffee!
This simple, mundane task becomes work when camping.
When you wake up in a tent, either because the morning light has suddenly heated the tent to 200° or because there’s a wet nose in your face, standing on your chest, whining because there’s squirrels to chase, rolling out of bed is not an option. I make more work for myself when camping by refusing to wear my glasses, so that work starts with contacts. I have to fumble around a blurry tent, try to wet wipe yesterday’s grime off my hands, precariously put in my lenses with no mirror and hope that dirt, or leftover campfire smoke irritating my eyes won’t send me blinking a tiny lens onto the tent floor.
After donning layers of leggings and sweatshirts, awkwardly put on in a sleeping bag while trying not to wake my sleeping fiance and being trampled by a sixty pound dog, hiking boots are put on, half in the tent and half out, trying to keep the dog from squirrel chasing and the bugs from coming in.
After successfully getting out of the tent, the keys are usually lost which means having to wake up the fiance anyways because they’re always in his pockets.
After locating the toilet paper, hiking into the woods to pee, it’s finally time to start making coffee. Except, the dog’s giving me THE LOOK so she gets fed and watered first.
The stove gets lugged out of its box and set up, the fuel gets located and screwed on, two, three attempts before the threading matches up. A pot gets fished out of a box and water from a two gallon jug poured in. The hiss of the gas let’s me know that it is attached! With a pop, the burner becomes the first warm thing I’ve encountered all morning, the sun’s warmth not quite having made it through the trees. The water is set to boil and I start to set up the coffee fixings. The French press gets unpacked from its box (where it’s hopefully survived the trip) , coffee grounds measured and poured in. A tin cup is pulled from the Mary Poppins box and sugar added. Cream is fished out of a quickly melting cooler, the cow on the side of the carton looking warped and sad. The water starts to boil and gets added to the press, steam rising in the cold mountain air. A mosquito flies too close to the burner and the life hisses out of him.
I set up a chair in the most picturesque part of camp and pour my hard earned coffee into the cup. It’s probably too weak or a little soapy from the pan getting washed the night before, but I savor it in my camp chair. Already it’s cooling, it’ll be cold before I finish it, but letting it warm my fingertips, taking in the trees and the birds and the wildflowers around me, the sun streaming through the trees, it’s the best cup of coffee ever.
Work makes you appreciate the simple things, like hot coffee on a cold morning, like an epic campsite coming out of the pitch black on a 4WD road, like a dry tent in a rainstorm.
When every little mundane task that our 21st century selves associate with survival; cooking, drinking, peeing, sleeping, making coffee, staying warm, is work, life moves down to a simpler level.
There is beauty in the simplicity.
Our routine last summer became about surviving. It was the taking down and putting up of the tent, it was scouring small town grocery stores for block ice so we could stay in the back country longer, it was spending hours exploring forest service roads and sketchy spurts to find a place to sleep. It was cooking out of a cooler and watching the sky for rain. It was trying to light a fire with wet wood and bathing with rags and stove heated water. It was falling onto our less than comfortable sleeping pads every night and relishing the fact that everything we had accomplished had come from our two hands.
Yes, after weeks on the road I really missed being able to order Chinese food when I didn’t feel like cooking, but the work also stopped seeming like work.
Making coffee while camping is one of those simple pleasures I will never get over in life, like finishing a hard climb, or solving a puzzle.
There’s a satisfaction in good old fashioned work that will never come from a Starbucks drive thru.