Not getting killed in the woods 101 (based on the incredible true story!)

September 6th, 2012

I guess you could say it began with John Steinbeck.

He wrote a book called “Travels with Charley,” in which he describes his circumnavigation of the United States, which he did with only his poodle, Charley, for company. The book is essentially about one big camping trip.

Steinbeck’s camping trip inspired our own. We (“we” being my friend Kayli and I) even tried to name our car after a literary steed, like Steinbeck did (his was named Rocinante, after Don Quixote’s horse) but we could never agree on one.

Kayli and I decided to use her family’s moving out of state as an excuse to go on one last circumnavigation of Michigan, and with a little help from musician Sufjan Stevens’ “Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lakes State” album (the album is all about the state of Michigan), we picked a few of the choicest destinations (Sleeping Bear, The Upper Peninsula, Tahquamenon Falls, Sault Ste. Marie, Paradise, Alanson and Crooked River).

The camping trip went off without a hitch (minus that one time when we lost the car keys) and I came away from it with an appreciation for the beauty of my home state and a few tips and rules for how to survive the wilderness.

Rule number one of a camping trip:  When it comes to packing, there are no set rules, other than to remember that if you forget anything it may not be easy to get it.

If you’re camping in a tent, like we did, the most important things to remember are cooking supplies (we forgot a spatula and had to make one out of two knives and duct tape). Other than that, you can take as little or as much as you want. We went the minimalist route.

Rule number two: a good outdoor playlist is vital to any camping trip. Try artists like Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens, Grizzly Bear, Nick Drake and Beirut – any music that is relaxing and meshes with nature, rather than disturbs it.

Rule number three: Have good food. By good food I don’t mean food that is just delicious, but also good for you (gasp!). You know what I mean: granola, yogurt, fruits, vegetables, good loaves of bread, etc.

I highly encourage stopping at local farmer’s markets and picking up fresh fruits and vegetables. Our wisest purchase turned out to be a small bottle of homemade maple syrup that we still talk about a month and a half later.

Rule number four: Don’t let the tent stress you out (and believe me, it probably will).  If you’re camping in a tent, the set-up of said tent can be very stressful. Don’t let it get you down. I am seriously lacking when it comes to patience, and even I can set up a tent. Most arguments while camping stem from the set-up of the tent.

The tent is the “Ikea” of camping trips, aka it has the ability to dissolve all bonds of friendship and camaraderie. To avoid this, keep in mind that there are theories out there that a tent might actually have a mind of its own, and if all goes wrong, it is probably no one’s fault. And if, despite all this, an argument gets really heated and no progress is made on the tent, scrap it and sleep in the car.

Rule number five: Stop everywhere that looks interesting. In the course of three days; I swam in three Great Lakes, climbed to the top of a lighthouse, put my toes in the lake on which Ernest Hemingway spent his summers (arguably the highlight of my summer. Yes, I am a nerd), stopped at the best little coffee shop no one knows exists, hunted for (and found) Petoskey stones and found out that there is literally nothing to do in Cheboygan, Michigan.

Take the scenic route. That’s rule number six. Stick to two lane highways when you are able, and never be in any sort of rush to get from place to place. Maybe you do have someplace to be by the end of the day (in our case, our campsites), but take your time getting there.

Ramble. See as much as you can. Pack up your tent after two nights and hit the road. Be a human sponge and soak it all in.

I’m not telling you to rush through things and not take the time to fully appreciate your surroundings. Only move on when you have adequately taken in the beauty around you. Read some Emerson. Embrace your inner tree hugger.