We were wearing long pants, wool socks from an afternoon hike and heavy hoodies over t-shirts, and still we crowded the fire.
The heat from its dancing flames was more than welcome.
Our neighbors were few on this dark, chilly night. It was fall, and the campground – the only one of two in this state park even still open — was more empty than not, what with school having started.
We’d done more walking that expected earlier. October’s color palette of reds, oranges and yellows had proven too captivating.
So we got to our site late.
We hustled to erect the tent in the near-dark of twilight. Kneeling down to drive in the tent pegs, though, there was still time to notice the earthy, leafy smell of autumn all around.
We unrolled our sleeping pads, did the same with our sleeping bags so that they could fluff up a bit, tossed in pillows a bit of other gear, then got the fire rolling.
That quickly, the gloaming had given way to full dark.
Headlamps on, we made a simple dinner of mountain pies, washed down with s’mores and hot chocolate made as much to serve as a liquidy handwarmer in a metal cup as to drink.
This wasn’t wilderness; the soft music emanating from the radio – or maybe phone – of a teenager two sites away played for a while, until, presumably, the batteries got sketchy.
But it was mostly quiet. Totally peaceful. And wonderful beyond measure.
That was out last campout of 2017. I’m looking forward to our first of 2018.
In some years we’d have that under our belts already. I enjoy winter camping despite – and sometimes because of – its challenges.
But we’ve yet to get out.
So I’m eagerly anticipating sleeping under the stars again.
And opportunities are plentiful.
Many, if not all, state parks are already open. Many U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and national forest campgrounds are of will be soon, too. The same is true with private campgrounds.
Which to choose depends on what you’re looking for.
Some campgrounds are relatively primitive, with little more than picnic tables and fire rings at the individual sites and pit toilets for everyone to share. Others have modern bathhouses. Some will offer water and electric, others not. Some have playgrounds or, in the case of private campgrounds, anything and everything from indoor game rooms to laundry facilities.
It’s possible to go the other way and get totally rustic while still “car camping,” too.
National and state forests often allow dispersed camping, where you pick a wide spot in the road and set up.
No matter what you choose, there’s work to do before getting out there.
One’s necessary, if not necessarily fun. Ticks are a menace these days, so there are tents and packs and clothes to spray with permethrin.
But there are more enjoyable preparations to make, too. There are meals to plan, including old standby recipes and new ones, discovered over winter. Hikes and paddles to map out. Even inventories to assess.
Who can’t use something new, after all?
I picked up a couple of long-handed spoons – good for eating backpack meals straight from their foil-like bags – recently, as well as a new Dutch oven, for cooking in the fire. That might be it. Or it might not.
Either way, I’ll be out there, and soon, breathing fresh air, smelling the rebirth that is spring, reveling in the warmth of summer and bundling up against the crispness of fall, all under the stars.
What’s that old saying so often plastered on t-shirts, mugs and bumper stickers? Life is better in the woods.
I think that’s right. In fact, I know it is..
But I’m going back out there soon, just to be sure.
Camping season brings with it the opportunity to experience new things.
Graphic: Bob Frye/Everybody Adventures