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One Night At A Time

Quit making it so hard: jeepers, just cram a few things in your pack and let's go!

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by Mike Clelland! | 2009-10-06 00:10:00-06

One Night At A Time

Editor's Note: This feature originally ran in Issue 8 of the BackpackingLight Print Magazine.

Pencil Pushing

My desk is boring. On a nice summer day, I get all itchy. I work at home, and looking out the windows, I see mountains. This lovely view can really needle me, those mountains whispering that I ditch the desk and enter.

I live in a beautiful place. Home for me is rural Idaho, just three miles from the Wyoming state line. When I look out my window, I can see the rolling foothills of the Tetons across the border in Wyoming. Beyond is the astounding backcountry of the Jedediah Smith Wilderness and the big peaks of Grand Teton National Park.

Right next to my desk there's a clock, and over the last few summers I've made good use of that thing.

In summer, when the days are long, I can quickly pack up all the essentials for a single overnight and walk out the door. It's a short drive to the nearest trailhead. From backing out of my driveway to hiking on the trail: about twenty minutes. In mid-summer, there is plenty of time before the sun goes down. With a light pack on my back, I can take advantage of this additional daylight and get surprisingly deep into the mountains to set up camp with a headlamp.

If I leave my house at 6 o'clock, I can walk for a few hours, sleep out under the stars, wake up early and walk around, and be home before noon. Then, back at the desk, I'm rejuvenated and content. The computer and pens are a little less oppressive, and my work is a little more enjoyable.

It's Not a Marathon

These little one-night excursions now feel like something essential to my psyche. They are an exercise in spiritual renewal, a much needed revival of the soul. Yes, I know that sounds all lofty and snooty. I'll put it a different way: It can be really nice to get away from all the trappings of "this" world and get out into "that" world, even if only for a few hours. The lessons I've learned from this are simple and rewarding. The most important is that sleeping outside in the forest is easy. Grabbing some gear and just going is always an option. It's not difficult.

My calling: Make it even easier. I can look out my window, and I can usually get a pretty good idea what the weather is going to do in the short term. If it all looks good, I leave the weight of the shelter behind and sleep out under the stars.

I want to share this with friends, so I'll get on the phone and pester them to join me, and they'll tell me how wonderful it sounds. They act enthusiastic, but all too often they never come along. They really seem to want to, but their hurdle always ends up being, "My camping gear is all stored away, and it's just too complicated to get it all organized."

It's a sad excuse. How much gear is really required? The thing that has made this easy for me has been to simply have all my gear ready to go, all summer long. It's merely in a big cardboard box, and I rummage through and toss stuff in my pack. Why does it seem so difficult? Somehow camping has become a reflection of our gadget hungry consciousness In their eyes, it's all equated to problematic loads of tricked-out materialism.

We've separated ourselves from Mother Nature, and the simple act of walking out into her nurturing embrace should never be daunting. Jeepers, just cram a few things in your pack and let's go!

Doesn't Have to Be Perfect

Another bonus of these modest outings: It's a good way for me to fine tune my ever-evolving system. As a way to challenge myself, I'll always try to do something different. It's a fun experiment to tweak the contents of my pack on every one of these outings. Cut the sleeping pad even shorter? Leave the stove behind? Jolt caffeine gum instead of coffee?

Maybe someday it'll become perfect, but where's the fun in that? These little one-nighters allow me to refine my skills at ultralight backpacking and camping, and I reap the benefits when it comes time to plan those more ambitious multi-day trips.

More than anything, I go into nature for my own sanity. It's a metaphysical fix, and even if it's only one night, there's a renewal of the spirit. On such a deep and simple level, sleeping on the ground is truly rejuvenating. I love the smell of the pine needles, the sound of the crickets and the connection I feel lying upon this magnificent earth. I experience an alteration of my busy mind, and I delight in its result.

How difficult is it, really? I am very fortunate to live so close to such impressive wilderness, but we all must have someplace beautiful and secluded nearby.

I lived for a time in New York City. Just a little bit north of that urban prison, I had a perfect flat spot, just big enough for me to lie down, and it was easy to get to from the confines of my apartment. I slept there often.

It can be done.


"One Night At A Time," by Mike Clelland!. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2009-10-06 00:10:00-06.


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One Night At A Time
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Hikin' Jim
(hikin_jim) - MLife

Locale: Orange County, CA, USA
Re: Re: One Night at a Time on 10/27/2009 14:05:19 MDT Print View

Great little article. I've been doing quick overnighters for some time. They do let me test out gear and ideas -- things that I wouldn't want to have not work when multiple days away from a trailhead. And they let me keep "fresh" so that my setting up camp, breaking down camp, and packing are matters of routine, matters that I don't have to waste time on the first couple of days of a longer hike just to get back into the "groove."

I usually head out Friday after work, hike to a spot I can get to (hopefully) before dark, and set up camp. I'm usually out before noon the next day, although sometimes I use my camps to get a "jump" on a big day hike the next day (I cache my overnight gear and retrieve on the way out. If I'm out before noon, I still have practically a full weekend if I've got social commitments, "honey do" projects, etc.

In many areas, even fairly popular ones, I can camp alone on a Friday night just a mile or two from the trailhead.

It's a great way to spend time with friends: no distractions, no closing times, and nothing to do but "hang out."

Ed Collyer
(ecollyer) - F

Locale: East Bay Area
I like your style! on 01/05/2010 10:16:12 MST Print View

Since I graduated college, it is harder to find time to get out. I have been trying over-nighters as you described and have been working out great. Going light makes a near 5-day trip possible in 2-days. Example: The Traverse by Matt Heid. A hike in the Bay Area from Palo Alto Hills to the coast at Big Basin SP. The hike is around 40-45 miles depending on route and says it is a 5-day trip. I completed this trip in 2-days, one night and was home for supper! By packing light and making it an over-nighter I was able to pretty much have some bagels and cheese, snickers and chocolate and peanut butter chips, but no stove.

Anyways, I about people like John Muir and Edward Abbey, who just throw some nuts in their pockets and go, if they had to sleep in the dirt, they did so and lived to tell about it.

Bob Gough
(Raven333) - F

Locale: New York
Couldn't agree more on 06/25/2010 06:19:51 MDT Print View

What a wonderful piece. You bring life to the reason most of us decide to hike/camp. As a New York City resident, I can tell you that the few hours I drive to get away on my one night outings are always worth it.

Thank you

Bart Newton
Thanks for the reminder on 09/02/2012 18:41:44 MDT Print View

Great article.

Like others have already mentioned, this reminds me of Grant Petersen's S24O bicycle trips:

Fortunately, I live where I can walk out the door with my pack on and in less than 10 minutes of walking be out of town, on the trail and in seclusion.

Edited by bwnewton on 09/02/2012 18:45:26 MDT.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Thanks for the reminder on 09/02/2012 18:45:22 MDT Print View

Hey they brought him up back in Oct. '09