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