I learned from an early age that the verb “camping” is all relative. And when I say relative, well, two things come to mind — first there’s the well-explored idea that one person’s camping-ideal might be housed in an aluminum-framed backpack and another’s in a minivan. Second, I think of my punny Uncle — relatives, right — and not just for the pun, but because he and my Aunt were the first to teach me what it really means to live and breathe nature.
For the last 20 years my Aunt and Uncle have worked as Rangers in Western Montana’s Glacier National Park. As you can imagine in their line of work they’ve collected a story or two.
My favorite is the New York businessman they met in the Glacier backcountry who’d squirreled away a jar of mayonnaise for his week-long backpacking trip. We’re talking at least 2lbs of gelatinous, easily spoilable glop. That’s heavier than most sleeping bags. Some people really like their condiments I guess.The guy refused my Aunt’s offer to leave the mayo at the Ranger Station, saying that he’d brought it this far, he might as well stick it out. They shrugged, chuckled, and the guy and his buddies continued on their way.
I have friends who proudly proclaim that they have never,
and will never, go anywhere that doesn’t have wifi and a toilet.
Through my Aunt and Uncle, I’ve learned that absolutely no use comes from being judgmental about other people’s camping quirks. As long as they’re being relatively safe and respecting the wilderness, they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing: enjoying the outdoors.
Also it seems that the most judgmental of us tend to be the ones who get laughed at the hardest, say, when trying to tie up a bear bag for the first time. I swore I could throw that rope higher, or at least avoid it hitting me in the face on the way back down. Guess not. And I got a nice little welt to show for it.
I wonder if Mayonnaise Guy knew what he was getting into when he and his friends set off for Glacier. When I think of the National Parks of the Western US I think of solitude and natural splendor, but as we’ve established there are all sorts of ways to camp. I have friends who proudly proclaim that they have never, and will never, go anywhere that doesn’t have wifi and a toilet.
Maybe Mayonnaise Guy was like them, expecting a little chateau or a wilderness escape where he and his friends could drink whiskey and listen to live music all night long. Or maybe he wanted a wild experience, didn’t know where to begin, and was more of a learn-by-your mistakes kind of guy.
His trek begs the question: why do so many of us feel this need to get outside? Why do we go through the effort of tromping over mountains, constructing cabins in the middle of nowhere, and delicately balancing our love of the outdoors with keeping pesky critters out of our beds. There’s no short answer — other than because it’s who we are. It’s worth it. And we’ll keep doing it in our own quirky way as long as there’s a Wilderness to enjoy.