Peace In A Tin Can

Peace In A Tin Can

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Top 10 Things I've Learned About Camping

Since I started tent camping 25 years ago, and added camping in the tin can 10 years later, I've learned a lot about exploring outside and camping.  Some of these lessons will help readers who are new to camping or getting outside, and experienced adventurers will most likely be able to identify.  At least I hope they will, otherwise I am the most incompetent outdoor adventurer ever!  (Which actually might be true).

1.  Never leave your Mackinac Island Fudge on the picnic table overnight.

Chip discovers 5-Star Dining
This one is more important than you'd think.  Leaving fudge, or any other food, out overnight is an open call to all the creatures of the woods.  I only needed to spend one night in a tent listening to Rocky the Raccoon munching on my fudge, then rolling on his back with indigestion to learn the perils of leaving food out.  This same rule holds true for coolers.  Raccoons, bear, chipmunks, and other wild animals are rather industrious.  Put your food in the car or camper, folks, and this includes the dog's food.  Lets keep wild animals wild, and not habituated to people; that's when animals become dangerous.

2.  Never stake your tent at the bottom of a hill.

It was all fun and games until it rained
A newbie mistake, I was scouting out a campsite on a windy day, and discovered the hill behind me blocked the wind, making it easier to set up and keep the tent warmer.  But guess what windy days usually lead to?  Rainy nights.  All that water running down the hill has to go somewhere, and most likely it will all go into your tent.  If I wanted a houseboat, I would have bought a houseboat.  Put your tent in an open, high, flat area, away from trees and hills.

3.  Always carry a walking stick while hiking.

I visited Drummond Island once for a week, snowshoeing and hiking during a mild winter.  I fell in love with the island and its people, so while there I bought a hand-made walking stick from a local merchant, more for sentimental value than anything else.  However, that stick has been a lifesaver on a few occasions.  A clumsy hiker like me finds it very handy to complete my hike even after I've sprained my ankle or twisted my knee.  It also works as a snake beater.

4.  Never trust someone who says "Trust me".

"Is this CO 412? or  CO 423?  Didn't we already pass that fern?"
My friend Debbie will tell you that all of my reassurances that I know what I am doing are of little comfort when you've been lost for eleven hours on two-track after two-track that all look exactly alike.  The experienced outdoor people recognize that in the wilderness, things change but look the same.  Never assume you know where you are going or what lies ahead.  Be prepared, and rely on your own skills to get out of a perilous situation, even if the only skill you have is to carry an emergency beacon so trained rescue personnel can find you.  Been there, done that.

5.  Always look up.  TRUST ME.

I can't stress this enough; educate yourself about wildlife and their habits prior to exploring the wilderness.  When it comes to the elusive black bear, especially in Michigan, they are likely to avoid human contact if you follow the rules, therefore you likely will never see one.  However, when hiking, kayaking, climbing, or just sitting by the campfire, don't forget to look up.  Do NOT carry fruit and berries in your backpack, unless in sealed containers.  You might end up with a close encounter you are not prepared for.  Learn how to avoid wildlife.  A bear might look cute and friendly, but he would tear you apart for an apple.

6.  Always unplug your electrical cord before driving away.

Is that a raccoon hanging out of that camper?
This may seem like a no-brainer, but for a camper new to RVing and in a hurry to leave, you'd be surprised how many things you can forget to do before you pull out.  The good news is, you will only make that mistake once.  Seriously, you wouldn't believe how much damage can occur when you drive off with your electrical cord still plugged in and locked to your camper.  Always remember, all those people waving at you on the highway are not being friendly; they are trying to tell you something.  Check windows, doors, steps, hook-ups, and awnings before you leave.  The same goes for tent campers.  Those straps are called tie-downs.  Make sure the kayak on top of your car is, in fact, tied down.

7.  The macho men in the campground are there for a reason.

No carbon monoxide poisoning for me!
I used to get offended by the men who would rush to my aid every time I backed my trailer into a site, but I have gotten over it.  Those same men have, at times, kept me from hitting a tree, changed a tire on my tin can, fixed my propane leak, and found the tiny fuse that fell out of my battery.  Macho men in campgrounds are wonderful.

8.  Always follow the rules.

How many times have I been hiking a trail and seen something very
intriguing off the trail?  Yet every trail head has a sign posted, "Please Stay on the Trail."  This is a good idea for many reasons, but the most important reason is the environment.  Michigan's DNR and DEQ have worked very hard to preserve the delicate balance of nature for all of us to enjoy.  You might think one person walking off trail would be no big deal, yet you'd be wrong.  Follow all posted rules in the woods, wilderness, and waters.  They really are for your protection, and the protection of the beauty all around you.

9.  Always keep your dog on a short leash.

I used to have a furry tail.
There is a narrow, dirt trail that follows a high ridge line along the Big Sable River at Ludington State Park.  When camping there, I walk my Newfoundland, Rooney, every morning along this trail, with the river running below a steep embankment.  I always keep him on a retractable leash and let the leash out 12 feet or so while he runs and does his thing.  After several days of walking that trail, one morning without warning Rooney took off down the steep hill for the river.  After I ended up wrapped around a tree about halfway down, still clinging to Rooney's leash, a macho man once again came to my rescue, pulling me and my dog back up to the trail.  Even if you have a well-behaved dog, the leash rule is important, because someone else might not have a well behaved dog (like me), and there are wild animals out there.  Keep your furry friend close by your side, unless you are sitting by the campfire.  Rooney has caught his tail on fire 3 times while sitting at my side.  It took us awhile, but lesson learned.

10.  Carry duct tape.

Even camping in a well-populated campground can bring unexpected challenges.  Be prepared for just about everything you can imagine going wrong, and a few things you haven't thought of yet, though eventually you will.  Weather, drunk campers, animals, equipment failure, and an aging, forgetful mind can lead to all kinds of potential disasters.  When the disasters come, make sure you've brought your sense of humor and an extra bottle of water along, but most importantly, always carry duct tape.  A fresh bottle of water and a full roll of duct tape can solve 99% of your problems while camping and enjoying the outdoors.  Hole in your boot?  Duct tape.  Sudden downpour?  Secure a natural shelter with duct tape.  Broken fishing pole?  Duct tape.  Leaky tent?  Duct tape.  Loose wire on your camper?  You know what to do.

I am sure as time goes on, I will discover many more tips for surviving outside.  But these are the top things I've learned so far.  Do you have anything to add?  I would love to hear your stories and advice!

Happy Spring everybody, and Go Outside!