To quote the late, great Gilda Radner as Roseanne Roseannadanna:
There is sooooo much going on in the world, and I just can’t deal. I’m still recovering from the Omicron surge and ongoing pandemic. War wasn’t supposed to be on the docket until at least 2024. Someone jumped the line of Shit We Have to Deal With. But here we are, so when the going gets tough, we head for the hills of art, poetry and nature. At least I do and if you’re here, you are probably willing to go with me for a bit, right? Right.
First I offer the words of Emily Dickinson:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
Next, I’m going to take you along on the winter camping trip I had last month. It was at a campsite set up by a company called Tentrr. They approach people with extra land in the country — don’t ask me who these people are. I was barely able to buy a city condo with a side yard the size of an on-street parking space, so I have no idea how you get acres and acres of woods, but apparently it’s a thing. Tentrr sets up the site–they are all the same: a canvas walled tent big enough to stand in and built on a wooden platform, with a wood stove and a double wood frame bed with foam mattress. The site also has Adirondack chairs and a fire pit and a toilet. Tentrr’s owner wanted to create a way for city people to enjoy camping without having to acquire all the stuff and store it in their tiny city apartments. And to not have to go to a crowded campsite where it’s essentially like being in a city, just more mosquitoes. If it’s summer, going to a Tentrr site would definitely be considered glamping, which I am way too *cough* rugged for. But in the winter? Ooo la la!
My friend and I had been wanting to try hot tent camping in the winter with a tent stove, and this seemed to be an easy way to experience it. We were first scheduled to go MLK weekend, which you may recall was the one that featured below zero temps and a -25 F degree wind chill. I was willing to try it and commit to feeding the stove 24/7, but the campsite host had the good sense to be worried. We would be their first winter campers, and it probably wouldn’t be good for business if we froze to death on their property.
We were able to reschedule in early February, when there was only an ice storm to drive through to get to the site in New Hampshire. Easy! We did have to rent snowshoes to traverse the 1/4 mile from the car to the site. Hauling our stuff required a sled, which is the perfect use for the one your kid outgrows. The sled is the winter version of a canoe, and I still prefer that to backpacking. Let something else be the beast of burden, I say.
The site was covered in snow and next to a river that was only partially frozen. No other buildings or people in sight. It was glorious. The falling snow made it seem more remote that it really was. As soon as we got to the site, we popped into the tent and it was markedly warmer than the 30 degrees outside. Our host had started the fire for us, which was such a sweet surprise. And if you really get the stove going it can actually get hot enough in the tent that you can walk around in one layer. Deluxe! Yes, you can do the same thing in your house, but where is the fun in that?
The first night it got down to 20 degrees, and we really stoked the fire before we went to sleep in hopes we wouldn’t have to wake up in the middle of the night to get it going again. I did enough of that when the kid was a baby, and I ain’t going back there, not even for camping. The fire was out when we woke up around 6 am, which was acceptable. My friend gets hero status for starting it up again while I snuggled under the warm covers. But also that’s what you get for having to pee. Just saying.
We spent most of that day outside, but since we had burned through the firestarter we’d brought and there was a dearth at the site, we had to keep the tent stove going pretty much all day. We cooked on top of the stove, so that worked, but I wouldn’t have minded letting it die down between meals. It was like a baby, and I was checking on it every half hour or so while we puttered around the site. See note above about me and babies.
The second night, it got down to 8 degrees F. And I guess F could stand for fahrenheit or fucking cold — even money. I had stopped drinking liquids at 6 pm the night before. Lucky for me, my friend didn’t, so he got up to pee at 5 am. I poked my head out of the covers and could see my breath. The fire was out, but with some fire starter innovation and me muttering encouragement from under the covers, my friend got the fire started and once again received hero status. And a delicious breakfast was on its way.
We were able to hike around the property, and while we didn’t see any animals, we did get to see their tracks. Coyote and bunny for the most part, and their paths often crossed. But since there was no scuffle impression in the snow, I’m guessing the tracks were made at different times. Then on one trail, we saw baby bunny tracks, which I have to say are the cutest damn things ever. We followed one little set to a hollow log. My friend peered in and said, “I can see him! I can see his eyes — he’s looking right at us!” Sadly I had my prescription sunglasses on and everything was dark, so I couldn’t see shit in the log. And when I took them off, it was lighter, but I’m pretty nearsighted, so all I could see was a lighter shade of can’t-see-shit. Ah well. My story is that a perilously cute baby bunny gazed at me, and I’m sticking with it.
So I would heartily recommend winter camping, and while you can get lists of things to bring from a lot of winter camping/hiking enthusiasts, I would add these items to your list:
- Bring someone who likes to get up early or has to get up early to pee.
- Bring someone who will start a fire after they pee.
- Bring someone who likes to cook on a hot tent camping stove. Which is different from having a cat on a hot tin roof.
And remember: if it’s not one thing, it’s another. Hang in there everyone.