Kyle and I had a few things we talked about incessantly on trail. One was food. I once heard our friend Simon refer to this self torturing with thoughts of food, as food porn. We would talk about all our favorite foods, all our guilty pleasures and everything we were going to devour once we got into town. The second thing we talked about was redesigning my parents house, which Kyle spent most of his time obsessing over. Once we had the house redesigned we moved on to our favorite topic: car camping. If Simon thought talking about food was food porn then the way we talked about car camping was something much much naughtier.
Before the trail I was definitely in a place where I looked down on car camping. You know, it wasn’t as intense or as badass as backpacking, didn’t take as much skill. Anyone with a car could do it right? But after about three months of backpacking we were both ready to embrace a little variety. So we began to dream of the car camping we would do.
To really understand what car camping means to us you have to fully comprehend the discomfort we were living in on trail. To begin with, it wasn’t exactly possible to sit up in our tent. Kyle could almost sit up on his side but for the most part, any time we spent in our tent was spent horizontally. We didn’t have pillows for five months, instead we stuffed our dry sacks full of extra clothes. We slept on sleeping pads that were about two inches thick… only two inches between us and the ground. Kyle and I ate out of the same pot for 154 days. We shared a toothbrush. We ate mac n’ cheese, pasta sides, and cliff bars repeatedly. Kyle had one pair of underwear and I had two. Three pairs of socks between the two of us. I wore my pink tank top so long the area over the nipples wore out. Our biggest treat to ourselves was when we would listen to music on the iPhone while we hiked for an hour or two.
We weren’t miserable by any means and we learned to love the simple things, but sometimes we would dream of something more comfortable… We talked about buying a giant tent, one of those ones that is tall enough to stand up in and has multiple rooms and an entry way. We wanted one that all our friends could hang out in if it started to rain. We dreamed of camp beds, the REI ones boast a full four inches of plush comfort. In our car camping dream we would always have pillows with us, full-sized normal pillows. We would sleep in our warmest most comfortable down sleeping bags even though they don’t pack down very small.
Oh and the food! We planned elaborate meals to cook in our dutch oven, different coolers for different food groups, all sorts of snacks and drinks and treats. In car we would have different outfits for different occasions, books and magazines, speakers so we could listen to music, quarters for showering. We would have board games and cards, pudgy pie makers and sticks for marshmallows. Maybe even some lighter fluid to make fire starting easy. Man, we knew that once we had a chance to car camp we were going to be car camping in style.
So on Tuesday Kyle and I finally got to take our first stab at car camping in Kettle Moraine State Forest here in Wisconsin. Not everything is as we planned, yet. At this point we haven’t had the money to buy a lot of the car camping gear we want. But there have been some improvements. We got our MSR Hubba Hubba tent shipped to us and although we can’t stand up in it we can both sit up comfortably. We got our camp pillows and our giant fluffy sleeping bags so we can sleep like babies. We found a little pair of portable speakers for the iPod, which allows us to listen to This American Life while we make a fire and cook. And no, we haven’t bought a dutch oven yet but on Tuesday we made foil packs and they were incredible.
For those of you who haven’t made foil packs it’s quite simple. You buy some veggies, meat, cheese, whatever you want and you pack it into a few layers of tin foil with olive oil and spices. Then you throw these into a hot bed of coals and let it cook up. After a while you check them and see if everything is good and cooked and then devour. On Tuesday we filled our foil packs with steak, potatoes, asparagus, garlic cloves, green beans, and cheese curds. Pair that with a loaf of sour dough bread and you have yourself a feast.
Sure all our car camping dreams haven’t come true and yes, there are still some downsides to car camping like all the people and the campers and the loud roads. But as we sat next to our car in site 308 and ate our foil packs and got ready to snuggle into our warm sleeping bags in our relatively huge tent I thought about how thankful I was that hiking the AT didn’t only make me love backpacking. It made me love car camping too. It made me love any opportunity to get outside and “rough it” no matter how rough it might actually be. So now I am no longer a judger of car campers, I am an aspiring one myself.