ˈtrālˌhed/noun: trailhead; plural noun: trailheads
The place where a trail begins.
Or in this case, Jenny the Trailhead: a willing 30 something addicted to the outdoors and exploring new places when she can.
I am not an experienced camper or hiker per se. I didn’t grow up doing it with my family. Although, I’m not a newbie either. I just know that the outdoors have changed me and saved my life.
I fell in love with camping a couple of years ago kind of on accident. I had been on plenty of summer float trips in my early 20s; being from Southern Illinois it’s what we do best in the heavy July and August heat. Trying to get anyone onto the camping bandwagon when it’s 98 degrees with a humidity percentage of 100% is near comical, but with the promise of a just-chilly-enough babbling mid-Missouri river, your craziest friends, cheap cold beer and some ’70s classic rock cranked until the wee hours of the morning…it’s kind of hard to say no.
It wasn’t during those summer nights I became a camp addict.
It happened in the Mark Twain National Forest, during the still very chilly off season on the first weekend of March in 2014. The daytime high was 40 degrees that weekend, with night temps dipping at an unbearable 15 degrees. That did not stop my friend M and I from packing all of our things, (did I mention that I had no cold weather gear, nor did I have an appropriate tent…) piling ourselves, our over-packed weekend bags, gear and 2 kayaks into her husband’s big ass Dodge Ram and heading south with no regards to how insane we really were.
Yes, I know people camp willingly in the snow, and hike for miles, and camp in the snow again, with very little gear and usually by themselves. But there we were, two women who were craving some kind of adventurous camping trip after a long and dreary winter. There we were, so ambitious during the off season…in tents…with no firewood. Anywhere.
We checked gas stations, feed supply stores, people who lived on acres of land with their own personal stash (and none of them would give it up!) We didn’t quit there however. After some deliberation we stopped at a little filling station in the middle of nowhere, bought two MangoRitas, and parked ourselves near the entrance. We resorted to asking the locals milling sparsely in and out, “Where for the love of God can we get firewood!?”
A woman that had passed through came back out. She was packing and unwrapping a pack of Marlboro Lights and said “I’ve got some wood. Just chopped down some trees. My name is Angie. I live in the trailer behind the abandoned bar right off the main highway that way. Meet me there in 15.” She gave us her phone number before taking off and said to give her a call if we got lost.
We got lost. For like 30 minutes. I called the number she gave us and asked if I had reached Angie. The woman that answered the phone in a raspy voice let me know I was talking to Tina. I told her how we met Angie and were coming for wood. At this point we were exhausted and cold and wanting to get to our site before night fell.
We soon after found Angie’s trailer and were greeted by her familiar face, 2 happy and wiggly pitbulls and another woman that I assumed correctly was Tina. We piled as much wood as we could into the bed of our truck and handed the ladies $30 in cash even though they insisted we take it. We were just relieved to finally be on track and headed to our campsite.
Darkness was setting in while we set up camp. It was COLD. After trying relentlessly to get the very damp wood burning, we decided to polish off a couple bottles of wine and turn in for the night. It was roughly 9:30pm. It was a very cold, silent, shivery sleep. I had a $25 one person tent with an inadequate floor and rain fly, a half filled air mattress, a hoodie, sweatpants, wool socks, a down comforter and a Coleman “all season” sleeping bag. Brr.
We woke up with the sun. Regardless of how cold it was I woke up pretty well rested and proud (surprised?) that we made it through the night. Upon exploring the campground and gathering some kindling, we discovered we were the only campers. Then it started to rain. A lot. M and I scrambled to put up the shelter she had luckily brought along. We placed the shelter over the pathetic semi-smoking fire pit (Safe? Smart? Ha!) in hopes to keep the wood as dry as we could.
We were both let down and feeling pretty moody. We contemplated just going home. Luckily we were too cold to get up and pack, because soon, the rain started to let up, and the fire was miraculously catching. We decided that if we came this far, we could follow through! We made a warm meal on the fire and drank more wine to keep us feeling fuzzy. We sat in silence, reading magazines and dozing by the fire.
It was in that time I realized that even though this shit was cold and frustrating, it was also the most rewarding and relaxing time I’ve had in so long. I also realized that M and I always handle and function very well together in those hard to deal with moments; that is a great quality to find in a travel companion. You make it through a trip like this and you know you can do it over and over again. Find yourself that person! No whining allowed!
That afternoon, we hiked down to the lake. We had every intention of taking the kayaks down and paddling around the lake but alas; frozen. Snow topped ice and slush on the entire lake! We couldn’t help but laugh. Of course it was frozen. It was 36 degrees outside.
We spent one more cold night in our respective tents (discussing later; sleeping in one tent would have been much smarter and warmer…) listening to Johnny Cash’s greatest hits and hungry forest creatures foraging our mini muffins and the days trash. We were too cold to care or move.
The drive home in the heat of the truck was well earned. We laughed about calling each other Tina and Angie the whole weekend, and decided we probably needed better plans of action for our future camping trips. All in all, it was incredible.
That was how I truly fell in love with camping. There was no beautiful moment I witnessed in nature, no perfect sunny weather, no raging campground frat party. It was just us. Making it work. Making the decision to tough it out and having the balls and respect for the unpredictable forces of nature to do it.
It made me a real camper. I will always remember it.
This blog is for my thoughts/adventures, personal opinions on gear, trails & campsites and my ever evolving lifestyle regarding camping and hiking. Welcome!
You can follow our trips on IG #winetimewithbigfoot