Follow me, into the wild
The last time I went camping I was 10 or 11. I was in my grandparents’ backyard, snug in my sleeping bag between my older sister and cousin Jake. I laid awake nervous about a ravenous bear attacking the tent, or maybe a ghoul from one of the scary stories my dad had just finished telling.
To me, we were out in the wilderness, braving the elements, possibly fending for our lives if it came down to it. But I’ve always had quite the imagination.
In the morning, we woke up, cold in the late October chill, and ran 30 yards into the house, where grandma was waiting with donuts and hot chocolate — fun, but hardly Darwin’s survival of the fittest.
SEE ALSO: Prepping for the AT
As a kid, I climbed trees and regularly found myself covered in dirt or mud (much to my mother’s chagrin). But growing up in a suburb of Louisville, Ky., my adventures were confined to the neighborhood, riding bikes, running around large empty lots or bushwhacking through a small patch of trees that separated the neighborhood from an animal graveyard.
I didn’t hike or camp or paddle. Not for any particular reason. They just weren’t things that I did. The pattern trickled into my adult life but was something I was sure would change when I took a reporter’s position at The Smoky Mountain News among the forest of rural Southern Appalachian.
In my grandiose imagination, I would spend my weekends hiking through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or camping with friends. I would take kayaking lessons, and I might even be good at it. I was going to try it all. But a year and a half later, I haven’t; I don’t.
During the week, I work on stories for the newspaper and attend meetings. And my weekends —time I planned to spend outside, adventuring in the wilderness — became time to clean my apartment, drive to Asheville, goof off with friends and read.
Cue light bulb.
If I needed extra motivation to get outside, I would make it part of my work. I would somehow convince my publisher that he should pay me to learn outdoors skills. And he fell for it.
Now, every other week, I will attend a class or event that will teach me a new outdoor skill —anything from orienteering to flyfishing to wilderness safety. Then, you the readers get to follow along my journey from novice to outdoorswoman. I will no doubt ask dumb questions, trip (both literally and figuratively) and struggle to accomplish what some would consider easy tasks.
That being said, setting up tents is hard.
I went out Sunday with my co-worker Andrew with the idea of taking exaggerated photos that conveyed me trying, and failing, to start a fire or carry an overloaded pack on my back. I knew there would be some acting involved, but when it came time to figure out how to pitch the tent, I didn’t have to act at all.
I pulled out a small, wadded up item made out of some sort of plastic, unfurled it and asked if it was the tent. Confident in my innate ability to conquer such a simple task, I immediately grabbed the poles and gave it my best try.
I wrestled with the tent. I spent some quality time staring blankly at it. I started connecting the poles to the tent without regard for which side was the bottom and which was the top of the tent. I bent the poles and openly fretted that I would break them. My experiment wasn’t going well already, and it had barely even begun.
I spent a good 15 minutes, just me and the tent, before getting help. And I should clarify, by help, I mean I watched as Andrew and his girlfriend set up the tent so we could proceed with our photo shoot.
If that is any indication, my journey to becoming an outdoorswoman will be bumpy. But I think I can learn, if I set my mind to it. I am stubborn and committed. As Tim Black said, it’s all about your attitude (see related article). So follow along with me every other week as I regale you with stories of my trials, errors and, hopefully, triumphs.
— Caitlin Bowling