Thursday, October 1, 2009


During my first week of hiking the John Muir Trail, I had an interesting revelation. After spending three days in the back country after leaving Yosemite Valley, I was scheduled to pick up my resupply in Tuolumne Meadows and camp in the backpacker's campground. I wasn't too keen on the idea due to crowds, but I wanted to stick to my itinerary at this point in the hike. The campground ended up being even more crowded than I imagined, literally every site had two or more groups packed together. It occurred to me how often campgrounds are like purgatory. They are holding areas where one must wait, often uncomfortably, before one can travel into the back country which for me, is heaven. Bathrooms are often smelly, messy and crowded, campsites are obviously overused and the vegetation is trampled and worn out, sleep can be hard to find if camped next to noisy or boisterous groups. I remember one time camping in the Great Sand Dunes in CO where some young girl was practicing her violin late into the night. It wouldn't have been all that bad if she were any good, but it sounded like the first time she had ever picked up the damn thing. To make matters worse, all of the dogs in the campground started barking and howling as a result of the shrieking strings.

After picking up my resupply at the Tuolumne post office, I struck up a conversation with a man who was camping for the weekend. I complimented him on how beautiful his trailer was. It was one of those old silver bullet looking trailers. His was the shiniest one I had ever seen, literally a gigantic mirror on wheels. He had put a lot of time into restoring it and was happy to be camping with his wife. I passed his trailer several more times while going to use the restroom, and each time he was adding more comforts to his elaborate set up. Lawn chairs, strings of lanterns, a beautiful brand new laced canopy, grill, and TV. I am not going to judge this man for his setup, because some of my favorite camping experiences have been while car camping. The thought crossed my mind however, what if he and his wife had never seen the back country? How many campers in this campground had never been to the back country? Oh, what a shame to be so close and never experience it!

Until very recently, I know I've been afraid of camping in the back country. It seemed too dangerous, to difficult, too crazy. I guess it is, if one is unprepared. How many times in the past have I missed out on an amazing wilderness experience because I was too afraid and stuck to the campgrounds! With just a little extra preparation, heaven is just waiting for us to experience, as long as we are willing to take the risk.

Something else to consider: A couple of days before finishing the JMT I ran into a couple on Pinchot Pass who were "bushwhacking" through the Sierra for a couple of weeks. In other words, they were staying off the main trails and were relying on their map and compass skills to maneuver through the mountains. They told me they would never go back to hiking on trails if they could help it, because for them, the ultimate experience was crossing the unknown meadows, waterfalls, and peaks that most humans will never see. To them, I was still unknowingly in purgatory because I was stuck to the comfort of the trail!


  1. The violinist and the dogs in that campground were unreal. Especially annoying was the dog that couldn't seem to manage a full bark, and could only manage some half-bark, half-choke, half-yelp. A true bark is enough to ruin a great evening. But the bark-challenged dog made things twice as bad since we weren't conditioned to the bark, and it seemed to be the dog most interested in accompanying the awful violin playing. Thanks for the memory!

  2. That's right, I knew there was more to the story of the barking dog but I could not remember! The half bark was terrible!