Whether you call it an off-road adventure, car camping, or overlanding, making camp and sleeping under the stars in the great outdoors is a big part of the experience.
There was a time when I longed for a luxurious Shangri La roof top tent, retractable awning, stainless steel four burner propane camp chef stove, 82 quart portable fridge freezer combo, weathered sail cloth and teak hardwood folding camp chairs with matching distressed teak dining and end tables. I imagined a camp right out of the pages of Glamping Journal. A cross between pampered British upper crust and lone rugged American cowboy with a hint of African Serengeti safari and a touch of Everest base camp. I dreamed of eating fine meals, stopping for afternoon tea and ending the day with single malt in crystal tumblers by the fire as twinkling stars filled the darkness.
As appealing as this marketing driven outdoor dream was to me, at some point I realized it wasn’t my own.
Over the last few years I’ve taken a step back to transform my idea of and off-road adventure camp. Drawing from my backpacking and mountaineering background I mixed in a few childhood car camping memories and now have my own unique style of camp when I stop for the night.
First let me say there is nothing wrong with roof top tents and teak furniture, it’s just not me. Truth be told sometimes I wish it was.
These days I’ve dialed camp back to a minimalistic mindset. A Noa tarp to keep the dew off, provide shade from the sun and keep a spot dry if the rains encroach. The tarp is versatile, light weight and can be configured dozens of ways from trees, my truck or a poles. The real weather protection comes from the bivy sack I throw my sleeping bag into. My simple shelter protects without blocking out the nature I came to commune with. At night I can lay there with an unobstructed view up as the stars overtake the darkness.
A pair of African mingle mats lets me sit on the dirt or wet grass without tracking it everywhere.
Although I’ve pared back, I haven’t given up on a good night’s sleep. A whisper light, super compact cot creates a cushion of love that cradles me through the night for an incredible rest.
The gourmet chef shove has been replaced by a small bullet proof mountaineering blast furnace with two settings: off and full blast. This little white gas single burner stove will boil water or weld a spoon to the bottom of the pot in minutes but simmer is not in its vocabulary. Simmer, grill and toast occurs over an open campfire. A light weight, compact backpacking cook set, little french press and a spoon that doubles as stove wrench round out the kitchen. A compact aluminum table and three legged stool provides all the camp function and fireside comfort I need to call the woods home.
Had I stopped here it would be a nice spartan camp… But I had to make it mine. Prayer flags make me smile. Brilliant colors and prayer script blowing in the wind. Peace and loving kindness sent out into the universe. Belief in Karma is not required to know that what goes around comes around.
And then there is the alter where I hedge my bets. A spin on the Internet will tell you that every belief places certain reverence on protecting travelers. Ganesha the Hindu deity revered as the remover of obstacles and protector of travelers. St. Christopher the patron saint of travelers. A Catholic rosary offers universal protection. Seven day candles carry prayers to the heavens. Mayan worry doll, sitting Buddha, Indian incense, sacred sandalwood, dried chicken foot, Tibetan tin prayer bells and a New Orleans voodoo doll, all offer protection and draw positive energy into camp. Bruddah Ed, Hula Betty’s jolly grass skirted cousin, makes me laugh and that is good too.
This mix of minimalism, eclectic talismans and eccentric showmanship is definitely more reflective of my style than my original vision of camp.
I’m not camping in the lap of luxury. I’m not pampered while the Sherpa tend and clean up. Setting up camp is my meditation. I eat well, sleep soundly and enjoy a fine cigar around the fire as the Milky Way pours over me. I am living the dream.