Well, I’m officially a Coloradan. Besides the fact that my license plate and license both match the section of the world in which I am now living, I also had my “initiation” this past week in the woods.
No, I was not hazed or dropped in the middle of nowhere only to search my way out using a compass and an ax (I am hardly Bear Grylls). I did something I hardly EVER do anymore: I went camping.
You are thinking, “Sure, camping – all of us east coasters go camping all of the time! No big deal!” Well, it is a big deal because this initiation was hardly east coast camping. For one, we didn’t settle in a campground. That’s a thing here that I’ve come to learn about: there are campsites that are not part of campgrounds, but are rather just spots in the woods where someone at some point built a fire pit and called it a campsite. People generally know where these “campsites” are located, and do what we did: pitch a tent and call it a day.
Previously as a non-camper, this idea would have terrified me knowing that we didn’t have any sort of claim to this property besides the fact that we staked it before someone else did, but I guess that is where my east coast thinking is still prevalent. I would never, in a million years, think to just stop in the woods somewhere and call it home for a couple of days! But that’s just not the Coloradan way, and so initiation part 1 was well underway.
I should also mention that our campsite was in a little town called Leadville, which I’ve been told is the highest elevated town or city in all of the United States, sitting quietly at 10,152 feet above sea level. I can say that I’m fully used to being above sea level now, and happily breathing at over 5,000 feet, but when you travel to double that, your head gets a little woozy, and your lungs tell you what’s up. Mine sure did for a couple of hours until I acclimated.
The other part of my camping initiation that I quickly became aware of while discussing this new activity with friends is that Coloradans define two different types of camping: you have camping and car camping.
Now for me, I thought car camping was simply when you go out into the woods and want to just sleep in your car, but I was very wrong about this. Turns out that what I’ve known as “camping” for so many years is hardly so, and what I’ve been doing all along is actually car camping! Basically the difference here is that car camping is when you drive your car to the site and keep all of the food and necessities in the vehicle. Camping, on the other hand is actually completely different because you are hiking into the woods with a pack that contains all of your necessities, including bear bags, and you set up camp with whatever you have attached to your body. They are hardcore out here in the west!
Knowing my comfort levels, my friend knew that I wasn’t quite ready for actual camping, so car camping it was!
Now for me, as a New Englander who used to camp with family and friends, we always had facilities and electrical hookups, and typically running water at any site where we landed. Like I mentioned before, this was no ordinary camping trip for me, and when I say “Gettin’ Down and Dirty with Colorado”, I meant it. No water, no electricity, NO facilities. I’ll let you do the math on that one.
I had been mentally preparing for this trip for a while, so I knew what I was getting myself into. I just was nervous, thinking that anything could happen to us! What if a mountain lion came around in the middle of the night and tried to eat us? Or a bear? I don’t know where the grizzly bears are out here! I know that we have a LOT of coyotes, and they might mistake me for a tasty morsel of a small animal, or what about the rattlesnakes? I heard one on a hike a couple of weeks ago, but I ran like hell to move away from the spot where it was giving its warning. What if a rattle popped out in the middle of the night when nature called? That would NOT be pleasant! The animal kingdom had me on high alert, and I had to breathe into the possibilities, but also know that people do this all of the time without getting eaten by a mountain lion or rattled by a snake. I just hoped that I’d be in the majority.
Luckily I was, and oddly enough we didn’t see any wildlife besides squirrels, chipmunks, and birds, which is odd because I’ve seen more wildlife around Denver than I did in the woods, including 2 coyotes that crossed the highway in front of me. Go figure.
Once we settled into our site, we relaxed with some snacks and beverages while sitting under the canopy of trees. I started to feel the calm of the woods, being tucked away in the mountains, breathing with the rhythm of the wind, and sinking into the energy of the land.
“I can do this for three days,” I thought to myself. And we did. In fact, we were quite lucky, because the storms that did come through hit when we were either sleeping or when we were at our campsite, so we were protected from the harsh winds, driving rains and lightning. Other than that, the trip went off without a hitch, and initiation was a complete success.
I earned the first of two Down and Dirty Colorado badges during the trip, and car camping was definitely a welcomed part of my initiation. Although, by the end I was completely ready for a shower!