Five Tips on camping from the least outdoors-y girl on the west coast

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

This weekend I went camping with my boyfriend and a couple of our friends at Mt. Diablo State Park. Aside from two one-night tent adventures in college (one in Tennessee and the other on a beach somewhere between Monterey and Santa Barbara), I've never done a real camping trip in my life. I'll be the first to tell you, I am not the outdoorsy type. I often feel like the only girl in California who doesn't shoot out of bed at 5AM on a Saturday, grab her Camelback and Nikes, and race for the nearest mountain to hike. That being said, I do feel a great sense of awe and admiration for nature around me, so I figured it would be fun to find a balance while camping.

Does camping freak you out a bit? Still want to try it?

I had a blast, and if I can do it, so can you.

Here's a few things I learned. 

1) Realtalklive, I am a terrible hiker. If you are too, know your limits, don't apologize, and find a way to enjoy the ride.

I didn't make it all the way up to the summit of Mt. Diablo, but I made it halfway and the views were still stunning. Even though I'm not a great hiker I found things to enjoy along the way - gecko spotting, tallying the different types of blue jays (4, by my count), listening to wind move through dry, long grass. I went as far as I could, until my knees started hurting and I got grumpy - then I listened to my body and immediately headed back to camp. I often get down on myself for not being athletic enough, but everybody has their strengths. Running? Hills? Not really for me. But put me on a dance floor or in the water and I'll go for hours. Point is, it's okay to not get to the top every single time.

2) Two nights is perfect for a first timer.

I only slept about 3 hours our first night in the campsite. I was kept awake by the chorus of crickets, freezing temperatures and the threat of some unknown beast creeping into our camp. But in the back of my head I knew we only had one more night - a perfect opportunity for a do-over. Maybe it was exhaustion, or the heat of being in the sun all day, but on night two I slept soundly for at least 6 hours, which was more than enough. 

(Sidenote, bring an air mattress. It will save you.)

3) An open sky (especially one full of stars) has healing power.

Hands down, the best part about camping was the stars. Our campsite was about 1500 feet above sea level, and we were a long way from any major light pollution: perfect star-gazing conditions. We spotted constellations and saw shooting stars and pointed out planets. I thought about NASA's recent discovery of Kepler-186f, a strikingly earth-like planet. I thought about how much my daily madness doesn't matter. We talked about how small we are. 

It's a time-tested, camper-approved cliche: looking at the stars will always change your perspective.

4) California is gorgeous, and also bone dry. Bring lots of water & only use what you need.

We all know that there is a catastrophic drought happening in California right now. To be completely honest, it is very easy to forget this living in San Francisco or Oakland. Here and there I see that the ground is dry, but we are still usually covered in wet fog from the Pacific. Each yard becomes more dry after you pass over the Oakland Hills and into the East Bay suburbs. All of the water at our campsite was turned off, and no wood fires of any kind were allowed. There was greenery, but it was dry, brittle and yellow. I knew it was true, but it was startling to see it first hand.

5) Even if tarantulas are native to an area, they're probably going to leave you alone, so RELAX.

Apparently they're all over Mt. Diablo, but no, I did not see a single tarantula. The chances of actually running into the terrifying creature you're fearing on a camping trip will usually be small, so don't freak out every time you hear a breeze in the grass. You'll be okay.

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