7 Dos and Don’ts of Camping

ImageNo matter how outdoorsy you think you are, if you’ve been in the city for more than a solid 6 months, Mother Nature will hang your big city butt out to dry.  I practically grew up outdoors running around in the yard and catching frogs down the road at a nearby pond.  Some of my fondest memories are days spent climbing haystacks and rescuing baby birds from our tree forts on my uncle’s ranch in northern Nevada.  And yet, after spending too much time in the city, when I decided to go for an overnight backpacking excursion, I still had to go back to the basics.  So here’s a little summary of what I learned/remembered from my trip along the San Gabriel River to the Bridge to Nowhere.

#1 – Do Get Quality Gear

Do as I do – get your parents to buy it.  No, I’m not trying to sound like a spoiled mommy or daddy’s girl, but people our age don’t tend to spend too much money on quality.  We buy furniture made of plywood from IKEA and clothes sewn together by air from Forever 21. And even more often we tend to be lazy and rely on Internet reviews so that we don’t have to drive over to the actual store (and in LA, can you blame us?).  So instead of ordering a knock off brand backpack and tent off of ebay or Amazon, I asked my dad if that could be my birthday present for the year.  Knowing my dad loves new outdoorsy toys and is always thorough in picking out something that is safe, high quality but still reasonable, I was set.  He probably spent an hour talking to the guy at REI about what might be best for me, which is probably 59 minutes longer than I would’ve been willing to spend after fighting traffic and racing an obnoxious BMW to a parking spot.

So if you’re going to go out, do things right and make sure you’ve got good gear.  And yes, that probably means talking to some human about it.

#2 – Do Do Your Research

(Hehe, doodoo…)

Anyway, the point is you need to know where you’re going.  What will the temperature be like?  What’s the terrain like?  Is there water?  Are there bugs?  What kind of pass or permit do you need?  Believe me, if you don’t read up on wherever you’re going, you might end up with some of the problems described below.  And I wish I could tell you that a book was enough.  But I got a book with a little 3-page blurb about the area and it didn’t have nearly the detail I might’ve needed.  Google it, find an article and research the terrain so that you’re not surprised by some of the things that surprised us on our trip.

#3 – Do Avoid Strange Bugs, Don’t Google

One of the amazing things about venturing into nature is the unusual array of critters that you come across.  But, as we all know, critters can be dangerous.  As we started our hike, I noticed these massive, black bugs with bright orange wings.  I’m not a big fan of bugs, so I steered clear.  On the trip out of the woods, we saw a couple more of the scary looking bugs, and I cleverly quipped that they “probably weren’t as dangerous as they looked because usually the scary looking bugs are actually pretty harmless.

Cut to three hours later, we had returned home to air conditioning and smart phones, we decided to google the bug.  Turns out that beast is a Tarantula Hawk, a type of wasp that lays eggs inside tarantulas so that their babies can slowly eat the tarantula from the inside out.  I repeat, their BABIES eat a giant, hairy spider from the inside out.  And its sting is considered among the most painful insect stings in the world. In fact, according to the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, a list that ranks various stings of insects, the Tarantula Hawk is the second highest on the pain scale described as “Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric.  A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath.”  So yeah, harmless, just like I speculated. The icing on the cake of this whole story came from my father who reminded me that if these tarantula eaters were around, that meant the area also has tarantulas.  Thanks dad.

This goes back to the research rule, but the moral of the story is definitely don’t mess with anything you don’t recognize, and for god sakes don’t google it afterward (unless you plan on going there again).

#4 – Don’t Go During a Heat Wave

Now, this seems like simple advice, but living in California where I’m used to moderate temperatures, I wasn’t expecting the “mountains” we were going to be quite SO hot.  With the sun beating down on me and the heavy backpack on my back, the dizziness, exhaustion and stomach illness started to take over.  We hadn’t even made it to the stupid Bridge to Nowhere, and I was already ready to pass out.  Luckily, I used to live in the desert and used to play tennis in the middle of August, so I knew to find some freaking shade and sit down.  But if I had followed #2 better, I would have realized that it was much more a desert climate than a mountain one.  Fortunately, there was a lovely river, so we weren’t short on water to drink or dive into.

#5 – Don’t Follow People Who Look More Confused Than You

I don’t know why it still shocks me that hikes aren’t marked with clear signs and arrows point me in the right direction.  This trail, like so many, meandered off in different directions, people had worn their own trails to head down to the river and generally created a bit of a mess.  We knew that we had to cross the river a few times, but we were behind another couple who were on their first hike date (Awwww), and it took us way too long to figure out that they had no clue where they were going.  So because we kept tailing behind these two idiots, we crossed the river something like 5 times more than we needed to and generally made our lives more difficult.

On the way back down, we didn’t have anyone in front of us, and we found the trail shockingly easy to follow. It was much farther from the river than we realized when we were following our couple friends.  So, knowing that most of the other people around you probably don’t follow these rules any better than you do, keep your eyes on the trail, not the other hikers.

#6 – Do Find a Walking Stick

I was nursing an old knee injury that had just flared back up, so I didn’t want to hurt myself more, so I knew I needed a hiking buddy.  But in crossing the river and clambering up and down rocky sections, my good friend birch branch saved me from a number of highly embarrassing and probably painful missteps.

So don’t forget to hike with a buddy.  I named mine Glenn.

#7 – Do Cover Yourself In Chemicals

Screw being organic, hooray to chemicals!  I’m serious.  You read the part about the crazy bugs with babies that eat tarantulas, right?  Load up on bug spray, sunscreen, etc.  When you’re a city girl (or guy) out in the wilderness, you don’t want to take any chances.  One day after filming a friend’s student film, I was in the gym taking a shower when I realized that I had a massive black tick hanging out of the side of my hip.  I hated how thick the chemicals of bug spray hang on my skin, so I decided to go without it.  And I was regretting it the next day when I was in the bathroom ripping a small insect out of my skin with a pair of tweezers in between tutoring sessions at the Learning Resource Center where I worked.  And I know there are organic options for bug sprays and sunscreen, so choose those rather than going au natural into the great wild.


~ by sarahjeanne on August 31, 2012.

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