I'm waking up inside a humid tent, with the morning sun casting beams through the trees around me. It's cold, and I put on my wool shirt before unzipping the tent flap and stepping outside. My breath comes out in a white cloud as I do so.
I slip on my shoes and stomp my legs back into life as my family continues to doze inside the tent. I walk around a bit, maybe use the bathroom, and begin boiling water over a camp stove. Coffee, I think, soon I can have my coffee.
And as I sit there, waiting for the water to boil, the birds begin chirping in the trees above. Nearby a river or stream gurgles over gray stones. I fumble with my plastic container full of instant coffee. The beams of sunlight slowly converge into a clear, blue sky that promises a good day.
I think about what the rest of the day might hold. Maybe a car trip to another destination. Maybe a trip into some seaside town, where my daughters will fuss over knickknacks. Maybe another day in the forest, a hike up a nearby trail, and a dinner cooked slowly over a roaring fire. In my imagination the mountains rise up, and I see forests passing beyond the windows of my car.
So many memories of camping. In the beginning it was a solitary activity, conducted outside campgrounds, in places where sleeping in a tent was better than sleeping in my car. I'd find some place off the road to hide out, and I'd eat my dinner from cans, dipping pieces of stale bread into chili, baked beans or beef stew. Before the sun went down I'd read, and when the sun went to bed so did I, both of us sleeping through the nighttime sounds of cars and lonely creatures.
Later still it was my wife and I. I can't remember the first place I took her camping, but she never minded being out of doors. She loves the outdoors as much as I do, and this is definitely one of the reasons we're still together. A woman who can drive across two states and make a good Chinese meal over a campfire? What's not to love about that?
A few years later we were bringing our kids along. So many beautiful places and so many memories. Spring Canyon when the weather's hot, jumping from a dune into a lake. Olympic National Park when the sky has cleared, and you can hear the Pacific pounding the shoreline. Glacier or Yellowstone: always a difficult decision. Do we want to lie down in that cool river, or stare into that icy lake? Mountains? Desert? Ocean? Grassland or cave? Near a town or far, far away?
Up and down through coastal Oregon and California. Over and around the Olympic Peninsula. Deep into North Cascades National Park, and driving onward to Spokane, Couer d' Alene, Missoula and the Continental Divide. I wish we were at Flathead Lake right now, even if it would still be too cold to swim.
Maybe you know the feeling. I sure hope so. I have friends who despise camping, and I have other friends who despise anything out of doors. But for me those are the best places, and for me, trapped inside as I now am, those are the places I long for most.