Every journey into the unknown must start somewhere. During the 19th century, dozens of towns with awesome names like Black Creek, Deadwood, Sagebrush, and Tombstone sprouted from the earth and served as launching pads for exploration of the western frontier. While the Storta Outpost looks less like a lawless mining town and more like a suburban single-family dwelling, it is nevertheless the launching pad for all of our outdoor adventures – including our first.
Back in 2001, as a couple with only a few years of marriage under our belts, we recalled with fondness the memories of camping with our parents when we were children. We wanted to experience this together. As will quickly become clear while you read our adventures, we are unfamiliar with the term ‘half-measures’. Anything worth doing is worth going completely overboard for. Camping was no exception.
While most hearty adventurers might ease into the wild with caution as their guiding principle, we went all in and determined early on that we were the second coming of Lewis and Clark. Campgrounds would be too confining for our dreams. No, our fate lay in backcountry camping. Walking the Appalachian Trail. Sleeping under the stars. Cooking over a fire. Pooping in the woods. All we needed was the proper equipment.
Now we will be the first to admit that we tend to go the extra mile when we decide to do something, but that applies to research as well. We do not go into these adventures without a detailed plan. We spent weeks, well at least days, reading up on what equipment you need to settle the wild frontier. We compared different brands, read reviews, and, as much as possible, went places to actually touch the stuff with our hands. We had a plan and a shopping list.
The Sears catalog may have been the tool of choice in the old west, but we were fortunate enough to be but a few miles from a glorious establishment known as Outdoor World. Walking the aisles, we could see our dreams of exploration flashing before us like a newsreel as we loaded the cart with sleeping bags and backpacks and hiking sticks and a camp stove and camp food and virtually every other shiny piece of backcountry camping gear you could imagine. If we had a budget walking into the store, we quickly rationalized expanding it to buy heated socks or some other contrivance marketed to suckers. But it mattered not. To us the cart might as well have been a Conestoga wagon loaded to cross the plains.
After a few weeks of trying out all of the gear and getting familiar with it, we made plans for our first trip. Since the mountains were several hours away, we decided that a base camp at a KOA was a logical idea. We arrived and pitched our two-person backcountry tent in the middle of a site clearly more sized for a tent that Barnum or Bailey might bring. Regardless, we were on our way. The next day would be our first time hiking with our backpacks and we needed to be rested. The sun set and we cuddled up in our tent for the night.
The sleeping bags we had purchased were rated for like 20 degrees or some crazy number. We were a little surprised when we unfolded them and they seemed to have the thickness of a bed sheet. We trusted in the ratings and crawled inside. This is when we realized that the earth was no longer the soft, cloud-like natural mattress we recalled as children. It was now equipped with rocks, roots, and nary a smooth surface anywhere. Our enthusiasm, while still high, began to falter.
It is unclear, in hindsight, if that night was exceptionally cold or if our 20 degree sleeping bags were, in fact, crap. What we do know is that we were lucky that the gravel pit mattress kept us awake so that we were conscious enough to cuddle together for warmth. We are both certain that if not for the strength of our combined body heat, the KOA search and rescue team would have found our frozen bodies the next morning coated with a sheet of ice. Fortunately, we managed to get through and survive into the big day.
You often hear of people having near-death experiences and beginning to question their life choices. The morning after we almost became the next Donner party, we sat down to our coffee and burnt toast and attempted to rationalize our decisions. Weeks of planning and preparation had collapsed in one night. Our dreams of going all Jeremiah Johnson died as our exhausted eyes stared into the trees while we asked, “What the hell were we thinking?”
That day we went to Wal-Mart and bought a Five-Person tent, an air mattress, a propane heater, and enough blankets to smother a forest fire. Coincidently, our second night was much more enjoyable.
The key takeaway from this experience is that we did not give up on our adventure. We at the Outpost are resilient. We simply changed course to a different kind of adventure.