By Kathleen Hannah
The conversation I had with the employee at Lake Wenatchee State Campgrounds went something like this:
Me: Hello! I would like to camp out tonight. Is there any space available?
Employee (laughing audibly): There’s no one here — you can have the pick of the place!
I turn to my friends with a look that says, “Cold doesn’t bother us!” And we began to get on our way. I’m certainly no hardcore outdoorswoman, but having listened to my friends and colleagues talk about how great camping is and I wanted to learn what the hype is all about! I asked to borrow a few essentials (we’ll get to that later) from my boss and he showed me how to pitch his old tent. Then we were on our way on what was my first-ever camping trip.
Now bear with me hardcore outdoorsy people, because I know car camping is not actually ‘real’ camping but a rather soft alternative. However, our experience makes me feel like it is OK to consider myself a budding outdoor enthusiast.
We pulled up into our camp spot at around eight p.m., by which time it was completely dark and I was grateful that I had been given a headlamp to use. I was rather proud of how quickly I was able to get my tent up, considering I had just learned how to pitch it the day before. The fire was harder – the ground was damp, and it took us twenty to thirty minutes to build a fire that could sustain itself.
After warming ourselves and settling down to enjoy the outdoors, I finally took some time to walk around our campsite. I was freezing but the stars were BEAUTIFUL. With the glow of the fire warming the faces of my friends, I bid them goodnight and headed into my tent.
And thennn it started. I had been asleep for about an hour when I awoke to the patter on the tent’s thin skin. I wasn’t initially worried because I’ve lived in Wenatchee for three months and it’s rained about once. I knew this wetness would be over soon – there would be no problem waiting it out.
Two hours later I was thinking, ‘This is Wenatchee it doesn’t rain here!’ And yet a liquid sky attacked us relentlessly. Water began seeping into the tent, first from the floor, drenching my clothes, and then from the roof. Inside my sleeping bag and on top of an air pad, I had a small of island of dryness but the leaking roof might soon take care of that.
I thought to myself multiple times, “Get up, get the tarp from the car, and pitch it over the tent.” That was a fantastic idea, but it would require getting dressed and going out into the coldness and the wetness to make it happen. Huddled in the warm bag it just seemed too big a process. So my battle plan became this: Bunker down in the bag, try to sleep out a loooong night, and get warm later at home with hot shower.
Sleep did come, now and then, and an interminable night did eventually pass. In the morning, I emerged from the cocoon of my sleeping bag to survey the damage. My socks, coat, sweatshirt…basically everything was completely soaked. I put on a slightly drier fleece and after we had packed our car and cleaned up our campsite we decided to explore. We wandered along a path that led us to the beach. The fog rising out of the black water, the view of Dirtyface Mountain reflecting in the mirror of the lake, the sun streaming through cracks in the clouds… this was worth the drenched clothes and the sleepless hours.
I realize Lake Wenatchee is a mundane, been-there-done-that destination for many locals, but for my first camping experience, it was perfect. It was both rainy and sunny, and miserable and majestic. I can’t wait to go back … but maybe when it’s warmer.
Lessons from the Rookie
- Bring two tarps, one to put under the tent to protect the bottom of the tent from getting wet from the ground, another to put over top of the tent to protect the tent from the rain.
- Keep a spare set of clothes (including socks) in the car for the next day. Don’t put them in the tent like I did.
- Make sure you bring your own kindling to build your fire. It can be hard to find dry, easy-burning fuel in the woods when it’s raining.
- Remember the headlamp. It’s a real necessity, especially if you’ll be setting up camp in the dark.
- Stick with your pals, and look out for each other when you venture out.
- Don’t skimp on the water. Bring extra bottles, even if you’re car-camping, and even if it is just one night.
- If you’re visiting a formal campground, call ahead to check on regulations and to reserve space.
- Tell someone back home where you’re going, what you’re doing, and when you’ll be back. If you’re late returning, you want someone looking out for you.
- Bring a camera — you’ll want to preserve the memories.