Like many others who are newer to the world of hiking, backpacking, and camping, our goal is to eventually become self sufficient enough to be able to hike into the wilderness and camp for days at a time. As you can imagine, there is so much more to this process than walking a trail and plopping your stuff down wherever you feel like it. There are many things that you need to consider for both the hike and the campsite that you select (permits, navigation, gear, and so on). You can read a book, find a checklist of all of the things you’ll need, and buy all of the best products, but nothing prepares you like experience. Not only do you need to be physically ready for such an excursion, but you want to ensure that every product in your pack is properly functioning, and you know how to use it. You never want to be caught unprepared deep in the forest, or anywhere else for that matter. And if you’re anything like me you need to be mentally prepared as well, which for me means facing fears that I’ve had my whole life. Sounds like a good time, right?
So though we have been doing our research, we are aware that we are in no way ready for the type of adventure that we truly want. We did feel that it was time to try our hand at camping outside of a campground, to test our gear as well as our own preparedness. You can be positive upon beginning your adventure that you have every little thing covered, only to discover at the worst time that you’re missing some key item. Test runs are important so that these realizations are made when the impact is minimal.
So in early July we headed up to the Mount Laguna Visitor Center for a dispersed camping permit, and talked to the lady helping us for some recommendations. We explained our experience level and what we were looking for, and she suggested Kitchen Valley since it was easily accessible by car but still somewhat remote. No, it wasn’t out in the backcountry, completely cut off from the world. However this area did not have potable water, access to restrooms, or any other conveniences such as tables and fire rings. There were a few campsites out here, which were essentially just dirt plots down various driveways along the road. So though we weren’t completely away from people, we were also nowhere near any of the neighboring campers.
This area is accessible from Sunrise Highway, via the north entrance to Kitchen Creek Rd. We drove down the road and checked out the different areas to camp, until be reached the point where the road is gated off (Kitchen Creek Rd. is accessible from the north and south, but is closed down in the middle so it is not a through road). We then went back and revisited a few sites, before settling on one at the very end of one of the dirt roads. It was surrounded by trees so there was plenty of shade from the hot summer sun, and there was not a sound to be heard except for wind and the occasional woodpecker. Perfection!
We set up our camp and made lunch, just taking some time to relax and take in the scenery.
We eventually decided to go explore the area, walking back down the dirt path to the main road and then following it south. Along the way we admired the beautiful scenery, in all its variety.
I loved the fields of sage, it smelled amazing out here and I just wanted to take it all home with me!
We finally reached a point near the end of the road where we could get a view of the valley and mountains beyond.
After a while the heat became a bit too intense, so we trekked back up the road to our campsite.
The sun began to set and a chill set in as we started to make our dinner.
As it grew later I began to get a bit uneasy. We reached that limbo where we’re not tired enough for bed, but don’t have any light for tasks to keep busy. In the past I have been content to simply sit by the fire, but with no fires allowed we were left only with lantern light. We spent some time checking out the constellations above, but ended up just readying ourselves to at least attempt to get to sleep. Under the light of our Luci lanterns we cleaned up our site and headed into the tent.
Now this is generally the worst part of any camping trip for me, given my fear of the dark and inability to fall asleep early. However this is something that I am determined to overcome , so I just have to get used to it! Jeremy can fall asleep just about anywhere, at any time, so once again I was left to lay in darkness, wide awake listening to every single sound in the surrounding forest. I spent some time reading but I knew that the longer I stayed awake, the more nervous I would become. Even so, I spent the next few hours awake because I couldn’t stop opening my eyes at every little stirring sound outside of the tent. I tried to focus on breathing and calming my heavily beating heart, mentally talking myself through my fears. It was quite a sleepless night, and I definitely began looking for ear plugs after this trip. In previous camping trips I have spent the night crying in fear, so this was at least a step up!
The next morning we awoke to the sounds of cows in the valley on the other side of our site, like our own little alarm clock. We could not see the area and had no idea that there was a farm there, but their chorus of mooing alerted us to this fact. I love the sounds of farm animals, and had I not been so exhausted I would have found it more comforting than I did at the time. We started moving around and preparing to make breakfast, but even then we could feel the heat starting to build as the sun slowly grew higher. In the end decided to just head home to relax for the rest of the day.
On the way out we were greeted by some of our vocal cow friends who were blocking the road, but they eventually let us go on our way after mean mugging us for several minutes.
Overall it wasn’t the most exciting trip, we weren’t in some stunning remote location with high mountain peaks and flowing glacial rivers. We weren’t completely secluded, even if our campsite was private. And since we had our car we had brought items that we wouldn’t if we were backpacking, like jugs of water. But there were new experiences, such as camping without a fire or nearby campsites. We tested out new gear, and realized that we didn’t like some of the gear we had. I determined that I would in fact need earplugs, and potentially even a sleep mask, if I am going to get any rest on future camping trips. I realized that I can indeed push through fears that I have had my whole life and gain new experiences. Of course I was still scared to be out in the woods in total darkness, but I did it! I’ve been pretty proud of myself over the last few months, I have been trying new things and challenging myself to push through blocks I have had in place for decades. This simple test trip gave me some things to think about, and left me excited to try again. I still have a ways to go before I will get to the point that I am looking to reach, but you have to start somewhere and at least I’m having fun along the way!