I’m a terrible planner. In fact, I hate planning, though many times in transit I kick myself for not knowing where I’m headed next.
It was dark when I arrived in Salt Lake City after more than 11 hours in the car. I had “planned” to arrive in the daylight so I could set up my new tent and have a look around before bed, but like all my other plans, it wasn’t ever really a possibility given my late departure from Bend. In my rush to leave last Wednesday morning, having just made the decision to go all the way to Salt Lake instead of going to stay with a friend in Elko, Nevada, I did a quick Google search for campgrounds in the area. I selected the first one my cursor ran over and entered the address into my phone. I trusted Siri not to lead me astray.
The sun was setting as I approached the mountain-backed city in northern Utah, but Siri (via Google Maps) led me effortlessly around the outskirts and back out of town. I slowed at the entrance to Antelope Island State Park and asked if any tent sites were available.
“I think we have a couple,” said the ranger with a smile. “It’ll be $15 for just you and your pup.” She handed me two dog treats wrapped nicely in black poop bags, and a map. “When you get out there, hang a right at the Visitor Center.”
“Out there?” I asked.
“Yeah, on the island,” she said.
“Oh,” I said, masking my ignorance with delight. An island?
I drove out on a two lane highway that felt like a runway. In the moonlight I could see water on both sides of me with shimmering reflections of dark mountains. I kept driving, and soon found myself on what must be the island (albeit one with a road connecting it to shore). I made my way around the edge as the black night dressed the surrounding landscapes in the most perfect evening wear. It was the calm before the storm.
I admit I wasn’t looking forward to camping alone for three to four nights on my road trip back to Colorado from Oregon. Wouldn’t it be terribly boring? What would I do? I even packed an extra sleeping bag in hopes I could convince my friend to ride along, despite her busy plans. When that failed, I considered scratching the adventure altogether and just doing the 16-hour route direct to Fort Collins.
I reasoned that I would need this last taste of wanderlust before I begin another big year of studying and teaching; that this summer has been fairly low key, and in order to keep me from running away mid school year, I was due for an adventure.
And I’m so glad I did.
As I set up my tent in the persistent winds with help from the headlights of my Nissan Xterra and the lamp around my head, I felt calm, unnerved. I heard whispers from nearby campers, mostly families in small motorhomes. When I realized my tent didn’t come with stakes, I thought it odd but quickly remedied the situation with a few rocks and my suitcase. Since there is no running water in this campground and I was exhausted from the long drive, I took one last look at the sky and crawled into my sleeping bag with Elvis, my dog.
Just as I closed my eyes, however, a relentless storm took hold of the night. The rain pelted the sides of my tent, and the wind threatened to lift it off the ground despite all the weight inside. It blew and blew and caused the flexible tent to whip around and down, whacking me over and over again. I thought I could wait it out — surely it would pass soon — but when Elvis began clawing at the tent walls looking for an escape, we moved to the car and fell asleep in our respective front seats.
Around 2am, I awoke to a calm and starry night. I uncurled from the steering wheel (the back was completely full) and crawled back into the tent until the sun would wake me in the morning to a splendid view of The Great Salt Lake.
A few years ago, before I became an avid traveler and adventurist, I would have felt frustrated that nothing was going my way. But this night I felt exactly the opposite. With a grin on my face and a whole-hearted contentedness, I felt as though everything had gone exactly how it should.
The rest of my trip was even less planned, but everything continued to fall into place like it was supposed to. And I learned that camping alone is more empowering than scary, more relaxing than not, and more convenient than I had previously thought possible. I will remember my first solo camping adventure forever, and I’m certain there will be many more to come.
**Sadly, my Nikon camera is broken so all photos from this trip were taken with my iPhone, which also has a scratched lens, hence the blurry spots on the side of almost every photo!
Have you ever camped alone? Have you been to The Great Salt Lake? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
My First Solo Camping (Mis)Adventure at The Great Salt Lake
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