Camping on Lake Cushman

After seven months living in Seattle, I finally went on a West Coast camping trip. One of my original motivations for moving out here had been the wide mix of outdoor destinations: from Puget Sound and the islands, to the Olympic Peninsula, to the Pacific Ocean, to the Cascade Range. But a long, wet winter didn’t exactly make me enthusiastic about getting outdoors for multi-day stretches.

So when I finally got a good opportunity for a camping trip into the midst of the Olympic Mountains, I jumped at it. However, the trip was unusual for me in that it wasn’t a backpacking trip. Instead, it was a car camping trip, to a place that was essentially a small RV resort on the shore of Lake Cushman.

For me, there are pros and cons to car camping instead of backpacking. Here’s a quick summation:

Cons: Noisier campsite (including stereos blasting ’til the wee hours). Less natural setting. My camping skills (largely learned through backpacking) are not as useful.
Pros: It’s easier to bring beer.

So in the end, it evens out. It was a really fun group of people, though, and we ate well, drank well, and entertained ourselves well. The weather was pretty good– we only had a few showers’ worth of rain, although we didn’t exactly have a lot of Sun, either. It was also, according to longtime Seattle residents, unseasonably cold, even for the Pacific Northwest. The weather sort of reminded me of November camping in North Carolina: not exactly the dead of winter, but still plenty cold. On the first night, one girl started to go into hypothermia, and had to finish the night in the car.

As for me, I basically just threw all my camping clothes into my backpack and went– at first, I was thinking that I had brought too much, but I was glad I had it all. The temperature probably got down close to 40 degrees at night.

During the days we went hiking, although on Sunday one other person and I elected to rent a motor boat and take it out across the lake instead of going on the hike. This was pretty cool– I had never driven a motor boat before– although we had some drama when the motor died on us, and we resorted to paddling with the oars for a good fifteen minutes. (As it turns out, paddling a motor boat is much harder than paddling a canoe.) But after we got fed up with paddling, I tried the motor again, and with considerable fidgeting, was able to get it started– huzzah! Just call me “Cap’n Andrew.”

So all in all, good times. One other benefit of the trip: a couple of the guys I met on the trip are avid backpackers, so hopefully I made some connections that will lead to more serious backpacking excursions later this summer. Maybe some hiking around Mt. Rainier? Here’s to hoping.

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Getting my Feet Wet

Two weeks ago I dusted off my backpacking gear, which has sat unused for over a year, and went backpacking on Shackleford Banks, a little island on the southern edge of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. It’s only about nine miles long by half a mile wide (if that), but it’s a cool little island.

Among other things, the island is home to a population of about 130 wild horses. No one knows exactly how they got there, although one of the more popular tales is that they’re descended from horses that survived a Spanish shipwreck, back in the 1600s or earlier.

The plan was to get ferried across to the island, hike along the beach a mile or so, then set up camp and spent the rest of the day exploring. That part went pretty much according to plan; it was a beautiful day, and the temperature was in the 50s. Pretty nice, considering just a couple weeks before we had a really bad cold snap that sent temperatures into the twenties and teens. So we set up camp behind the dunes, in a nice flat area of scrub brush, and set off down the beach.

The beach was almost empty, except for a few fishermen casting their lines from shore, and even they disappeared as we walked further down the island. My favorite part of the whole trip may have been the massive number of sea shells that littered the beach; there were piles of them freshly washed up, and more conch shells than I’ve ever seen. Most of those were broken, although even the broken ones were pretty in their own artistic-looking ways. Inland from the beach, separated from the pounding surf by a line of high dunes, little patches of forest and scrub brush were able to grow. We saw plenty of wild horses roaming here, and as it got late and we began to make our way back to camp, there were dolphins jumping twenty or three feet offshore, seemingly entire pods of them moving down the coastline and accompanying us the whole way back.

Things got more interesting during the night. Rain was expected, but we were prepared for it; what we weren’t prepared for was to wake up the next morning and find that a storm was incoming, with possible lightning and wind gusts of up to 45 miles an hour. Needless to say, it was a long morning; about half the tents didn’t stay up in the wind, and of those that did stay up, at least one had to be moved when about two-thirds of our campsite slowly transformed into marshland. Luckily, this was all around 9 or 10 am, so it was light and we were pretty well awake. My tent is an ultralight tent, and was one of the ones that didn’t survive, so I put on warm clothes, my rain gear and went for a walk. Heading inland, we found a nice area behind some trees that was pretty well sheltered from the wind. In retrospect, it would have made a nice campsite.

Finally, the rain stopped, and not long after, the sky cleared. We had a sunny walk back to the ferry point, where we were picked up about noon, and after lunch in Morehead City, headed home…the trip was sandy and wet, but fun.

I like getting away from civilization, and I don’t mean little day hikes into a patch of forest in the middle of the city (although those can be nice, too). I mean backpacking in and setting up camp, someplace where you can actually see the stars at night (we probably would have been able to on this trip, if not for the rain), and where you’re really out away from civilization and amidst nature. It’s a great way to focus your mind on something different and get a release from the mundanity of day-to-day work (which has been threatening to overwhelm me lately… stupid deadlines). I’ll definitely be doing more of this in the near future.