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Apodyopsis Meets Apophenia

In spite of living in an era where scientists are teleporting atoms, Mama Nature still beckons. We may clean up nice but deep down inside a part of us yearns to crawl around on all fours in the mud and howl at the moon. And I for one intrinsically recommend just that. Camping in the great outdoors has remained a popular past-time in the modern age for many reasons, from its relative low cost to the deeper need to go head to head with the elements and prove that we can still be mighty cavemen should the need ever arise. Again, nothing wrong with any of that. But there is a right way to go about it, and there are many, many wrong ways. Here’s how a Salt of the Earth man, whether a weekend warrior or latent spiritual explorer, should do it. Incidentally, this is also useful info should you ever know a window of homelessness, or find cause to fake your own death.

No lifelines. If you want to escape the civilized world, then go the path less taken. Even when starting your trip from a more heavily populated area, one should not have to go too many zillions of miles to find a decent place to camp out. But do not even consider asking permission. Part of the fun is the potential danger inherent to the unknown, and seeking out condolence to utilize a spot that could be well trafficked by stereotypical tourists or law-abiding rangers is not the way to go. Find a place to have your fun, but do not tell anyone ahead of time of your exact destination. Do not merely throw caution to the wind, honestly challenge your own insecurities and allow yourself space to kick and scream to your heart’s desire.

No orgies. While going it alone is definitely worth trying at some point in your life, this can actually be a rich bonding experience for the right sort of friends. And by friends I do not mean family or co-workers. If that’s the limit of your IRL social circle, then maybe the trip into the wilds should be a one-way ticket anyhow. Keep in mind that the act of letting your hair down may provide some incriminating fuel for family and/or co-workers to later exploit down the road. Whereas if friends ever try to blackmail after the fact then there is nothing morally wrong with letting them ride bound, gagged and blindfolded in the boot of your car for the next camp-out. So if you bring anyone with you on the adventure, keep the numbers small and like-minded. And of course, intermingling the sexes is more than welcome, provided there is no menstruating as wild animals can smell it before you do, which can then lead to unwanted excitement at inopportune times, evil pan-dimensional spirits unleashed, etc. But having sex in the darkened woods is even better than doing it in the bed of her parents. Not as fun as a church altar though.

No technology. Leave your latest gadgets at home, including your laptops, iPods, e-readers, handheld gaming devices, vibrators and especially your smart-phones. Do not bring any phone whatsoever. Leave it in your car, and leave your car several hours of hiking away from your campsite. You want to flee the world for a little while, right? Then leave every aspect of said modern world anywhere but this grand excursion out before you. Otherwise you are ultimately just bringing a potential excuse to chicken the hell out. Should an honest emergency arise, then that is just part of the action and will amount to a wonderful chance to truly test your mental resources instead of speed-dialing 911 like a panicked yuppie hipster. I never even bring a flashlight.

But what should you bring, if not your tech? A good rule of thumb is to bring a single knapsack or backpack and whatever cannot fit gets left behind. Wear hiking boots or combat boots, but also bring flip-flops (Birkenstocks do not count), in case your shoes need to dry after delving through streams or lakes to get to your zone, but really just to let your feet breathe at some point without actually going barefoot. Even if you are not the tenderfoot sort, it’s good to give your feet something extra in case you need to stomp on a chupacabra’s skull or something, so stay prepared. Other than what you are wearing, bring maybe one other change of clothing, even if you plan to be out for two or three weeks. Shorts and/or jeans, t-shirts. You won’t be attending church or waiting on a job interview or stumbling through a first date, so there will be nobody to impress. Heck, play the mad scientist and use this as an opportunity to learn what you actually smell like, without any hygienic aids. Rough it so you can learn just how hard you really are after all. Bring minimal provisions, like a couple of refillable bottled waters, granola bars, etc. The more food you bring the more bugs and scary animals you will attract. Plan to go scrounging for nuts and berries, go fishing, whatever other alternatives to get the full experience of the camping venture, so research accordingly ahead of time. Bring a book, as you will have the solitude to catch up. Bring illicit drugs too, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Actually, if you want to get in touch with your inner nature-boy, then altered states are a key to magical invocation, and this line of thought should not be quickly overlooked. Transcendental awareness can come from years of deep meditation, but if you only have so many days off work then you might need the jump-start. Beer is weighty and requires a bulky cooler, but a bottle or three of hard liquor (preferably bourbon) is certainly doable. Use this as a chance to see what that marijuana stuff is all about. Or if you are really a seeker then bring a sheet of acid or a bag of mushrooms and get ready to know the woods as well as any sprite or dryad. Bring a good knife, more Swiss army than John Rambo, for a thousand and one uses along the way. Bring matches. As the Fall is the best time for camping, in terms of not crossing paths with strangers so often to lower bug-count, bring a light jacket, which can double as a blanket in your tent should you have the need. The stereotypical tools for camping such as a compass, binoculars, bug repellent, charcoal, etc, really do not matter if you plan decisively. Travel light, leaving enough room for anything to occur.

Now that you have a prologue in mind, here are some key points to abide by for maximizing the epilogue.

Sleep outside. Even finding a cabin with no electricity or running water or (god forbid) Wi-Fi (which you will not need anyway) does not rank. If anything, bring a tent and/or a sleeping bag. Sleep where you can see the stars. If you can accept the modicum of discomfort then you will know levels of peace that are completely alien to urban environments involving upstairs neighbors learning how to line-dance at 3AM or Mormons knock knock knocking at your door. Sleeping outside is kinda the main point here. Cheat through the experience and you may as well just stay home and order another pizza.

Burn stuff. Having a campfire is also a vital ingredient. As soon as you settle on an exact place to camp you need to go about setting up the fire. Look for an even patch of ground roughly 6 foot square, and with no branches hanging directly overhead for at least ten feet up above. Kick away any loose rocks or sticks. Dig a circular trench maybe a few inches deep and approximately 3 to 5 feet from side to side. Line the trench with rocks, the bigger the better, so that you have a nice wall as tall as a GI Joe action figure. Build a teepee with sticks about 2 or 3 feet high in the center of your circle, stuffing the inside with dry leaves and twigs. Keep a fat pile of extra sticks nearby for when the sun goes down and the woods get dark as a politician’s conscience. Keep more than you think you’ll need, as a fire’s eyes are never ever as big as its stomach. Staring into the abyss of the fire late into the night will prove vastly more entertaining than anything ever broadcast on network or cable television. You will be staring into where myths and religions are born.

Walkabout. Walk more than you typically would in an average day, every day. After the campsite is chosen and set, drop your bags and do a quick scout of the area so you have an idea of your basic surroundings. Memorize what you can while you have the natural lighting, in case escape routes are warranted from late-night zombie hordes, Bedlam-escaped ax-murderers or alien abductors. The rest of your trip, whether a weekend or a summer, kill time walking and exploring and observing. Pretend you are ten years old again. Try to never go the exact same route twice unless you’re heading back to camp, obviously. Hiking is fun, and it is better exercise than speed walking or jogging or freaking jazzercise. Depending on where you are camping out, swimming and especially spelunking are also cool. But not hunting. Leave that to the mullets and prospective serial killers and persons otherwise incapable of indulging in vaguely intelligent discourse. Climb trees instead. Climb cliffs if you can. Push yourself, and take your time doing it. Romance the danger. Create the hard facts for stories to share later on.

Physical activities aside, look forward to spending the time telling tales around the campfire. There can be a surreal pleasure to that alone which is strong enough to counter any negative events, which might spring up from left field. Those moments of interaction, with friends or with your own psyche, free of distraction, high as a kite or sober and somber, can leave you with a new dimension which will stay with you no matter what you are returning to. And that’s the real moral of the story. We fancy our ancestors as conquerors, but in the here and now of the 21st century, conquering ourselves may be the only thing left to contend with. And like with any job defiantly well done, the afterglow makes the blood, sweat and tears wholly worth the fabled price of admission.