Who needs a camper when you could be cold and hungry?

Why I’ll always choose camping in the wild over a luxury motorhome.

 

Michael Baughman is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. He is a writer in Oregon.


“Recreation is valuable in proportion to the intensity of the experiences, and to the degree to which it differs from and contrasts with workaday life.”

— Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

Camping World, the corporation that specializes in selling recreational vehicles, lists the following features of the Marchi Mobile eleMMent Palazzo motorhome: a retractable rooftop deck, leather-clad rotating loungers, wireless control of everything from the temperature to the security cameras, a living room that lifts to become a full bar, a fireplace, two flat-screen TVs, and a push-button retractable skydeck with a heated floor. With its 510 horsepower diesel engine, the Palazzo can hit 93 mph on the open road. The price of the vehicle: $3 million.

For anyone who takes Aldo Leopold seriously, as I do, something besides the vehicle’s name (what in the world is an eleMMent?) seems terribly wrong here.        

I’ve been enjoying outdoor recreation with my wife, Hilde, for 56 years, and the most rewarding and memorable of our experiences didn’t cost a lot and we worked like dogs in order to eat. For many years after our children were grown, we spent the month of July camping in the midriff section of Baja, where we fly-fished from a 12-foot aluminum boat powered by a 15-horsepower engine. Out on the water early every morning, we caught dorado, tuna, cabrilla, bonito and sierra, and released everything except what little we needed for meals.

Every day we saw porpoises, whales, sharks, flying fish, and gulls and pelicans diving for schools of sardines. Our temporary home was a tent about 15 miles from the town of Loreto. We ate our fresh fish along with fruits and vegetables from the local grocery store, bought beer and ice when we could get them, and enjoyed bread, rolls and pastries from a small and primitive bakery that could only be reached by walking through a chicken coop. The young woman who sold the baked goods totaled up our bill by writing with an index finger on a breadboard dusted with flour. 

Tarantulas and scorpions visited our tent. Late one night, I woke up and saw, just three or four feet away, a kit fox sniffing at the bread we bought at the bakery that afternoon. On an evening run along the lonely Baja highway, I spotted a coiled diamondback rattlesnake at the edge of the road just in time to jump over it and spin around to warn Hilde.

Today, we look back on those Baja trips as some of the happiest days of our lives. 

The view from Soda Mountain, just southeast of Ashland, Oregon.
Courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management of Oregon and Washington

Back home in Oregon after a Baja adventure, I decided to spend a week alone in wild country without any conveniences or luxuries, to approximate a survival situation. On a mid-October day, 100 miles north of our Ashland home, I hiked into a remote area in the Cascade Mountains. I wore a wide-brimmed fishing hat, a sweatshirt, jeans and an old pair of Nikes, with a warm jacket knotted around my waist. I carried a single-shot 20-gauge shotgun and had a hunting knife and hatchet in my belt. In my pocket were a dozen matches I’d waterproofed by dipping the heads into hot wax, two shotgun shells, 10 feet of six-pound test fishing line and two hooks stuck into a piece of cork. 

For perhaps the first time in my life, no one knew where I was. Even I didn’t know where I was. I’d told Hilde the general area I’d be in, but I knew that if it came to any sort of emergency, a search party would be lucky to find me by Christmas.

An hour from where I’d parked, climbing a steep hill through old-growth Douglas fir, I came across a dead doe, a recent kill. Both hindquarters had been gnawed away, as had the stomach all the way up to exposed ribs. It had likely been a cougar or coyotes, or both. Two hours beyond the dead deer, just before dark, I made my permanent camp at the base of a cliff, close to a clear-flowing creek.

Through the long week that followed, I experienced loneliness and also hunger and cold, excitement, satisfaction, moments of irrational fear, and interludes of something close to boredom. I looked around a lot and did a lot of listening. People my age might remember the comedian Henny Youngman, as well as his signature joke: Take my wife … please. I offer my Leopold-inspired revision: Somebody take away the unnecessary Marchi Mobile EleMMent Palazzo motorhome … please.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at betsym@hcn.org.