This past weekend, I was so excited. I hadn’t been to my campsite up at Nicolet National Forest since December. And it was two months before that when there wasn’t snow on the ground. I’ve been waiting seven months to do some camping! I monitored snow coverage maps for weeks, waiting impatiently for the snow to melt. Then I waited a few more weeks for a favorable forecast. Finally, the weather improved. My plan was to go up this past Monday and stay through Wednesday (or Thursday, if the forecast remained nice). I couldn’t hardly wait to go.
But I wound up staying only two days. I know, right?! That NEVER happens. I never cut a trip short!
Nothing Went as Hoped
I cut this trip short because I was simply not enjoying myself. There were a number of reasons for this.
First, it was colder than I expected. In my zeal and excitement, I forgot that there’s a big difference between 80’s in early spring and 80’s in late summer. In spring, high temperatures last for maybe an hour. But in the summer, it can be hot all day. Even in the peak of summer last year, Butternut Lake was extremely cold and difficult to acclimate to. Lakes don’t retain heat, and even during our hottest summer days, much of the heat visited upon by the sun dissipates overnight. So here in Wisconsin, lakes don’t get much chance to hold and build up a store of heat. But at least by late summer, the water is tolerable. In early spring, I couldn’t even wade into the water without my feet going numb.
Another (much more substantial) reason I didn’t enjoy myself was because the campsite sucked. Not “my campsite”, but the one I wound up stuck with. Someone else was using “my campsite”. I scouted other locations for a campsite, but they were all inferior. Lending credence, at least, to what I’ve been saying all along – there’s something very special about “my campsite”.
But the biggest reason I go to Nicolet is for peace and quiet, and a chance to clear my head and do the sort of thinking I can’t get done at home with my myriad of distractions. And the reason I didn’t enjoy myself is that I couldn’t relax or clear my mind. I’m not sure why, but I have suspect it’s because I was disorganized and I’m feeling a lot of pressure now to resolve certain questions. Time is running out for me to figure out how and where I want to live, and what I want to do for income.
However, my frustrations bore some fruit. I learned a few important things about myself. These lessons are hard pills to swallow, because they undercut much of the nomadic identity I’ve established for myself over the past two years.
I can’t understate how devastating it was to lose my campsite. Sure – it’s public land and available to anyone and everyone on a first-come, first-serve basis. It’s a 150 mile, almost 3 hour drive for me, and there’s not been a time I’ve gone up there without the anxiety and fear that someone else might have beaten me to it. I’m well aware that my campsite is routinely used by other people – I’ve seen evidence of previous occupancy during each of my visits.
But I’ve always had impeccable timing. I go during weekdays, and I arrive really early in the morning or really late at night to avoid day visitors. I’ve been to this campsite eight times in the past. And eight times, I got the site. Despite knowing that it’s public and used by others, the fact that I’ve been at this site so often and spent so much time there made the campsite sacred to me. It was my home away from home.
It was bad enough to see my campsite occupied by someone else. Even worse was to see what was there. I never saw the people, but they had massive campers and tents set-up and sprawled out all over the campsite. They clearly weren’t going anywhere anytime soon. They weren’t doing anything illegal or even improper. But the size and scope of their campsite was gaudy. I try to disturb the natural habitat as little as possible when I camp. They looked like they were colonizing. I can’t shake the image out of my head. It’s too soon to say for sure, but that image may have forever spoiled that campsite for me.
But after driving 3 hours and 150 miles, going home was not an option. So I set about to find another campsite. I found one at the end of NFR 2140. I can say two nice things about it. One: it was right on the water – I didn’t have to hike 10 minutes to get to Butternut Lake. (Though, the 10 minute hike to get to the lake is something I actually enjoy. It’s a gorgeous scenic hike through the forest.) Two: it had a proper outhouse.
But the campsite had a lot of drawbacks. In fact, it technically wasn’t a campsite. It was a boat launch area. Camping was expressly forbidden. The only reason I got away with it was because the pier wasn’t set up for the season yet. Had I gone two weeks later (after Memorial Day), it surely would have been.
The site was much more open than my usual campsite. The trees were lower, so there was less privacy from other motorists and less protection from the sun.
When we left, I checked out two more campsites – one near Three Johns Lake and another near McKinley Lake. They lie in between my usual campsite and the boat launch area. I didn’t stay at either one the previous day because they had been occupied. They were also fee-based campsites, even though they have no special amenities. Although I decided to take a closer look at the fees, and it turns out, the fees were actually very reasonable. $5/night, or $2.50 for people with an interagency recreation pass, like I have. Either one would have made an acceptable alternative. I might have just moved my campsite to one of those locations instead of coming home so soon, had I not already been feeling so frustrated.
Cutting Trips Short, a History
Cutting trips short is certainly nothing new for me. I can’t think of the last time I went on a road trip that lasted as long as I planned. In a way, that’s a good thing. Budgeting too much time for a trip leaves open the possibility of unplanned adventures – which I’ve certainly taken advantage of on numerous occasions.
Still, it’s a point of personal embarrassment for me that I can’t seem to stay away from home as long as I plan to. Famously, my North American Road Trip was supposed to last six months. It lasted five weeks. Sure – there was a good reason. The intense heat and sun made it difficult to stay cool without remaining on the road during the daytime so I could run the air conditioning. I hadn’t retrofitted the truck with any of the cooling measures I had installed in the van (that died on day #2 of that trip). But there were many times we traveled through milder climates where we could have slowed down. I chose not to.
The truth is, I don’t like sitting still. Once I’ve seen a place, I’m ready to move on within minutes. I don’t linger. I don’t appraise. But it’s not that I’m motivated to return home.
It’s about the road.
On the road is when I’m happiest. On the road is when I’m at peace. For all the thinking and pondering I hoped to accomplish during my trip, all of it took place while I was driving. I noticed that when I’m driving, I felt as calm and peaceful as I feel when I’m casting my fishing rod.
But at the campsite, I was bored. My signal was too weak to connect to the Internet. My electronic devices have limited battery life. And I learned that recharging a smart phone can seriously drain a car battery. For the first time, I noticed a serious drain. I had woke up in the middle of the night (after charging my phone for a few hours) to roll up my windows because it was getting too cold. The windows almost didn’t go up. I quickly revved up the engine, and fortunately, it started. The engine recharged the battery in just a few moments. But it’s conceivable that if I had woken up much later than I had, the truck might not have started.
Why do I need electronic devices? Am I just addicted to them?
I admit that I am addicted to them, but I don’t think that’s the relevant issue here. Whether it’s an electronic device, fishing, or driving on the road, the constant variable is stimulation. I need stimulation. Nature – for all its beauty – can hold my attention for only so long. When lake water is too cold for swimming, and when trees are still naked of leaves, my attention span for nature is even shorter lived. I think the fascination I experienced at Mount Hood (which is what my mind always runs back to when I think about my connection to nature) was sort of a fluke.
It’s not that I don’t love nature – I do. But I realize now that loving nature is not the same thing as a desire to live in it. I could find happiness in an urban environment if it were devoid of people – abandoned buildings or a city wiped out by a zombie apocalypse. Or even in a vehicle, driving down the road. Because – in my heart of hearts – it’s not nature that I really crave, but isolation. Isolation just happens to be easier to find in nature than in urban environments, so my mind drew a false equivalency.
The Population Density Problem
No sooner are the words “I crave isolation” out of my mouth do I need to confess that even that is not completely true. After all, a proximity to people – namely my haunt friends – is the only reason I’m still in Green Bay and stuck in this lease in the first place. Proximity to my friends is the major sticking point in every alternate location I consider moving to.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that I can convince two of my closest friends to join me in moving out of Wisconsin. Or they might convince me. I’m talking about Bones and Morgan and their stated desire to move to Tennessee.
I can’t justify to myself following them down to Tennessee like some lost puppy dog, since I would have no other reason to move to Tennessee. I would consider following them there, or somewhere else, or convincing them to follow me somewhere, if there was something more to it – if we continued to work together as haunters or as travelers in some way, for instance.
But that’s a long and intense conversation that I haven’t had the chance to have with them yet.
I hate crowds, I hate traffic, and I dislike people in general. I badly want to settle down in a small town or in a rural setting. All this is true. But there are some major drawbacks to being away from large cities.
For one thing, I don’t want to make it even more difficult for me to find a job. Let’s face it – small towns and rural communities are hotbeds neither for finding employment nor running a business. I could live in a small town or rural area NEAR a larger city and job site. But then I’ve got a daily commute that could become quite expensive.
Also, I’m getting to a point in my life where I’d like to have a boyfriend – a partner in crime, if you will. The dating pool here in Green Bay is pretty shallow. The phrase “plenty of fish in the sea” doesn’t really apply to a pond, and moving somewhere even more remote would shrink the pond down to a puddle.
“Roughing It” Is Sort of… Rough
I’ve taken a lot of pride in my willingness and ability to live the simple life. And I’ve spent a lot of time fantasizing about just how liberating it would be to live a more primal way of life. But I’ve already conceded that I can’t survive on my non-existent hunting and gathering skills. A job or a business (and therefore, being part of society) is unavoidable.
As a haunter, I need a proper work space to do my craft, and I need access to both electricity and the Internet.
But maybe the biggest complaint I have when I’m on the road or out in the woods is the difficulty in bathing. Sure, there are lots of ways to clean up without indoor plumbing. But none of them are particularly attractive, if I’m being completely honest. Lakes and streams are cold. Disinfecting cloths only go so far. Planet Fitness was inconvenient. Motels are expensive. One of the few things I appreciate about having this apartment is that I can take a hot shower whenever I feel like it, rather than when circumstances allow it.
I could conceivably have all of these things in a commercial or industrial property if I insist on a non-conventional residence. But I can’t do it living out of a hut in the forest, or living in a trailer park.
And that got me thinking… Last summer, I complained that conventional housing felt like a prison. I wonder if I really felt that about four walls and a roof as I claimed, or if I really meant that my apartment felt like a prison. After all, an apartment has things that an ordinary house does not. It has neighbors – a lot of them, packed in close together, and a lot of stupid rules in place so as to not bother anyone.
If I’m being honest, I think I could be happy once again in a normal house. Maybe I don’t want the burdens of home ownership or a lengthy lease. But I think my aversion to traditional housing has more to do with being cooped up in this rental community than anything else. I need to recognize that before I decide what is or isn’t off the table in terms of housing.
The East-West Problem
Over the past several weeks, I’ve researched the various climates found in the United States. The closest thing I’ve found to a “perfect climate” is the Olympic Peninsula. I’ve considered moving out there for a long time. But ultimately, I think the OP is unrealistic given its remoteness and relatively high cost of living. If I had been born and raised there and surrounded by friends and family, it would be different. Or if I had a job lined up that I knew I could afford to live on. But not under these current circumstances.
Unfortunately, most of the rest of the west (including the desert southwest) is as bad (if not worse) than Wisconsin. I knew that snow fell in places like Denver, Salt Lake City, and throughout the Rockies. I’m also aware that desert climates tend to have cold overnight lows. But I was really surprised to learn just how cold places in the southwest can get – not just overnight, but also during the winter months. I was also surprised to learn just how much of the desert southwest experiences annual snowfall totals that rival Wisconsin’s. Not only would I have to cope with comparable winters, but I would also have to cope with hotter summers. I’d always be waffling between two extremes, so moving to the southwest doesn’t really solve my climate concerns.
To experience mild winters, I’ve got to look at the Gulf region. I’ll still have to contend with hot summers – not quite as hot as the southwest, but certainly more humid. But at least most of the Gulf region is snow-free. The Gulf may not be perfect, but it scores higher in my personal preferences.
There are two major problems with the Gulf region. As with anything east of the Mississippi River, the population density will be much greater than out west. This is a problem unless I decide that being isolated presents more problems than benefits. Second – the Gulf region is also known as the Bible Belt. Y’know – where southern hospitality embraces gays, atheists, metalheads, and haunters.
But how bad would it be – really – to live in the Bible Belt? Sure, this is a part of the country with the highest numbers of religious people, and they’re even more fanatical about their religion than most. But that’s a lot like saying Fargo is colder than Green Bay. It might be colder, but that doesn’t mean Green Bay isn’t cold.
This whole fucking country is deeply religious. Even in the least religious state in the country (Vermont), only 7% identify as atheists. Does it really make much of a difference to live in a place where only 1% or 2% of the population is atheist? I could be wrong, but I don’t think it would. And while moving to the Bible Belt certainly wouldn’t be my first choice, weighed against all other factors, I don’t think I should allow religion and racism to deter me from moving to a warmer climate.
Also, I’m sort of used to being an outcast. It’s not like Wisconsin has embraced me as a gay atheist punk. Maybe I should embrace my outcast status, instead of searching in vain for a place where I’ll fit in better.
I might not have the answers I hoped to come away with. But I may have shattered a few illusions.
Travel is very important to me. But travel is a broad term. I need to absorb these revelations and learn what being a nomad really means to me. What is it exactly about travel and nature that I love? What is it exactly that I don’t love? How does this shape my identity as a nomad?
Can I shake myself from this obsessive desire to “head out west” in favor of a geographical location that – despite its many flaws – will be a better overall environment for me to live in?
How do I attain a seemingly contradictory desire for privacy, peace, quiet, avoiding dense crowds, and avoiding traffic congestion with a desire for proximity to my friends, romantic possibilities, and occupational opportunities?