The perfect campsite.
In many outdoor books, the perfect campsite is talked about concerning protection from the wind, being on a slight rise so no chance of flooding the shelter if it rains, not being in an open meadow, and so on.
Some may even talk about the aesthetics of the perfect site, facing west to catch a sunset or east to catch a sunrise, perhaps.
But the perfect campsite is much like the idea of an ideal meal.
What is perfection? What is the best?
Using the meal analogy, the perfect meal may be a multi-course dinner at a five-star restaurant for some. The soft music and lighting, the attentive service, the large plates, and heavy silverware. Dinner as theater mainly.
But a perfect meal I once had was a far simpler one. A meal had on a cold and gray winter day in Rhode Island. I was in town for a family visit. Ms. A wished to visit her favorite place that she’s seen in Rhode Island: The fishing village of Galilee. Alas, nothing was open—nothing except one restaurant bar.
Ms. A. showed disappointment at first. She loves this part of my home state. Galilee is a real working fishing village, and the tourist trade is minimal compared to other well-known areas. You can smell the salt air, hear the seagulls, and order fish from a store with a fishing boat docked just behind it.
She loves one restaurant in particular there. But it was closed for the season.
The one place open was somewhat of a sports bar. Being the good European she is, she finds the American concept of television in a restaurant rather odd. She thought we had stumbled into something loud and not conducive to a quiet meal.
But we settled in. We had a cozy spot to ourselves overlooking the water. We saw the harbor and the fishing boats. We could hear the water lapping below where we were seated.
Our excellent waiter brought out our clam cakes and chowder. The simple fish was with a butter and breadcrumb topping. It was freshly caught from the waters we were looking at.
An unexpected and delicious meal in a quiet place we had to ourselves. A few years later, I can almost smell the salt water, hear the waves, and taste the freshness of the food.
It was perfect.
It was a perfect meal.
In the same way, what is the perfect campsite? Oh, I can rattle off LNT principles. And tell you about what spot may be warmer than another. And what would be the most comfortable place to sleep.
But the perfect campsite is something less tangible than a bullet point list of items to check off.
It may be the companionship experienced at the time. Or discovering a quiet spot secluded on a crowded weekend. Or being tired from the workweek and finding bliss in a calm forest while sipping a hot drink…
A perfect campsite was by a lake in Maine towards the end of my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. A memorable place. It had what I often seek in the wildness: peacefulness, beauty, and quiet.
As I wrote then:
“The wind is a slight breeze, and the sun is reflecting on the lake with a soft, orange glow. I am writing this journal entry by the water, listening to the gentle sounds of the waves lapping at the shore. A place that lends its to contemplation. This place and moment is best enjoyed in silence. Nature is doing all the talking that needs to be done for tonight.”
Or it could be an off-trail spot I had to myself on a holiday weekend. No one was there, but me. The nearest person was several miles away. I remember waking up in the early morning light and not wanting to leave the spot. I had a warm cup of coffee that was in my hand. I sat in the warm sun, thinking about how fortunate I was to be able to experience this moment.
Or a perfect campsite could be a remote car camping one. A holiday weekend in a national monument. Where every established campsite was full. Not how I wish to see a park. But we had water, a table, chairs, and a stove. And, perhaps most importantly, an atlas. We were self-contained. The friendly rangers confirmed primitive camping as an option in the BLM land bordering the national monument.
What could have been a stressful and non-relaxing time in a crowded campground ended up being a fantastic place to call home for the night: Sweeping views of the Colorado Plateau. A smell of sagebrush in the wind carried on the warm air. Birds making their evening calls. And all lit up by the dark orange rays of the setting sun later that evening.
And we had it to ourselves.
The perfect campsite is not a list of line items to check off.
The perfect campsite is not something merely utilitarian to provide the best weather protection or a place to follow appropriate wilderness guidelines.
Those items are essential and should be learned
But the perfect campsite is something more than that.
The perfect campsite is something seared into memory.
Something that can almost be conjured up again just by thinking about it.
Where the sites, the sounds, and the smells are alive again.
A place longed to be returned.
But a place that also inspires future trips.
And that is the perfect campsite.