6 p.m. Mount Rainier National Park. The campground illuminated by the light of a full moon. We're melting, drenched and exhausted as we round the corner, approaching our camp site. Suddenly we catch sight of a car through the thickly wooded brush - a car parked at our camp site. A site we had paid for that morning. A site we had woken up early for, rushed across the park for, skipped a great hike for had been taken - no, stolen - from us.
We were told we couldn't stay there; that the receipt we had left claiming our turf meant nothing. A woman with a bandana said she thought we had left for the day and that the site was ripe for the taking. Her husband, at first very defensive then apologetic, offered to pack up and find another site. Beneath his words I felt a current of inner conflict. This situation was awkward at best. Her response:
"Well, one of us will have to."
So we left, our eyelids slowly losing their battle with gravity, our patience quickly losing its battle with our rising tempers. A ranger! Matt says, pointing to the little white golf cart shimmying up the hill. But after explaining the situation to him, and telling him about the receipt AND noting that we were first to claim this first-come, first-served site, he about laughed in our faces.
"You're both to blame, here," he said. "I'm not going to make them move."
This run-in from a few days ago has replayed over and over in my mind. The more the road trip movement continues to grow, the tighter the reins seem in many respects. You can't sleep here. You can't park there. Given that there are already laws protecting people, property and nature from harm, I thought that the unspoken code of camp conduct would respect and encourage excitement about the outdoors, not inhibit it.
Maybe I'm being a little overzealous about this whole thing. Maybe not. But when I enter a campground, I expect to be welcomed with kindness and understanding, not feel as if I need to compete to get (or, in this case, to keep) a spot that's meant to be enjoyed. Perhaps, like the ranger said, it's both of our faults, I don't know. But just in case you or someone you know like to spend your time beneath the stars, Matt and I have taken the liberty to draft up a set of rules for you to follow.
We've outlined them below:
The Camper's Manifesto
Basic principles for the weekend warrior, van lifer and occasional outdoorsman written in proverbial stone.
- Thou shalt never walk away from a perfectly good s'mores (or beer).
- Thou shalt always extinguish thy's campfire before turning in for the night.
- Thou shalt leave no trace.
- Thou shalt understand that camping is better with friends.
- Thou shalt use appropriate canisters for food so thy will not become bear chow.
- Thou shalt be comfortable with pooping in the woods.
- Thou shalt always look in thy's rearview mirror before backing up.
- Thou shalt always bring a car. Just in case.
- Thou shalt never try to fit thy's 40-ft. RV into a spot meant for a 25-ft. one.
- If thou snipes another's camp site, thy should be prepared to be eaten by bears.