In the past year I spent 33 nights sleeping in a tent. That’s 33 times that I woke up tangled in my sleeping bag with hair in my face. And 33 times I gladly swapped my cozy queen size bed for a cold, starry and quiet night outdoors.
I didn’t camp for a month straight. Instead, I snuck away for nights here and there, hustling at work during the week, so I could cut out early on a Friday night to get to my tent set up before dark.
Twice I convinced coworkers to join me on a weeknight camp out. We left work at 5, grabbed beers, food to cook over the fire and drove out to the foothills to heave our backpacks on and hike the mile to our campsite. We woke up before dawn the next morning to ensure we’d have enough time to watch the sunrise before we packed up and walked back to our cars. We made it to the office before 8AM, smelling like campfire and grinning like fools during our morning meetings.
In May I headed west for a weekend scrambling up canyon walls and exploring alcoves in western Colorado. Later in the month, I went to Moab for the first time with a friend. We battled the crowds at Arches, camped along the Colorado River and reveled in the vastness at Canyonlands. We got back to Denver only to talk about where we wanted to go next.
In June I took on a new project at work, which left me both exhausted and excited. When my best friend from middle school visited, I took her to Santa Fe, convincing her to spend two nights in a tent on the drive down and back. We nabbed the last open spot at Great Sand Dunes National Park, pitched our tent next to the pinyon trees and chased our shadows up a 700ft sand dune to catch the sunset from the top.
Only once did a camping trip include a visit to the emergency room, in August, when my friend cut her face open on an unfriendly tree branch. We were camping in a small town for a music festival, opting to bypass the rows and rows of tents on the festival grounds for quiet off of a forest service road just outside of town. As blood dripped down her forehead, she said she thought we could make it to the festival for our favorite set. “I’ll just go to the medical tent,” she said. I vetoed her plan and 8 stitches later, we watched clouds over the main stage turn yellow, then orange, then pink and red as the sun set behind Jenny Lewis and the Sawatch range.
By the end of the summer I started to sense a pattern in my behavior. Every Sunday night I always ended up back at home. As much as I loved being dirty, sleeping on the ground and spending long nights beside the campfire, I also loved coming home. To see my cat, do a load of laundry, to head to work the next morning to tell my coworkers about my adventures. And then a few days or a week would pass, and I’d begin thinking of my next adventure, where I wanted to head next.
One of the places at the top of my list was the San Juan range. And so in September, I watched the aspens turn the Million Dollar Highway gold and climbed my last 14er before the snows hit.
I hit a month, 31 nights, in mid October, right when the last aspen leaves fell and when I started running out of layers to stay warm around the campfire.
I ran into my CEO one weekend in late October at a new restaurant in town. “This is the girl who went camping for a month!” he said, before introducing me to his daughters.
For so much of my life before I moved to Colorado, I used to read this quote over and over: “Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue.” – Cheryl Strayed
But in Colorado I found balance between career and life. It’s kind of like finding the perfect campsite: it requires a little bit of luck, to be willing to do the work, the right perspective and most important of all, to always be up for a new adventure.