Miserable & Magical: Camping helps find the mountain within

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The other day I read that the only activity unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic is hiking and as someone who proclaims to love hiking, I can get on board with this. I will, however, add hiking’s sister to this list and say that camping is also, from what I can tell, the same.

Last weekend I went camping with [name redacted], his sister and brother-in-law, and their dog on Moosehead Lake. Aside from sitting 6 feet apart around the campfire, you otherwise couldn’t tell that the world was any different than it used to be.

[Name redacted] and I have been camping on Moosehead Lake for the past four years and it’s become one of our favorite summer traditions. We always go to the same campground and stay at the same site, the number of which I’m never revealing because it’s already hard enough to reserve.

We have our reservation made for next month, but last weekend we were lucky enough to squeeze in a bonus trip and do something we’ve wanted to do for a while – boat out on the lake until we found an island with an open campsite. These spots are first-come, first-serve, and aren’t affiliated with a campground. It’s good ol’ fashioned backwoods camping (although I do appreciate the outhouse that was available).

The campsite was the only one on the island and it had my mind racing with short horror stories I could write. Being outside, especially on the water, always gives me the best writing ideas. Maybe it’s the fresh air or the sound of water sloshing up against the rocks, but it clears my mind of my usual stress and anxiety. Lately, those anxieties have been about whether COVID-19 is going to kill me and my family, whether white supremacy can ever truly be defeated, and whether I’ll figure out what I’m going to do with my life.             

I’ve been camping in Maine since I was probably 8 or 9 years old and it’s always been one of my favorite things to do. It’s how I fell in love with this state and its salty air, and it’s what’s made me so good at tuning out squawking seagulls at 6 a.m. Camping in Maine, even now that I live here, feels like leaving the entire world behind and entering a place where time stands still and it’s just you and the earth.

Being on Moosehead Lake allowed my worries to slip away a little. Some were still there, especially when we saw party boats flying Trump 2020 flags, but for the most part, I was able to escape. I breathed in the trees and the lake water and felt like myself. I felt grounded and free and young.

The campsite had a pebble beach made up of the perfect rock-skipping stones and faced directly at Mount Kineo. No hate to Katahdin lovers, but Kineo is where it’s at. Also, as I said, I only proclaim to love hiking. Katahdin would do me in.

I was once given the advice to imagine myself as a mountain. No matter the horrible things going on around me, I could stand strong. Hail could fall on me, I could be covered in ice, people could literally walk all over me, but none of it would be my downfall. When I got this advice I closed my eyes and saw Mount Kineo.

If you look at Mount Kineo from the front you see a lot of trees with a rocky base. Or maybe you see what I see. I see a woman doing yoga, child’s pose, with her feet tucked under her butt (or seat, if you’re a true yogi), her head bowed, and her arms stretched out in front of her. She’s resting, she’s taking care of herself, she’s strong and vulnerable.

That’s how I feel. Strong, because I know that whatever lies ahead, I can handle it. Vulnerable, because I have no idea how that’ll happen, and that scares me. But I need to trust in myself, just like I trust in the woods and water to revive me before heading back to whatever the rest of the world has waiting.

Kate Gardner is a Portland-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Teen Vogue, SELF, and Bustle. You can follow her on Twitter @katevgardner.

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