“You should camp alone for the first time somewhere close to home, so if you get scared, you can come back,” my mom urged me. So, I headed 300 miles away to Las Vegas.
Since I bought my car, Scout, I’ve been itching to get out there and tick off some firsts with her. Camping alone somewhere new was a big one.
I didn’t exactly ignore my mom’s advice. Las Vegas is a second home of sorts. I spent many of my weekends as a teenager making the trek to see Celine Dion, and some of my closest friends live there. I knew that their homes were also mine. If I did get spooked (which was an impossibility), I could easily make my way back to a warm bed.
Outwardly, I presented myself as confident. Inside, mighty over-thinker that I am, wanting to be able to predict and plan everything ahead of time, I had a near constant dialog of doubt. Here’s a loud mind’s adventure on her first camping trip.
Day 1| Noon
I’m in my best friend’s house in Las Vegas and she doesn’t have the heat on. My feet feel like ice and I’m shivering. I’m feeling crazy for even thinking about packing up my stuff to go car camping. Alone. For the first time, ever.
The Lake Mead Visitor Center employee I’m speaking to doesn’t advise a 2-wheel drive vehicle take any of the backroads necessary to get me to my desired primitive camp site. “It’s really rugged terrain,” she says. Further, Lake Mead staff have both Jeeps and Hondas and they would never take the Hondas down the backroads.
I’m on the road. Sundown is in just over an hour and with the heavy cloud cover, it already seems dark. I’m being a little stupid and I know it. It’s been raining a ton in Vegas the past few days, and I’m headed to camp down a desert backroad that leads almost directly into Lake Mead. In the dark. But here goes nothin’.
It’s black out. There is none of the sunset light I assumed would be around. I pass Lake Las Vegas, a place that rekindles memories of kayaking, staring at the home of my childhood idol. I’m not far from my destination. With this place that has a warm spot in my heart nearby, I’m invincible.
Lake Mead Parkway narrows from two lanes to one and I’m feeling like a bad ass. I’m a lone woman driving her own damn car by herself into the desert to camp in the winter. I’m driving the speed limit on unfamiliar black curvy roads. I slow down.
I’ve arrived to the entrance of the questionable road that’s supposed to lead me to my camp. It looks like a pretty standard dirt road. I take it at an over-cautious speed and by the time I arrive to the first outhouses, I decide to turn around and shine my headlights on the road behind to see how deep of tracks I’m leaving. They’re virtually invisible. I’m still bad ass at 5 miles per hour.
The dirt road is super easy to navigate. It leads literally right into the Lake and as soon as I see that, everything hits me. I’m a lone woman driving her own damn car by herself into the desert to camp in the winter. A rainy winter. On a 30-something-degree night. Adrenaline shoots through my body, stings my chest and sends a pin prickly sensation from my hairline to my fingers.
I exit the vehicle reluctantly to relieve myself. With my mom on the phone. The outhouses are long gone and as I pop a squat, the phone loses reception. For a moment I’m convinced that someone is out here and has one of those devices that blocks cell phone coverage.
I’m back in the car. The doors are locked. I’m going to stay in here all night.
I need to remove the little table from my bed. I exit the car. I walk 25 feet toward the water and then run back to my car like a child who sees and is trying to escape ocean waves for the first time.
I just turned off my wireless hotspot. This has cut off my reliable lifeline to the non-camping world. I’m listening to the 10 mile per hour winds outside my car and my feet are just starting to get cold. I’ve searched online for the weather forecast. Light rain. My mind flashes to flood waters like the old Universal Studios tram ride. They push my beloved vehicle into the waters of Lake Mead just a couple of feet away.
I hear a plunk near the front side of my car. The Mafia has found me. Or, maybe it’s those things from Tremors. I’m doomed! More seriously, it’s sprinkling again.
Something on my car rattles in the wind. Scout’s body rocks slightly back and forth and I try to allow the motion to calm me as I ponder the fact that in big cities we are surrounded by far more dangerous animals than the usual creatures of the desert could threaten. But, too logical for my own good, I realize that the only thing more dangerous than man itself is mother nature, and I’m alone with her. I’m hoping she will be gentle and that she’s not the type of creature to play games to see how far I’m willing to go in this new relationship.
I’m thinking I could add another pair of socks and nestle into bed after checking the weather one more time.
Day 2| 3:10 a.m.
I have slept five hours, waking every 30-60 minutes. There has been no flood. I venture into the outdoors to relieve myself. I survive the five foot distance from my car. I’m beginning to think this camping alone thing may be possible.
Daylight erases many of my fears and I decide to get out of the car in search of the primitive fire pits that are supposed to be at the site. There’s one nestled away between two hills, with greenery that covers the view of the water by a portion and if it were the summer, I’d more seriously consider braving the soft road to get to its shade. But it’s winter. Shade is the enemy. I find a fire pit about 30 or so feet from the water and in dirt packed tightly enough that I’m comfortable approaching it. This is home.
What’ll day two hold?