It’s been just a little over a month and already, 2016 is shaping up to be a year of adventure and new experiences. Most recently, what began as an idea to spend a day at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center and neighboring Dinosaur Valley quickly became my very first camping experience.
Now, I worked three summers as a camp counselor up at Lake Texoma, so I’m no stranger to the great outdoors. However, that kind of camping included air conditioned cabins, home-cooked meals, and indoor plumbing. I’ve never slept outside, on the ground, in a tent. And I’ve definitely never gone a full day without showering. I’ll admit it. I’m prissy. I’m a control freak. I like to be clean. And I’ve never even considered peeing in the woods.
But I wanted to do this. With the group of friends that I have now, I knew I could do it, and I knew that I would enjoy it no matter what. That’s a pretty rare find. To have a group of people that you not only actually enjoy spending time with but who make you want to go outside your comfort zone and try new things that used to feel pretty daunting.
When I first told my mom that I was going camping, she asked, “Do you want me to see if there’s a Marriott or a Holiday Inn Express nearby?” That is how much of a not-sleeping-outside person I am. Or should I say that I was.
Of course, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. First, let me share the pictures from Fossil Rim.
For those who don’t know, Fossil Rim is basically a Texas Safari. There are free-roaming animals all over the place and you can drive through in your own vehicle and feed them through the windows. Yes, they will stick their heads in your car. I’d been twice before, both times as a child, and I’ve been desperate to return ever since. My friends and I are all very fond of natures, animals, and conservation, so Fossil Rim is pretty much Heaven on Earth.
This time, since we all wanted to experience the park together, we opted for a guided tour. It was about seven bucks more, but it was totally worth it. We all loaded up onto a small, open bus (since it’s the off-season, we were the only ones. It was like having our own personal, private tour!) and embarked on the first part of our journey.
Everyone’s favorite animals on the safari, however, were the giraffes. I must have an something of an encounter with giraffes my first two times at Fossil Rim, but it was nothing like this. We got to feed and interact with these gentle giants who, as my friend phrased it, are so much more awesome than I ever gave them credit for. Getting to know these creatures was pure, absolute, unadulterated joy.
After our adventures with the stunning animals of Fossil Rim, it was time to set up camp. Now, I’ve never set up camp before. I’ve also never cooked outside. I have absolutely nothing valuable to contribute to surviving a night in the woods. Although, I did bring Neosporin and Band-Aids and lots of chap-stick. I also made my friend a mean PB & J sandwich, so I guess I was sort of helpful.
Thankfully, my friends are all camping enthusiasts.
After an amazing meal, we set out for stargazing. Then it was back to camp for campfire and s’mores before we finally brushed our teeth and turned in for the night.
Here’s the thing about sleeping outside. There are a lot of noises. Like raccoons and other critters chit-chattering and messing around in your food. Then there’s the wind through the creaking branches and the distant sound of the river rushing through the night (though that’s actually very soothing). There are also the packs of howling coyotes in the distance. The woods never let you forget where you are, not for one second.
Now at home, I’m a great sleeper. I can sleep for ten hours straight. But away from home? Not so much. I get antsy and anxious. My senses go into hyperdrive. I become very, very, very aware of my surroundings, and that’s just when I’m in a hotel! Sleeping outside in the woods? Forget about it.
But somehow, I managed to sleep. I did wake up a few times for one reason or another. The worst part, however, wasn’t the hard ground or the sounds of the raccoons roaming around the campsite. It was the cold. It was absolutely frigid. Granted, we were camping in February, so I kind of expected it would be, but still, my sleeping bag was supposed to be built for chilly nights! I ended up sleeping with three layers, two pairs of socks, my sleeping bag, and a thermal blanket and I was still freezing. Next time I shall be better prepared. Thankfully, I didn’t lose any toes to hypothermia.
The next morning, we all packed up camp (which turns out to be a lot faster and easier than setting it up), and set off for a day of hiking through Dinosaur State Park. It’s pretty surreal, setting foot in places that were once home to the brachiosaurus and the t-rex.
But you know, I think the best part was just being with my friends, having this incredible experience out in nature. It’s so refreshing to breathe that clean air, to exist beneath the trees, to skip rocks along the river, to get a new perspective. That’s what we were designed for, I think. To venture out into the unknown and to live in appreciation for the things that money can’t buy. I loved every moment of this adventure. I can’t wait for the next one.