Set up takes over an hour.

The supplies you bring for an extended cross country camping trip include a slumber-party-sized tent left over from when your kids were little. It hasn’t seen the light of day in at least fifteen years. If you’re lucky, there are no holes, none of the parts and poles are missing, and the mold and mildew are minimal. You didn’t check before you left the east coast for the west. You need to read the instructions to erect a fully functioning abode. It takes several tries.

You leave a water bowl out for the coyotes.

In the desert. You hear coyotes walking in the sand, their tails brushing against the tent sides. Your dogs are fidgety and growly for hours. Sleep is elusive.

You disregard signage.

Entering King’s Canyon National Park at dusk, you read a sign that states it is 90 minutes to the campsites. But it’s only 19 miles away, so the sign must be wrong. After 45 minutes you scoot to the side of the steep and narrow road to let the only car you’ll see for the rest of the night squeeze past.

“How much farther?” you ask the driver.

“This is mile six. You’ve got a ways to go yet,” he says. Just for grins he adds, “Take it slow.” Like you have a choice.

It’s black out when you finally arrive. No one else is in the campground. Signs abound: “Store all foodstuffs, toiletries and anything with a smell in the bear box provided.” Oh, shit. There are bears here?

You believe signage.

When you arrive at the campground, the sign says “full.” After hours of hiking and driving and exploring, and when the sun is getting ready to go down, you lose heart. You drive in out of desperation to see if maybe you can share a campsite or something. The ranger at the gate poo-poos your concern. “We haven’t been full in weeks. We just haven’t gotten around to changing the sign.” Phew.

You lack basic provisions.

After an over two-hour descent into the outback, you realize you have no firewood for the frigid nights ahead. You were smart enough to get a pot to boil water in so you can make hot coffee, but not smart enough to bring firewood to make a fire to boil the pot on. In your defense, it was only 19 miles to the canyon from the main road. Surely there is a store?

You make an itinerary.

It’s the biggest mistake of the rookie. Be a free spirit, talk to fellow travelers, get recommendations and be spontaneous. The best places to visit are often the ones that would never make it on that itinerary in the first place because the guide books probably don’t know about them. Sometimes you get somewhere and want to stay longer, other times you want to leave sooner. If you feel tied to an itinerary, you can’t do either.

You’re afraid to learn as you go.

If you wait until you know how to do anything, or everything, you’ll never make it off the couch. That’ll hurt you more than the bears.

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