My second summer tour directing around Alaska and the Yukon is flying by. I recently enjoyed a few days off in my homebase city of Anchorage after 3.5 weeks on the road. I share a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment with six other tour directors. Most of us are traveling at any given point so those who are home work out sharing the space.
I’ve had the pleasure of spending a lot of the summer with my friend/roommate/coworker Kelly. (There are coworkers I rarely if ever see). She’s one of the first people I met in Alaska and one of my favorite. Adventurous, genuine, compassionate, just the best. Thankfully our schedules are somewhat in sync this season.
We wanted to camp during our time off, pending fierce wildfire smoke in the Chugach Mountains outside Anchorage. It has been an incredibly hot, dry summer, with Anchorage setting a record of 90 degrees. Wildfires have raged all over Alaska and the Yukon.
I held onto hope Kelly and I would find a safe, breathable campsite. I’ve been window shopping 2-person backpacking tents since finishing the Appalachian Trail in 2017. I hit up REI’s July 4th sale looking for something spacious on a solo trip, and capable of fitting two adults comfortably (enough). Earlier this year REI released an updated model of their lightweight 2-person quarter dome tent. It caught my eye at a great sale price.
I am now the owner of two tents. Two tents!
I spent most of my life wanting to be someone who understood camping. The rare times I was in a tent, it was borrowed from a friend of a friend. The longest I’d ever been “camping” prior to the AT was a weekend long Bonnaroo music festival, using not a single piece of my own gear.
The cost of assembling a personal gear collection is steep; it’s one of the most significant barriers to accessing the outdoors for a lot of people. It’s intimidating even knowing where to begin. I thought frequently on the AT about how excited I was to share whatever gear survived the hike with friends. Anything to help people I care about spend more time outside.
Thankfully the wildfire smoke cleared enough around Anchorage for Kelly and me to camp on July 3rd. We drove 30 minutes out of town to Eagle River Campground which has first come first serve drive up sites. We camped a couple hundred yards from the rushing river, my favorite ambient noise.
I’ve heard you should be able to intuitively set up a quality tent sight unseen, so I didn’t practice beforehand. I’ve only set up a couple tent models (mostly of the lightweight, backpacking variety), but I’ve watched so many come together.
It took a leisurely 40 minutes to put it together, only getting tripped up orienting the rain fly. Rocky ground made for a challenging time staking it out (it requires more stakes than I’m accustomed, with a new-to-me chord system necessary for balancing tension).
I geeked out over small details, like the spacious vestibules (many lightweight tents have only one, two is a luxury) and smart pocket placement. On a basic level, it’s cool evening knowing what to look for. I’m quite satisfied with the purchase thus far and I look forward to seeing how it holds up to wind and rain.
Kelly slept in my old MSR Hubba NX solo tent, sutured with duct tape after a brutal life on the AT. The fact it’s still usable, let alone sturdy, speaks volumes of its construction. She’s the first and only other person to use the tent, a slight bundle of fabric I called home for nearly 6 months.
I loved sharing this shabby tent with Kelly even more than experiencing the inaugural night in my new one.
I told her where to look for pen marks on the wall near her head, mementos of all the times my hand trailed off the page as I fell asleep journaling. I’ve been nomadic for about 3 years now. Aside from a friend visiting me while housesitting in Fairbanks last winter, this is the closest I’ve come hosting a friend at my place in years. Life on the move is great but I sorely miss playing host.
Kelly and I work with lots of outdoorsy people. She could have borrowed a tent from any number of them. But I’m able to be a go-to guy now. It’s surprisingly empowering to know I can shelter myself and two others in the woods.
The sun “set” a bit after 11pm. This time of year the sky only gets dusky blue for a couple hours before sunlight returns. The utter lack of true darkness disorients my sleep cycle, especially in a tent, but I don’t care. What a cool place to continue discovering and becoming the person I want to be. Each piece of gear I share is a leap in the right direction.