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Planning for the unexpected outdoors

Mountains in New Hampshire are shown
New Hampshire’s White Mountains

While planning for an upcoming outdoors trip to West Virginia, I texted my sister two campground options and something unexpected. One was close to everything but had platforms tent pads. I explained to her that when there are platforms, it’s harder to stake out a tent properly because you’re essentially on a deck.

I wanted to inform her completely because the first time I came across platform tent pads, I was not prepared. Fortunately, at that time, I had a free-standing tent and only one night at that particular campsite, so I didn’t need to stake my tent.

It seems like every time I go on a trip, I run into something unexpected. Fortunately, they have ranged from simply unexpected to minor inconveniences. Leave No Trace Principle 1 tells us to Plan Ahead and Prepare. But it’s hard to plan for the unexpected. However, each of my instances where I ran into the unexpected was my error. I failed to read all the information from the park.

So the first thing you’ll want to be sure and do in planning for the unexpected outdoors is to read the information from the park. Also read reviews of websites like Campendium, and blogs like this one.

Platforms for tents

I had never heard of platform tent pads before I encountered my first one. My friend, Lagena, and I were road-tripping through New Hampshire and I picked a state park for us to stop at for the night.

We pulled up and saw the deck-like area for the tent. “How do you stake the tent down?” we asked each other. Fortunately, it didn’t bother us at all because we didn’t need to stake out the tent.

While looking at campsites in West Virginia recently, I did read the descriptions, and the park advises you to bring extra rope in order to stake out your tent on a platform. They also had pictures of the campsites, which helped.

The one “structure” rule

My brother and I arrived at Sully Creek State Park just south of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, where we learned we might have to share a small two-man tent. We chose to stay at Sully Creek because they took reservations. However, I failed to read the instructions that state park only allows one “structure,” i.e. tent, RV, etc., per campsite.

a tent and hammock are shown while planning for the unexpected outdoors
Sully Creek State Park

My brother and I are both grown adults and the thought of cuddling, was not appealing, especially in a small two-man tent. Fortunately, although Theodore Roosevelt National Park does not allow hammocks, Sully Creek does. Hammocking was my brother’s original plan so it all worked out.

When we spoke with the camp host to clarify, I said, “We are not married. We are brother and sister and do not like to share.” As we were speaking, I realized we are both in our 30s, have the same last night, and look a lot like a married couple. The camp host probably wondered why a married couple was so adamant to not share a tent.

Mischievous foxes and ravens

In January I visited Channel Islands National Park. Channel Islands was my 35th national park to visit, so I was familiar with bear boxes, large metal boxes that lock in all your food, trash, and smelly items. But on Channel Islands, they have fox boxes. They are the same boxes, but because there are no bears on the island, they protect your belongings from foxes, ravens, and other mischievous animals.

But what I was not prepared for were smart small mischievous animals. Apparently, the foxes and ravens can unzip your tent or backpack and steal your things, the park ranger informed us as we arrived on Santa Cruz Island. He warned about leaving your pack on the ground unattended. He also advised we keep our shoes inside the tent because the foxes would run off with them. These guys don’t mess around.

Bears breaking into vehicles

Another time I rant into animals smarter than expected was in Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks. The bears in the Sierras are definitely “smarter than the average bear.” When I first arrived at my campsite at Sequoia National Park the registration information instructed me to immediately empty my vehicle of any food, trash, or smelly items and place them in the bear box.

Bears in the Sierras apparently knows how to open car doors. Locking them doesn’t help. It actually makes it worse, because then they break into your vehicle.

Bears are shown in the field
A mama and cubs make their way across the field at Sequoia National Park

Locked gates

My first major fail when planning for a trip was when my best friend, Crystal, and I arrived at our campsite high in the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina, only to find a gate across the entrance to the park.

A wreck on the interstate pushed our arrival time back by about four hours. It was midnight, raining, and we were an hour from any hotel. I had never encountered a park that locked the gate at a certain time, so it never occurred to me that we could not arrive late.

We ended up sleeping in the car outside the gate while a friendly bear was hanging around somewhere in the shadows.

Planning for the unexpected outdoors

These five times I have come across something that I thought was odd that I really should have known about. And, I would like to say I learned my lesson better planning for the unexpected outdoors. I did mostly, but on my last trip, we nearly got locked out of another park. Fortunately, we made it there before they closed the gate. I may have read, but forgotten that they lock the gate at 10 p.m. That is a possibility. But the important takeaway is to read the rules and regulations and remember them. To plan ahead and prepare goes deeper than reading about the fire and wildlife regulations.

Five times I've come across the unexpected. Planning ahead and preparing goes deeper than reading about the fire and wildlife regulations.

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