Going outside and staying there

View of mountains near Meeker Park Overflow Campground, Colorado / Darker than Green

Imagine you’ve lived your entire life indoors, tucked deep in your comfort zone. Imagine you’ve just driven halfway across the country, a thousand miles, to a new state, a new city, a new house. Imagine you give yourself a few days to breathe, to settle in this new space, to learn the smell of the air, and the direction of the breeze. And then imagine leaving it all behind again, and driving off into the unknown.

Driving through Roosevelt National Forest toward Meeker Park / Darker than Green

Fort Collins was built at the eastern foot of the Colorado Rockies. Just a few minutes outside of the city, past stone farms and gas stations, bookended by high clearance vehicles sporting waves of dried mud cake, we began our climb.

When we left the city, we had a direction in mind, and a campground destination that we hoped would have a spot available for us. That was it. This was our first time, the first adventure, the acknowledgment of fear and the first shouldering our way right through it.

Switchbacking up the mountainside, ears popping with the elevation change, the mood shifted when the sun fell back behind a cloud and the road became a dark hallway. The shark-tooth walls of St. Vrain Canyon jutted up from either side of the slow, ambling creek, forming a tunnel of red matte stone. The gray sky thickened and rain began to fall. We slowed our speed and allowed ourselves the luxury of locking eyes onto each sharpened peak, each cluster of dark, damp evergreen, a landscape so entirely different from the one we left behind in the midwest. When we finally pulled into the morning-still campground – a few tents scattered, a few vans with curtains drawn shut – we jumped outside to listen to the quiet.

We picked our first site of the trip, an idyllic meadow dotted with wildflowers and stands of young aspens and baby pink boulders cloaked in frothy green lichen. It was our first time choosing a spot for the tent. The first time inflating the sleeping pad. The first time choosing what stays in the car and what comes out. The first time filling the bear locker. The first time trying to unlock the bear-proof dumpster. The first time hearing the sound of rain on the tent fly. The first time realizing we get no cell service. The first time hearing a pack of wild coyotes yipping and yowling in the near distance, and the first time truly understanding that thin nylon walls are all that separated us from everything else.

Aspen branch in Meeker Park Overflow Campground, Colorado / Darker than Green

Tiny alpine asters in Meeker Park Overflow Campground, Colorado / Darker than Green

Orange North Face tent in Meeker Park Overflow Campground, Colorado / Darker than Green

Patch of Aspen trees in Meeker Park Overflow Campground, Colorado / Darker than Green

Silhouette of plants in the sunrise light through tent wall, Meeker Park Overflow Campground, Colorado / Darker than Green

When you’ve spent most of your life indoors, it might be a strange feeling, knowing you’re about to spend the next few weeks of your life outside. Our closed tent would eventually come to feel as safe as a shut door, locked from the inside – surely, a trick of the brain as it was still just a tent.

We were in the elements now. When it rained, we’d feel it. When the sun rose, we’d welcome its orange glow through closed eyelids. When a chipmunk sniffed at the soft soil by our heads, we’d hear its tiny breaths, feel the vibration of its paws when it skittered up a nearby tree. There was no longer an out there or an in here. We slept, ate, washed, talked, sat, read, were in the forest. It was seamless, and it didn’t take us long to settle into the newness and make it familiar.

The first time leaning against discomfort and turning it into contentment. The first time fully accepting that there’s no work to be done, no responsibilities to answer to, nothing to do but sit and take notice. The first time learning to wait, and to listen, and be rewarded for the attention.

We spent the first 8 hours of our camping experience in our tent. A sprinkle turned to a shower, which grew to a storm of varying strength and steadiness. We watched the rain bounce and gather on the outside of the fly, the beads growing with each added drop before racing down the tent’s sloped dome. The tiniest meteor shower, every shooting star a gravity-held trickle. But eventually, the splashing slowed, the tempo of the rain decreased to a distant echo, and we unzipped our tent doors and crawled out under cool, blue moonlight.

Our initiation was over. We were part of the forest now. And it would be tough to pull us back inside.

Mt Meeker through the Aspens and evergreens, Colorado / Darker than Green

For the first few nights of our Colorado camping road trip, we stayed at Meeker Park Overflow near Estes Park. The sites here are all first-come first-served and cost $12/night. We made sure to arrive early on a weekday morning since we were traveling during the summer, so there were only a handful of other campers already settled in when we got there. I imagine arriving later in the week or on the weekend would make it more difficult to find an open spot. Meeker is very close to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, so if you plan on visiting those areas, this is an excellent place to stay. We stayed at site #19, which looks like a fairy tale. We didn’t have much interaction with the camp host, but she swung by as we were packing up to let us know the fire ban had been lifted and seemed like a delightful person. I have very fond memories of this place since it was where this whole Colorado adventure began – it’s a great place to start your own adventure.

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