Fall is the Time for Car Camping and Cocktails


Car cocktails (photo credit: flickr/dotpolka)

It’s not PC, but here it goes: I love car camping. To compound the dearth of political correctness: it’s due in no small part to that you can carry cocktails and plenty of ice.

The change of seasons has brought on this admission. Just yesterday, my meteorologically prophetic neighbor told me it would be an early winter. My brain immediately tried to reconcile the moments of seasonal regret with the bright spots of opportunity. So I set out to fill each remaining weekend of the pre-snow season with hiking, climbing, riding and paddling. The base camp for each outdoor adventure will progressively creep lower in altitude with the passing of each weekend toward winter. I’ll end the trek to winter in the desert. Warm days, cold nights and enough stars to keep imaginations occupied all night.

Though it may be the ultimate introspective medium, backpacking has no place in my late summer/early fall plans. In my quest to celebrate the bright spots of opportunity, I’ll be loading up the old Tacoma with sleeping bags, bikes, hiking shoes, backgammon and yes – a cooler full of ice and adult beverages. I am proud to be a gear-heavy, semi-luxurious, comfort-seeking, car-camper.

My earliest memories are of my parents and their friends sitting in low-slung beach chairs and holding ice-filled cocktails while car camping in some remote Western landscape. We kids would be running around, making up spy games or building entire civilizations from imagination and sagebrush. The adults would mindlessly shake the ice in their metal camping cups – clink, clink, clink – as they told stories with one mission: make each other laugh.

To this day, it’s my favorite sound: the clinking of ice and genuine laughter, surrounded by the solitude and sounds of wilderness. No music, just unadulterated happiness.

Judge if you will, but cocktails have become part of my outdoor experience. They don’t drive the train – so to speak – but they certainly welcome passengers.

After a day of exploring or hiking or riding, I’d rather pursue a laugh than tackle serious problems. The weighty issues of the world are too loud in those moments. They invade the peace of the desert or the mountain meadows. They pull me away from appreciating the last vestiges of a season and the creative and funny friends I’m lucky to know. They drown out the glorious “clink, clink, clink” that, to me, is as subtle and important a background noise as the birds and the wind blowing through the trees.

It’s not an ode to the alcohol – that’s just what happened to be in my parents’ cups as they wordlessly demonstrated the Zen of living in the moment. My love of car camping and cocktails is an ode to slowing down, to listening and to living each moment without regret or haste.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve become the one who unconsciously shakes the ice in my camping mug. Each clink is a gratitude to my parents for teaching me the value of moderation and an appreciation of at least some wildness – both in the natural world and in the social.