Getting Out: Bagging out hits his camping sweet spot

This looks like a good spot The author, Ron Erkine, relaxes on his sleeping bad in Inyo National Forest near Mono Lake.

My purpose in writing this column is in the title: Getting Out. As you recline on your sofa and read it, I hope your leg will mysteriously begin a barely perceptible twitch that ripens into a full body spasm of energetic excitement. You can’t help it. You simply must snag your day pack and your low hikers and head out the door.
I usually try to engender this twitch with stories of visits to special wild places— the “where,” but I rarely write about the “how.” At first glance, one might think the subject is simple and straightforward. But perhaps not.
Most extended nature adventures are built around backpacking or car camping. Each has its own mixture of attractions and shortcomings. Backpackers enjoy unique peace and solitude, but they shoulder a heavy load and do without basic comforts; a price most people are unwilling to pay despite the rewards. Car camping minimizes backpacking’s deprivations, but numbered campsites and noisy neighbors sometimes taint an outdoor experience with big city annoyances.
For decades, I have taken extended outdoor trips using a mode of travel I call bagging out (referring to a sleeping bag). Bagging out shuffles the car camping and backpacking ingredients into a new mix that may hit your sweet spot like it does mine.
Many of our more remote national forests—Toiyabe, Inyo, Modoc, to name a few of my favorites—are crisscrossed by a web of dirt roads that quickly lead you off the beaten path. Conditions vary, but many of these are passable in a Honda Civic; no SUV required. If you travel the paved mountain throughways, you have routinely passed dirt road turnoffs leading to some who-knows-where that harbors peace and solitude usually reserved only for backpackers. Venture onto one of those dirt side roads that look intriguing and follow it. When you pass a site that speaks to you, pull over and bag out for the evening.
Bagging out has several discomforts, but anyone used to backpacking will quickly recognize the luxuries. I relish that my car, only steps away, is laden with comforts: a cooler, comfortable patio chair, myriad clothing layers, books, everything I could conceivably need. Yes, I will sleep on the ground, but not on the skimpy backpacking pad; rather, the plump Thermarest pad that I would put up against any Beautyrest mattress for comfort. As dusk ebbs to night, I slip into my sleeping bag, recline in my camp chair, read my book, and sip my Manhattan. Eventually, I lie back and count shooting stars through overhanging lodgepole pine branches. If I have chosen my site wisely, all has passed in perfect peace and quiet.
Some of my sweetest moments in the wild have been nights under the stars but within steps of my car. Several years ago, I drove out to a remote ghost town cemetery in the Nevada desert where I spent the night. I unfolded my camp chair and simply sat and looked through the clear desert air across an immense landscape. In two different locations—one far to the northeast, the other to the south—a tumult of black clouds and lightning battered distant peaks. Where I sat, it was 70 degrees and perfectly still. You could hear a pin drop. Just fabulous.
If the mixture of the backpacker’s solitude and the car camper’s comforts sounds right for you, load the car with supplies, then light out and bag out. Regulations can vary from one national forest to the next, so check with the rules in the jurisdiction where you are bound.

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