Vacation Memory #1: First Time Camping—-Candidates for Search & Rescue?

How about a little armchair travel?

Last fall I shared a harrowing vacation memory along with other traveling escapades and asked for some of your own vacation experiences. I was thrilled to receive several submissions.

Perhaps this is the best time to share them. Who would have thought we’d have a season of canceled or forbidden travel? Now we have to thrive on memories of all the places we can’t reach.

Today’s story comes from Megan Nelson. Megan was in youth group with my sons during high school. When I told Jeff that Megan sent me a camping story, he dropped his jaw. Megan Nelson? Camping? Was she being held at gunpoint?

Well, Megan-who-never-goes-camping actually did. And lived to tell about it. Barely. Here’s the tale in her own words.

Aspen & Megan on left, from L to R

An Unforgettable Backpacking Trip — Summer 2019 — by Megan Nelson

Memories seem to be stronger when they are tinged with misfortune. My first backpacking trip was a near disaster, but it remains one of my favorite memories of this past summer. 

I spent the summer out in the Sawtooth Mountains of Central Idaho for an internship. I am not an outdoorsy person, so I was really out of my element in the mountains (especially being from Wisconsin!). However, I forced myself to try new things.

In late July, my coworker, Aspen, approached me with an idea. She wanted to go backpacking. I excitedly agreed!

We selected a fairly short hike up to a place called Saddleback Lakes. The hike was four miles one way. Aspen warned me that the hike had a 2,000-foot elevation gain which would make it a nice challenge. 

On the morning we were set to leave, I woke up feverish. When I texted Aspen to cancel, she was less than sympathetic and told me to suck it up. 

When I left my house, I felt as though I had packed too much. At least I had enough space in my bag for a small bottle of Dayquil. If I had to guess, Aspen and I were both carrying 25-30 pounds of gear.

The first two miles of the hike weren’t too terrible aside from the weight on our backs. But the next two miles were a near-vertical climb. The last three-quarters of a mile involved climbing on giant boulders and up the side of a waterfall. It became more dangerous when the rain started pouring down. 

Aspen is walking the very narrow trail

When we finally reached Saddleback Lakes, Aspen and I pitched the tent in the rain. Like the great outdoorsman I am, I napped as soon as the tent went up.

When I woke up, Aspen and I made dinner together. The rain had stopped so we were able to eat outside. After dinner, we decided to go hang our bear bag. 

Our campsight

The Sawtooths have black bears, so every camper is advised to exercise caution. The best bear safety practice is to hang all scented items in a bag strung up in a tree. We threw everything in our bear bag, even our “greywater” which was dirty water from cooking and brushing our teeth. 

Once we had the bag tied shut, we had to find a perfect tree. It took us a while, but we found a tree that was half fallen and propped up by some other trees. Aspen threw the bag up over the tree, but it needed to be repositioned. The rope was stuck on one of the branches. 

Aspen kept pulling on the rope until there was a large, echoing CRACK. She dashed away from the tree and it came crashing down. The sound of the tree hitting the ground was one of the loudest sounds I had ever heard. Other campers in the area shouted, asking if we were okay. 

After recovering from our shock, we examined the bag and found that most of our breakfast food had been ruined due to the jar of greywater shattering on impact. We spent the next 20 minutes re-hanging a bag of glass shards that was dripping with gross water. 

Aspen joked that she wanted to die of embarrassment while I was just thankful that she ran away in time. Calling Search and Rescue would have been a nightmare.

The evening brought torrential rain and a huge thunderstorm. I am blessed with the ability to sleep through most noise, but Aspen was kept awake by the deafening thunderclaps. 

In the morning, Aspen volunteered to go to the lake and get some drinking water for the trip back. I was in the tent, presumably taking more Dayquil, when I heard her come back to the campsite. Aspen burst into the tent, completely drenched. She explained that while crouching at the lake’s edge, she had fallen in. She was completely soaked and her knees were cut up. 

Aspen and I got back to civilization safely. Our friends teased us for our misfortunes and my family was shocked I even went. My boss later told me that she was so concerned for our safety that she had packed an emergency bag in case we needed to be rescued. I guess no one had faith in our abilities. 

In spite of our misfortunes, I was grateful for the memories, the quality time with my friend, and the new knowledge of how to pick a good tree for a bear hang! 


Megan’s photographs of beautiful scenery hardly capture the terrors of the vertical hike, the falling tree, and a plunge into the lake. But you can easily imagine the scenes that she captured with words.

Pictures are great. But when people put memories into writing, they have a way to preserve and relive them that enhances the experience, especially years later when details have dimmed. 

Keeping a travel log and writing about favorite experiences is a great way to start a writing habit. Thanks, Megan, for taking the time to write yours and share it!

BIO: Megan is a 23-year-old from Wisconsin who has plans to get her Master’s in Applied Historical Research at Boise State University this fall. Megan dreams of one day working in a museum. While her summer in the mountains gave her a love of camping, she still prefers to stay in a hotel, especially if it offers a continental breakfast. 

Any horror story camping trips out there? 

Please add your comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Ever musing,


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17 thoughts on “Vacation Memory #1: First Time Camping—-Candidates for Search & Rescue?

      1. I’m with you there! Even if the hotel doesn’t have breakfast, I’ll take a bed any night over a sleeping bag in a tent on lumpy ground! I enjoyed camping in my 20s, but after that, I only did it a few times so the kids could have the experience. 🙂

  1. Gracious! What a trooper Megan is!! I winced all the way through this, even though I love the humor in it.
    I’m still trying to remember a memorable misadventure of a vacation to share. Sadly, most were a blur of really really nice stuff (isn’t that sad? 😉 so they don’t really make for a good story. The ones that were not so great were usually because of interpersonal conflicts which made them memorable for reasons I wouldn’t want to share.
    But I will keep wracking my sluggish brain. I do remember bits and pieces of an amusing incident about a quarter of a century ago. If I remember it better I’ll let you know.

    And Megan—we never met a camping trip we liked or a nice hotel vacation we didn’t.

    1. All the more reason to write down the memories as they happen! Well, at least the ones you want to remember. Let me know if you think of the amusing incident!

  2. I totally agree about writing them down, Laura. I just found a manuscript that my grandma had written of an incredible trip with her 1st husband, climbing one mountain in each state around the US border. Back when I was in 5th grade, I interviewed her about the trip for school, and I keep that interview among my prized memories. But to read what she wrote about it herself has been an incredible experience. I even discovered she had quite the way with words.
    Once I finish the manuscript, I hope to get my hands on the actual journals they kept. (Can’t wait!)
    Megan, glad you survived. Did you ever ask your friend HOW she fell in? Were the rocks just slippery?

    1. Oh, my, Elizabeth! How wonderful to find a manuscript of your grandmother’s! I wish my grandmas had written things down. It’s one thing to keep a diary or journal, but a manuscript–so cool. What a view you’ll have into her life!

  3. Hi Elizabeth! Thank you for leaving a comment! Your grandma’s manuscript sounds like an informational goldmine! To answer your question, yes the rocks were quite slick and there was a steep incline down to the water. The whole campsite was rock instead of dirt, so it was a bit difficult to walk on in the rain. I’m sure I would have fallen in as well if I hadn’t been such a lazy outdoorsman 🙂

      1. Most definitely! I hope to go a lot this summer! And I’ll try to be a better camping buddy this time around lol 🙂

  4. I’m also a noncamper – seems like we’re in the majority! I could be convinced otherwise if the conditions included a nicely padded mattress.

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