The Rugged Summer, pt. I

Years from now, when your skin has worn thin and silklike, and your joints are rusted and creaky and won’t move anymore, what of your life will you look back to with fondness?

Me, when I am old and weathered, I will think of The Rugged Summer.


One hundred days… 

That’s approximately how long we called a mountainside tent our home.

Still fairly new to full-time RV-ing, Sean and I spent the spring months dreading the infamous peak in the RV season that would hit Denver over the summer. Most of our favorite sites would soon be unavailable, with many RV vacationers booking sites a full year in advance.

We didn’t even own our Shasta last summer, let alone plan for its use the following year.

And according to most veteran full-timers, Denver isn’t exactly rig-friendly anyway — a fact we are finding more and more to be true.

With summer quickly approaching and a work contract keeping us in The Mile High City until at least August, we decided to keep our little happy camper parked in Kansas where we knew it would be safe with family, while we stayed back in Colorado.

Back in Colorado in a tent.

You might think it took some convincing for me to agree to spend the entire summer in a tent, and I might think that actually the whole thing was my idea. But really, I think we just started packing our camping gear into our SUV one day and that was that.

The psychologist in me likes to overanalyze our apparent fascination with paring down possessions, as the last couple of years have seen a mass purging of our things. Perhaps we are addicted to parting with our stuff, and maybe we get a rush from the challenge of extreme living.

Our initial move two years ago meant saying goodbye to anything that we couldn’t fit into a U-Haul trailer, and we downsized from a spacious home in Kansas — complete with  yard and garage — to a one bedroom apartment in the heart of Denver. Then, when we bought our vintage Shasta last fall, we parted with even more stuff, as we transitioned from “cozy” apartment to “even snugger” travel trailer.

I guess it was only natural for us, then, to spend the summer in a tent.

The prospect was exciting and adventurous…

Tent camping for three months in the Colorado mountains like real backpackers sounded thrilling and glamorous.

And crazy. I guess it probably sounded a bit crazy, too.

Perhaps it was, but we didn’t mind.

With a mobile solar charger we could take anywhere, along with an electric adapter in the SUV, we kept our phones, laptops, and devices charged basically all the time. We also had an electric burner and propane cooktop, which are handy additions for days when local wildfire conditions prohibit the use of campfires.

Our travel trailer’s bench cushions created a comfortable place in the tent for sleeping off of the ground, and on nights that were particularly chilly or rainy, we just slid the cushions into the back of the SUV — making a nice sized bed over the stowed-away second and third row seating.

With the trusty solar shower, bear spray, and extra storage tent included in our gear, we were set for the season.

Typical chores required of the camplife include sweeping out dust and dirt that is tracked into the tent every few minutes, gathering firewood and kindling, hand washing some clothing and items, and cooking meals.

When certain daily tasks require the building of a fire or the use of some other agent of nature, the preparation and completion can be much more time consuming than in regular life.

The simple life is a patient life. 


But on many mornings over the summer, I accompanied Sean on the trip into the city and  would see to any business or errands. I could take the doggies to the park, catch up on grocery shopping and laundry, and complete any online work or writing from the patio of a coffeeshop.

We weren’t living like some kind of creepy mountain hermits, is what I’m trying to say.

Pure joy at the city park

In fact, we even lucked out on a couple of occasions and were able to snag a few nights in our favorite campsites at Chatfield and Cherry Creek State Parks, where the wifi and hot water floweth…

We would travel west on the weekends, venturing further into the Rocky Mountains to camp.

One of our favorite places to visit has always been the resort town of Winter Park — with its icy waterfalls around every corner and an artsy little strip with music, shopping, food, and festivals.

The air is crisp each day in the Rockies, and the night sky is made of dark velvet. Snow dusts the surrounding mountains even in July, and every sunset is a lesson in the color spectrum.

Winter Park, CO

Camping, though, especially extended and primitive camping like this, is not for everyone.

Anything you do during your day to day routine, imagine doing outside. Shower business, bathroom business, sick business, any business — everything is done with the sun and the moon and various woodland creatures all present to bear witness to it.

It is both beautiful and terrifying.

Some days, I felt like a Disney Princess. Waking up to birds chirping at sunrise, I’d see chipmunks and baby deer scurrying through the trees as butterflies greeted me at the door.

Other days, I’m screaming into my backpack because I’ve just sliced my foot open on a rock, or I’m pulling the stinger of a yellow jacket out of my thigh. This summer saw the extraction of three stingers, to be exact.

But I must acknowledge the immense satisfaction that comes with living among the ruggedly challenging landscape. 

It’s hard to explain…

How your mind starts to rewire after weeks and weeks without a television and the like. Entertainment then comes from other sources, daily tasks become more deliberate and purposeful, and satisfaction manifests in ways very different than before.

Something as simple as taking a hike through unexplored territory becomes an experience rich with substance, a delight for the senses. 

Another example would be the evolution of a volleyball/tennis game that Sean and I played for fun, which soon became a full blown sport and highlight of our summer.

Complete with specific court measurements, game rules, and player stats, Pike Ball — affectionately named after Pike National Forest where we first played — is one of our favorite pastimes.

The game has advanced enough now that a few matches in an afternoon will thoroughly wear us out.

It might be silly, but we love it.

Many afternoons in the mountains were rainy, with light showers being a near daily occurrence in the higher elevations. A few showers would last into the evening, and we sometimes took cover in the SUV from loud rain and sharp wind.

Some of my favorite nights were the rainy ones– when we’d load the puppies into the backseat where they’d snooze in their blankets, and we’d sit in the front and listen to the NBA Finals or some obscure musical countdown, sharing red wine from a Big Gulp cup.

Cue the dramatic soundtrack, I know, but The Rugged Summer was Romantic in every sense of the word, and I was swept up in it its magic.

Part II, next.

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