Two vintage VW campers are seen on Thursday, June 10, 2021, at the Trail River Campground near Seward, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

Two vintage VW campers are seen on Thursday, June 10, 2021, at the Trail River Campground near Seward, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

Out of the Office: Camping goals: Turn off the demands of work

‘Stand and stare’ a good motto for becoming a power camper.

In 2006 on a trip to Scotland, I saw a sculpture by Andrew Brown at the harbor in Port William. It shows a man leaning on a rail and staring out to sea. Next to him is a plaque on a rock with the first two lines of William Henry Davies’ poem, “Leisure”:

“What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare?”

I thought of that recently when I took a camping trip to the eastern Kenai Peninsula in June. Over a long, sunny weekend, I snuck away with my wife, Jenny, and our dog, Fletcher, for six days of doing nothing other than reading, sleeping, cooking by the campfire and walking along the shore of Kenai Lake. I might even had stared off and tried not to think of work, worry, the COVID-19 pandemic and how my co-workers could possibly survive without me back at the office. (They did just fine.)

May I just say that Alaska offers many a fine vista to stand and stare?

Jenny and I took off on a Thursday in our vintage 1993 VW Eurovan Weekender camper, which can be worry enough. For example, Gerty, as we call her, had been struggling with a cranky fuel system, but thanks to the work of my mechanic, Dmitri, she made it just fine to the U.S. Forest Service Trail River Campground south of Moose Pass and on Kenai Lake.

Jenny followed in our Subaru, Ruthie (we also name cars), because Alaskans always have a Plan B, which proved to be a good idea since we could dash into Seward without breaking camp. Once you get the pop topped and the canopy spread on a VW camper, it’s a bit of a pain to disassemble.

Our friend Janet had scouted ahead in her VW Eurovan camper and snagged a nice little spot on the lakeside loop at Trail River. I had the wee suspicion that just as in 2020, lots of people might be camping this summer. If you want to get a camping spot this summer, late Friday night just won’t work. Sixty percent of the sites at Trail River are by reservation, and I think they all got booked for this summer months ago.

I will pause here and extol the virtues of campers:

• You do not sleep on the hard ground.

• You can stand up and put on your pajamas without doing the flat-on-your-back wriggle as is done in tents.

• When it rains — this happens now and then in Alaska — you do not have to worry about waking up in a puddle.

• Did I mention you are not sleeping on the hard ground?

• Should a bear stroll through the campground — this also happens now and then in Alaska — you have some steel between you and the bear.

My hunch that many Alaskans and visitors would be camping this summer proved true by Friday night, when a stream of big rental motorhomes, dusty cars with Alaska plates, and all sorts of trucks pulling trailers and boats passed through the campground. Unlike in 2020, we didn’t see a lot of 20-something-year-old young people looking for fun and fellowship in the outdoors.

Also, the Alaskans who started camping last year — as evidenced by brand-new tents and gear — seemed to have learned how to practice the fine art of recreating outdoors. Most of the people we saw camping were seasoned citizens like us or families with children.

As we work our way out of the pandemic, I can think of no more cheerful sign than parents walking with their kids through a campground. People laughed and tried to be happy last year, but you could feel an undercurrent of gloom, like that point in the post-apocalypse movie before the lights go out. This year people seemed positively giddy. We’re vaccinated. We got through a worrisome winter. Whew.

At the campground, I still didn’t quite get up close and personal with strangers, but if I passed by someone, I didn’t cross to the other side of the trail and look away. With all of us fully vaccinated, Jenny, our friend Janet and I could relax at camp, sharing meals and chatting across a picnic table.

I hadn’t realized how jittery the pandemic had made me. I’m not a big extrovert anyway, so staying within a close social bubble felt comfortable. After the past 15 months, I still find it hard to be in crowds or around strangers.

Strangers still make me nervous, but not “Oh my gosh, if they cough in my direction I could wind up on a ventilator” nervous. Of people hospitalized since Jan. 1 in Alaska for COVID-19, 97% are unvaccinated — meaning, if you got the jab, you’re not likely to get sick. I like those odds.

Last summer, I felt like I walked through dense underbrush with bear scat every 50 feet and periodic woofing from the trees. This summer, I felt like the bears had gone downriver to fish for salmon, and I strolled through a mountain meadow with no sign of bear for miles.

And work? When you’re editor of a small-town paper and every morning means a deluge of emails and the demands of the day come at you like Luke Skywalker shooting at Empire tie fighters, it can be hard to turn off your job.

Deadline day means one long grind where you don’t come up for air until the last page has been sent to the printer. The trick to enjoying life beyond work means seizing moments where you try not to think about the paper.

Taking a six-day camping trip, it turns out, makes that easier. Snack, sleep, read, walk, play games, sketch, nap, repeat. I am becoming a power camper.

And the best part? Hats off to you, U.S. Forest Service. As it turns out, mountains surround the Trail River Campground, completely blocking off reliable cell service, so no one can bother you, and you’re not tempted to doom scroll social media.

Yep, that’s the goal. Stand and stare, campers. Stand and stare.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at marmstrong@homernews.com.

An ice dam burst on Exit Glacier on Monday, June 14, 2021, near Seward, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

An ice dam burst on Exit Glacier on Monday, June 14, 2021, near Seward, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

Kayakers paddle across Kenai Lake on Saturday, June 12, 2021, near Seward, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

Kayakers paddle across Kenai Lake on Saturday, June 12, 2021, near Seward, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

Homer News editor Michael Armstrong contemplates the icy waters of Kenai Lake on Saturday, June 12, 2021, at the Trail River Campground near Seward, Alaska. (Photo by Jennifer Stroyeck)

Homer News editor Michael Armstrong contemplates the icy waters of Kenai Lake on Saturday, June 12, 2021, at the Trail River Campground near Seward, Alaska. (Photo by Jennifer Stroyeck)

More in Sports

Nick Stevens of the Kenai River Brown Bears tries to squeeze by the check of Bohdan Panasenko of the Anchorage Wolverines on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Friday: Brown Bears defeat Wolverines

Resilience is nothing new for Cole Dubicki and the small group of… Continue reading

Brandonn Campbell of Juneau-Douglas keeps the puck from Dylan Arno of Homer on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, at Kevin Bell Arena in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Hockey roundup: SoHi to play for title; Homer wins

The Soldotna hockey team defeated Palmer 4-3 in overtime Friday to advance… Continue reading

tease
Hockey roundup: SoHi wins, Homer ties

The Soldotna hockey team opened the Big Lake Lions Classic with a… Continue reading

Former Kenai River Brown Bears head coach Kevin Murdock.
Former Kenai River Brown Bears head coach Kevin Murdock.
Former Bears coach Murdock accepts UAA assistant job

Kevin Murdock, former head coach of the Kenai River Brown Bears, has… Continue reading

Kenai River Brown Bears forward Parker Lockwood attacks against the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Refreshed Brown Bears ready for Wolverines

The North American Hockey League does not break for Thanksgiving, but the… Continue reading

Michael Armstrong and his dog Leia harvest a Christmas tree in December 2013 on his land on Diamond Ridge near Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Jenny Stroyeck)
Out of the Office: For Alaska Bush cred, head out and harvest a Christmas tree

If you don’t have your own tree lot, harvest trees on public lands.

Sun coming through snow-covered branches with cross-country ski tracks on trail. (Photo by Ashley Lutto/USFWS)
Refuge Notebook: It’s more fun than walking

I’m not sure which one of us was more excited about the… Continue reading

Soldotna's Wayne Mellon works to a pin of Kenai Central's Zoticus Active at 189 pounds in a dual meet at Soldotna High School on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
SoHi wrestling honors seniors in matchup with Kenai

Thanksgiving weekend gives many the opportunity to see family. The holiday gave… Continue reading

tease
Strausbaugh, Hippchen take Turkey Skate

Soldotna hosted Kenai Central for the Turkey Skate at Tsalteshi Trails on… Continue reading

Most Read