Twenty-seven isn’t the typical age for a first camping trip, and the chilly Cascade Mountain range in March might not be the ideal first campsite for a Floridian. But I needn’t have worried: I was chaperoned by my badass Alaskan friend, Piper, her faithful pup, Kalgin, and her equally-sure-footed brother, Quinn, on my first venture into the wild.
We lucked into an insane spot along a rushing, too-blue river. I was useless, but the two of them worked by muscle memory, setting up their tents in minutes. Oregon’s dampness eventually thwarted our hard-won fire, but Piper made a dinner of bratwurst over a propane stove. Quinn let me curl up in his SUV, cozy in a borrowed sleeping bag and outfitted head to toe in Piper’s warm fleece clothes. (“Cotton kills,” she’d admonished, tossing my apparently useless gloves and long-sleeved layering shirt aside.)
The next morning, I crawled out of the car to find Quinn with his arm extended, a mug of coffee in his hand. For me. The incessant rain had pooled into his tent, and neither he nor Piper had slept; I’d passed the night darkly, dryly and easily, without incident.
Famished after an early hike up to the Bagby hot springs, Piper sliced a leftover brat into pieces with the same pocketknife she’d carried two years ago in grad school, when I’d last seen her. She fried it up with fresh mushrooms and onions sourced from Quinn’s cooler. “Egg me,” she told her brother, and he cracked two eggs deftly into the pan. After scrambling the whole thing with plastic cutlery, Piper dumped the delicious, greasy mess into what had once been a container of kale and white bean soup. Our little pan could only cook one serving at a time. She insisted I eat first.
I wolfed down the spicy sausage — which had cost all of $5 for three pounds’ worth at a Fred Meyer’s en route from Portland — and the crunchy, just-charred veggies in minutes, stopping only long enough to thank her again. The hearty mixture warmed and comforted me despite the last traces of slowly-melting snow on the ground. It might have been the magic of spending a whole day screen-free or of reuniting with an old friend, but as we drove down out of the mountains, I was undeniably full.