Sunday, August 09, 2009

The art and science of stealth camping

I've been put in a bind as my search for another teaching job enters its final month. I moved out of the house I was renting in Elgin on July 31, but cannot commit to a lease on a new place because I still hold out hopes of getting a teaching job somewhere, anywhere.

And I was going to stay with Esther and Jonny, but her landlord told her she couldn't have any additional tenants. I can still stay there a couple night a week or if the weather is horribly bad, but anything long-term is out of the question. Plus, her place is too small for three people. I feel cooped up when I'm over there.

Of course, I could stay in hotels or find other friends, but I've decided on a fun alternative that 99.9 percent of the population would shun. I've opted to be homeless. I'm renting a small storage unit for $35 a month that I have ready access to 24/7. Most of the month I've been camping out in and around DeKalb.

For more about stealth camping, check out the following links: -- This is a good site that explains the rationale for stealth camping on long-distance hikes or bike trips. -- Agglutination has posted four videos on his stealth camping experiences. This videos show the sights and sounds of stealth camping.

I'm not going to go into great detail about where I camp (it would detract from the "stealthiness" of it), but do show a Google map image of my favorite area.

View Larger Map

The key to good stealth camping is to scout out a good site during the day and mark the spot either with a ribbon, a colorful bandanna, or some other conspicuous marker that can be spotted at night, preferably without headlamp. Also ask the following questions: Are people likely to come around at night? Am I out of sight of any houses, roads, or trails? Are there any wild animals that might disturb my nocturnal peace? Can I enter the site inconspicuously?

Once this criteria is established, go about your business until night time, then find your site and settle in as quietly as possible. This method is so simple it's stupid. I think the biggest thing to overcome is the fear of being discovered, but if you follow best practices this fear is unfounded. Simply put: Most urban and suburbanites don't notice details of the world beyond the reach of their arms. They are blissfully unaware of their surroundings.

I've also had to get used to the night sounds of suburbia: trains, the low hum of traffic punctuated now and again by squealing tires and brakes, ambulance and police sirens, and the sounds of music and people talking being carried on the wind. Animals also make noises, mostly mice and other small mammals scurrying through the brush. Suburban woods are rife with deer. One of my nights a buck tried to roust me out with loud snorting. One of my stealth spots was besides a gently gurgling creek, so other noises were shunted to the background.

One downside to stealth camping is the need to break camp swiftly and quietly around first light. Most people don't like to be up this early. It's not a problem for me because I love to greet the sunrise and listen to birdsong as the world slowly awakens. There's no better way to start the day. Another downside is the lack of bathroom facilities in or near camp. I'm one of those people who wakes up needing to evacuate solid wastes, so I have to squelch the turtlehead until camp is broken. A third problem to stealth camping is getting to the site without alerting those who see you en route to your intentions. I pack my tent, sleeping bag and ditty into my GoLite Breeze rucksack and ride my bike through side streets as much as possible. I even have an excuse if I'm questioned about carrying a larger than normal pack around town: I'm on my way to do laundry. A final downside is the inability to have a fire (unless you have a really out of the way spot with an already established ring). I make up for this by lighting a few tea candles. It provides some of the flickery ambience of a camp fire.

Thru-hiking has spoiled me forever from camping in the third world tenements that comprise most campgrounds. I also heed the words of venerable thru-hiker BillyGoat, who told me once, "I only camp in places where no one else has camped before." This method, combined with a before bedtime urination around the camp site, prevents the likelihood of critters disturbing your slumber.

I do not recommend stealth camping for people not steeped in the ideology of Leave No Trace. I take pains to leave my site cleaner than I found it, picking up any errant trash and fluffing up the vegetation after I've lain on it.

So far, so good. I'll give an update if I'm hsuled in for trespassing or vagrancy.

1 comment:

azurevirus said...

Good post on stealth camping..I think there will be alot moreof this going on as the economy declines