If I’m totally honest, I have to work pretty hard to keep up with the outdoorsy persona that comes with living in Colorado, where every single person looks like they’ve just stepped out of an REI catalog. In the winter, when the excitement over the first snow reaches a level of mania that only an underdog winning the Superbowl could match, I’m the one slow-clapping in the back and thinking about how good the hot tub will feel after the first brutal day on the mountain. In the spring, when the trails dry up and the bikes come down from the rafters and the spandex shorts are out in full force, I’m the girl on the side of the singletrack, gasping for my breath and trying not to vomit. In the summer, when the rapids roar with rafts and kayaks, I’m waving from the bank, praying I don’t get stuck in the mud. And, in the fall, when the aspens turn to a fiery yellow and make the tops of the hills look lit up like a birthday cake and the hikers marvel at the beauty around them, I’m wondering if we will ever find our way back and how hungry one has to be to eat their companion. (Don’t judge. You’ve read those lost in the woods horror stories, too.)
Here’s the thing: I try. And, mostly, I like it. But it takes a lot of work, you know? Happily enjoying the great outdoors day after day, season after season. And, every so often, I yearn for the clouds that cover the skies in the Midwest and provide permission to stay inside and do...nothing. When it’s sunny 300 days out of the year, it’s hard to binge watch Game of Thrones for a solid 24 and feel good about it.
Peter knew what he was getting into when he met me, fresh out of Chicago, clutching onto my stilettos while everyone else laced up their hiking boots. And yet, he persevered. It started out small. “Let’s take a hike!” or “It’s just like riding a bike, except if you fall, you die.” And then it grew, like the coppery beard on his face and the collection of flannel in his closet. Then, some years later, it happened. I’d married a mountain man and I was going to have to do the one thing I had fervently avoided in the decade I’d lived in Colorado.
“Let’s go to Aspen!” he said, one August afternoon. I adore Aspen. I love everything about it: the uppity shops, the beautiful mountain, the celebrity sightings.
“Sure!” I said, already planning on where we’d go for dinner.
But, just then, Peter went to the garage. He climbed a metal ladder and pulled a plastic storage bin from the top shelf. With a grunt, he lugged the box to the floor, blew the dust off the top, and peeled back the lid.
And, there it was: a tent.
It didn’t take long to realized that while I was busy deciding between staying at The Little Nell or the St. Regis, make a stop at Lululemon or Theory first, he had other accommodations in mind. By then, it was too late to argue. Skinny Jeans knew about his sneaky little plan and it would have been cruel to squash her delight. As she plowed through the garage door with a headlamp fixed to her head and a sleeping bag strapped to her back, I faced facts: I was going camping.
Ruedi Reservoir is located in the White River National Forest, about 35 miles outside of Aspen and 14 miles east of Basalt, Colorado. At 7,800 feet, the Ruedi Campground sits on the edge of the reservoir. The reservoir has about 1,000 acres of water and is popular with boaters and fishermen, which made me totally psyched since I am neither. Apparently, the reservoir was built on top of what was once the town of Ruedi where early settlers lived. I’m not sure why they flooded it or what happened to all the people and wagons, but this was enough to convince me that we’d be spending our night under the starry skies cuddling with ghosts who want their land back.
We packed the car with our paddle boards, tent, sleeping bags, pillows, and enough food to last us the week, although we were only staying one night. Dreading going to bed smelling like a campfire, I also packed a solar shower, body wash, and all the toiletries I’d normally pack for a month overseas. For tips on efficient camp packing, I am not the one to ask. I am told that our SUV should not have been bursting and that there are things one can go "without" for an overnight, but I have no interest in going without, especially when it comes to snacks or shaving my armpits or toilet paper.
When we got to Ruedi, it was late afternoon and most of the campground was full. Being a first-come/first-serve type of deal, we were lucky to find a site that offered a beautiful view of the reservoir and was conventiently located near the flush-toilets (score!). There, we set up our tent and made at least 100 trips to the car before our camp was ready.
Once we unpacked, we headed to the marina to check things out. There wasn’t really a great place to put in our paddle boards that didn’t have boats zooming past, so we decided to skip the on-res activities and make the most of our camp. I was surprised that, for a full campground, it was still relatively quiet, even in the afternoon. Back at the tent, we played cards, made a beer run to Basalt (amateurs), then started dinner on our camp stove. Hot dogs never tasted so delicious, beer went well with everything, and Skinny Jeans kicked our butts at Go Fish.
As dusk arrived and Skinny Jeans and I changed into our night time attire of fleece pants and sweatshirts, I noticed something. It had been hours since anyone had looked at a screen. We were too busy laughing at the absurdity of me camping and exploring the campgrounds and rolling around in the tent that we hadn’t even checked a phone for the time. We prepared to roast marshmallows and, for the first time in as long as I could remember, the three of us were truly present. With no emails to respond to, phone calls to answer, practices to be at, or reasons (the appointment, the meeting, work, school) to get ourselves “ready,” we could just “be.” Outside of a once a week yoga class and my failed attempts at meditating, I’m not sure I’ve ever really sat with myself, with my family, and just allowed us to just be.
And I got it. This is why people camp.
As the burnt marshmallow started to droop off the end of my stick, I quickly caught it before it fell into the ash. Skinny Jeans was licking the sticky mess from her fingertips. Peter was staring at the embers as they rose into the sky. From across the fire, he raised his koozie-wrapped can. I raised mine. Before, I would have been counting the hours until I could shower. But not anymore. While I don’t think I’ll ever be someone who poops outside on my own free will, I just might be someone who camps, even if it is only for a night.
This place fits: Families who like camping or even those who don't think they do.
Where to Stay: Ruedi Reservoir Campground
Where to Eat: At the campfire! (There's a Whole Foods in nearby Basalt where you can stock up on gourmet hotdogs and artisan buns.)
What to Do:
Get out on the reservoir: kayak, paddle board, boat.
Take a hike on one of the nearby trails. We did and, Skinny Jeans didn't even complain. Win!
Stop by historic Basalt and learn about the miners, ranchers, and railroads.
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