Just in time for late spring and summer is Heather Menicucci’s new book, Let’s Get Primitive — a guide to getting out and enjoying the great outdoors, not just in the local park, but all the way out in the woods. That’s right — camping. The book will fill you in on all the details with regard to planning and having a great trip, but most importantly, it’s going to inspire you to want to pack up and hit the road, so that you get beyond the crowded city streets and into the wide open spaces of backcountry.
I got the honor of reading an advance copy of the book, and of providing a “blurb” — a short quote of praise. This is what I wrote: “Working in a cubicle is as open-air as most of us city folk get, and that’s no way to live. Thankfully Heather Menicucci has offered an open-ended ticket to sunrises, sunsets, and warm, whiskey-doused sing-alongs in the great outdoors. Let’s Get Primitive is an enlightening guide that will inspire you to tear down the (half) walls, delve back into nature, and dream under stars that you can actually see.”
Following is an interview with Heather about how she got into camping, what camping does for her, and reasons why everyone should make a point of pitching a tent and spending some quality time in the sunshine and moonlight that is unique to places where the day ends around a campfire.
How did you get into camping?
Heather Menicucci: I met a former Boy Scout, a sturdy guy who convinced me I wouldn’t be abducted by aliens my first trip out. After hearing his exciting stories of campfires and canoe trips, I thought camping was something I should finally try. I didn’t think I was going to fall in love, I just thought camping was something everyone should do at least once in their life. That first trip was actually my birthday celebration and the car got stuck down a ravine, the lake we were supposed to camp near turned out to be a manmade mucky pond, and it rained all day on my birthday. And yet, I still loved it! I guess that’s a testament to the power of camping.
What led you to write Let’s Get Primitive?
HM: Let’s Get Primitive started as a how-to guide for Bust magazine. I pitched the initial article because I thought there had to be other unlikely nature girls like me out there. I wanted to show them how I became a camper and prove they could too. Most people envision a certain kind of person as a camper and I wanted to show that the unlikeliest of campers can make this their own. I was really excited to share my love with anyone I thought would be too scared or skeptical to go for it.
What does camping do for you on an inspirational level — how does it impact, say, your work?
HM: To use a silly cliche, it clears out the cobwebs. I’m a ruminator. I get myself into mental traps where I overanalyze my work, my relationships, whether or not my cat is too mean, but I don’t really ever think about that stuff (as much, or as intensely) when I’m camping. It frees me from a lot of the things that weigh me down in the real world, which does wonders for my inspiration. There are plenty of surprises to be discovered in nature, but what’s even better is when you surprise yourself. Maybe you’ll break out in song around the campfire, or you’ll be able to climb a big rock when you can barely make the stairs in your building. When all that wholesome stuff happens, it’s inspiring. It just feels good. And simple. And clear. It’s not unusual for me to come home with tons of pictures and pages of notes in my journal.
You also are a filmmaker — any plans to shoot something that involves camping? I could envision a whole host of short viral, comedic videos of urban gals out in the great outdoors for the very first time…
HM: Yes! You had actually inspired me to think along these lines. I’d like to do a Double Dare/Iron Chef takeoff where city girls compete to prove their primitive prowess. They’ll pitch a tent in less than five minutes, find their way back to camp after being led blindfolded away, and cook up a campfire meal with limited ingredients. There would be prizes and camp-inspired banjo music. It would be very silly and fun, and the girls would earn their backcountry badges. It’s kind of in the works.
Bugs, sunburns, the lack of a toilet, sleeping on the hard-earth floor — lots of reasons why people opt for the nice hotel room on the beach or at the lodge… and yet, one sunrise out in the forest, and you can be sold for life, right? What else draws you to camping?
HM: To be honest, it’s partly all the hardships you mentioned at first. I think it’s good to be deprived occasionally of the things I take for granted. And solving the logistical problems, like a hard floor or rain on the fire, is fun in a crafty, MacGyvery way. Not to mention, once you conquer the cat hole, you feel pretty damn proud of yourself. But it’s not all about overcoming difficulties. There’s fresh, sweet air; tons of green; interesting critters; still quiet; endless stars. Food tastes better. I also love how I feel tuckered out and fulfilled at the end of the day. And, it’s a unique bonding experience. I think camping encourages openness. It brings people together in a unique way. I could go on and on and on. Camping is not just a vacation. It can’t really be compared with a nice hotel room on the beach. They’re each valuable for very different reasons.
Are you known amongst your friends and family as the person who introduces people to the great outdoors?
HM: Well, a lot of my friends and particularly my family are still resisting being converted. But I think now that Let’s Get Primitive is out, they’ll have a harder time saying no. I should be able to exert a little more influence now that I’m official.
Describe how it feels when you arrive back home from a camping trip?
HM: It feels as refreshing as it does when I get to my campsite that first day. I’m not crazy. I love camping, but after a few days out there, getting home is dreamy. I check my email, order pizza, and indulge in a thirty-minute post-camping shower. I often hear that Soul II Soul song playing in my head, "Back to Life."
What’s the best way for someone, no matter where they live, to find out about good camping options in their area?
HM: Part of the fun of camping is nerding out until you hone in on your ideal spot. The internet is the best place to research a trip, especially if you don’t have a group of camper friends to ask. My trips usually involve a bit of research on the the National Forest Service website (www.fs.fed.us), the National Park Service website (www.nps.gov), and then in a camping forum (my favorite: www.backpacker.com), where campers often review where they’ve been. letsgetprimitive.com also has a list of about thirty cities and towns with nearby backcountry camping opportunities and gorp.com has handy articles and reviews. Remember to follow up your online research with calls to the ranger station for special regulations, conditions, and permit information.
What’s a place in this world that you haven’t yet camped at, but dream of going to?
HM: The list is so long because I don’t camp or travel nearly as much as I’d like to. I’d like to do a cross country camping trip and pitch my tent in as many states as I can. I’m really curious about camping on the Keys in Florida, Tongass National Forest in Alaska, Channel Island National Park in California, and anywhere in Hawaii. There’s also a waterfall in Maine’s Baxter State Park that I’ve been promising myself I’d hike to. Outside the U.S., I know I’d like to camp Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica and along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track in New Zealand. I’m really drawn to water, especially the ocean. All my seaside campouts have been magical.