We snaked slowly up winding lanes, foliage brushing both sides of the van, crawling round blind bends into the heart of the countryside.
The sun dropped low, piercing the horizon with an amber glow as we made a final push towards our planned camping spot in a quiet corner of the moor.
Supplies of sausages, South American empanadas and cloudy summer cider bounced beside us. Bellies rumbled over the noise of the engine.
Suddenly a gate appeared from nowhere, blocking access to our little enclave. Angry looks were exchanged before we embarked on a new destination.
Searching for another pitch in fading light with growing fatigue was followed by a battle to ignite my petroleum-powered camping stove with a flint and dwindling willpower.
Thus began our first Dartmoor camping trip of the summer.
While camping is a divisive excursion with equal measures of euphoria and abject misery, I regard it as a wholly net positive use of time, not least because it temporarily releases us from our fluffy first world utopia.
2,000+ years ago, the Stoics practised a philosophical exercise to prepare themselves for inevitable worst-case scenarios by actually living them out ahead of time.
In ancient Greece or Rome, this exercise typically involved abstaining from rich food and wine or donning threadbare clothes.
Fast forward, and the ultimate human currency has become comfort, the most successful businesses the ones which grease the wheels of our ever-easier lives.
Camping is perhaps many people’s idea of a worst-case scenario, in that it’s definitely not convenient.
For many of us in the postmodern world, the very idea of sleeping outside conjures images of apocalyptic dystopias, zombies and erm…cannibalism.
Forgoing a comfortable mattress, down feather pillows and a sit-down toilet might appear to many to be utter madness.
But the activity holds intrinsic value and serves as a healthy reminder that we are not the overlords of the universe we purport to be.
As part of the human drive to manipulate every aspect of existence, shaping it to our whims, camping is an existential wake-up call.
By reconnecting us to a reality we seem ever more desperate to escape, we’re reminded, sometimes violently, that we can’t always control our surroundings.
In fact, camping obliterates this notion. Thrust into an inky void with nothing between you and the night beasts but a flimsy sheet, if nothing else, provides an exercise in humility.
Despite the technological wonderland of modern society, sleeping under the starts highlights our ultimate insignificance before nature…
…And with our insatiable desire for economic growth, the precarious ecological balance we’ve struck.
Facing the call of the wild, the veil of supposed human superiority collapses like a loose tent in the wind…
As we stand naked in the eye of the storm.
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