The global pandemic – COVID-19 – put quite a damper on adventure for all of us this year.  One safe option you can do, and still meet social distance recommendations, is camping.  To get out of the heat and humidity of the Midwest, I chose to spend a week in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Rae and I met my niece Katie and her husband Mark at Pactola Lake, a campground in the Black Hills National Forest.

Pactola Lake at sunrise
Pactola Lake at sunrise

This is one of many trips for me to the Black Hills, and along with the cool and comfortable weather, one of the gifts of this trip was reminiscing about previous trips; camping with my kids and family over the years as well as the many rock climbing trips to this area.  It was a fun trip down memory lane.

Crazy Horse
Crazy Horse National Monument

This trip was also just about relaxing.  One of the gifts of camping is the simplicity of it.  The simple effort of cooking, cleaning and maintaining camp allows for focusing on the basics, and provides the opportunity of getting away from the reality of what is happening in the world which was much needed!

Katie and Mark swimming
Katie and Mark swimming in Pactola Lake

Rae and I started each day with a hike on the trail along the lake shore.  Then we’d spend the rest of the morning drinking coffee and reading in camp.  The afternoons we enjoyed hanging out at the lake.  The water was cool and clear and refreshing!

Katie and Rae
Katie and Rae relaxing in the shade

Katie and Mark spent 3 days at Pactola Lake with me and Rae, and then continued their camping trip in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming (lucky stiffs!!).

I spent one day driving through the Black Hills, Spearfish Canyon and continued on up to Devil’s Tower, WY.  It was great to be on the road again, to be in Wyoming again.   Due to Coronavirus, I did not spend any time at either Crazy Horse or Devil’s Tower, but did more of a drive by.  Even so, their majesty is still stunning.

Devils Tower
Devil’s Tower

What I learned about the park:

Patty and Rae at Devils Tower
Patty and Rae at Devils Tower

The Black Hills offers amazing outdoor activities and opportunities.  The beauty is well worth the easy 12 hour drive from Milwaukee.  It is quite possible that this might be where I settle at some point in my life.

What I learned about myself:

It takes a full 3 days of being in the wilderness – not including the travel days – to turn off my “work brain”.  It wasn’t until the 4th day that I got to the point of being able to fully relax, to be OK doing nothing.  The ability to actually relax fully and let everything “go” really took 3 full days.

Camp sites
Our campsites (my tent is the orange one closest and Katie and Mark’s is the far one)

So taking a 3 day weekend, for example, is not enough of a break.  By the 4th day, just when your “working brain” turns off, when you could really relax, you need to get back to work.  I think with the restrictions caused by the pandemic, we might be hoarding our vacation hours until we can really “go somewhere”.  This does not help with the stress we are all feeling.  I am grateful that I have the camping option, and that I truly enjoy camping, and choose it over other ways of vacationing.  Plus it is a safe option during these trying times.

Some thoughts for you:

Pactola Lake
Relaxing at the Lake

During this pandemic, remember to take care of your mental health too.   That might mean trying to get some stress free time off.  If you are lucky enough to be working, try to still get in breaks from work to de-stress.  4 or more days if you can.  Also, remember even without a pandemic everyone is under stress of some kind.  That stress is multiplied now.  Take care of yourself and practice forgiveness of others.

Remember —  Get out there!!!

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