Voices from the river

Voices from the River: The Princess

Photo by Rachel Andona

By Chris Hunt

A year ago, I was well into the British Columbian interior, motoring north toward my eventual destination at Deadhorse on the Arctic Ocean, a new camper in tow, many miles to go and about six weeks to get there and back.

It was a marathon pocked by dozens of different sprints. While I thought I had all the time in the world, I was rushed to get from one new stretch of water to another, all the while lamenting that I didn’t have days to spend on each river. Instead, I’d park the camper after hours of driving, migrate to the nearest stretch of grayling, trout or pike water, fish for a few hours and then venture back to my little house on wheels, where I’d make a quick meal, charge up batteries and close my eyes in the twilight.

I’d get up the next day and do it again. More miles. More new water. More meals, usually dumped from a box, mixed with water and boiled over the camper stove.

I know. Classy.

In precious few places did I stop to spend any serious time. I spent a couple of days near Chetwynd, B.C., where I chased rainbows and bull trout on the Sukunka River and threw rocks to scare a mama black bear and her cubs away from my corner of the river (temporarily, at least). I fished the magical cutthroat waters near the town of Fernie for three full days. And I spent a good amount of time on the Denali Highway, and on the Chena near Fairbanks. I also spent some extended time on the Dalton Highway, which included the drive north into the Arctic.

Beyond that, most of my stops were quick. Overnighters, generally.

I got home in early September, parked the camper and regretfully completed a three-month sabbatical. And, frankly, I was spent. It was manic, despite the roof over my head each night and what had seemed like an eternity when I first started driving north.

But I still have the camper, and I’m coming to appreciate this little traveling refuge. It’s my ticket to extended fishing much closer to home while still remaining relatively comfortable. I’ve said it before, and I mean it. I like a flushing toilet. I require a daily shower.

Hi. My name is Chris, and I am a princess.

Camping and fishing is an art. Yes, I could generally accomplish much the same feats with a tent and my armada of fly rods, but with a generator, a battery pack and some peanut butter, I can turn what might be a finger painting into a Picasso. I can get out of the rain, keep the bugs at bay and, if the mood strikes, fire up the battery pack and watch Blazing Saddles just about the time the furnace kicks in to beat back the mountain chill.

But the real benefit, of course, is the ability to stick around a bit. To wander a bit further, fish until dark and not feel rushed or pressed to beat the clock. Camping has always been the pursuit of brief moments of permanence in a place worthy of spending time. Camping near trout water—in general comfort—opens up more opportunity. More moments of permanence.

For instance, I live a short 90-minute drive from Yellowstone’s southwest corner, home to fabled rivers like the Fall and the Bechler. I’m just a bit further from even more iconic trout waters, like the Firehole, the Madison and the headwaters of the Snake. Certainly, these are “day-trip” waters for a lot of folks, and that’s completely doable.

But for me, being able to wander up some little-visited cutthroat creek that falls off a cliff into the Lewis River or a brookie stream that dumps into Shoshone Lake and fish until my sunglasses become a hindrance, not a help, makes my little camper even that much more valuable. A quick hike out, a short drive “home” to the campsite, and I’m tucked into a real bed, memories of rising wild fish pushing me into dreamland.

The next morning, French-press coffee in hand, clean and fresh from a quick RV shower, I’m off to the next creek knowing that not a single sleeping bag was harmed in the production of this fishing adventure.

And, no, to answer your question. I wouldn’t rather “rough it.” Not anymore. I did my time in tents and fell asleep wrapped up in a bag awash in the smell of sweat and woodsmoke. It was fun, and it still is on more extended trips into the backcountry where carrying everything on your back brings its own rewards. I hold no grudges for the folks who prefer to camp this way—only admiration for younger bones and muscles and the ability to stomach dehydrated beans and rice mixed with boiled creekwater. Good on ya. I’ll think about you when I don’t have rummage for the TP, dig a cat hole and hope the mosquitoes don’t find my rear end before I’m done with my morning constitutional.

I can still have the campfire. I can still boil the beans, roast the marshmallows and enjoy the night sky. I can even make a killer pork loin in the Dutch oven, pour a gin-and-tonic spritzer over ice and listen to the coyotes howl.

And I can, when the mood strikes, close the camper door, climb between sheets atop my memory foam mattress topper and be asleep without worrying about the rock or the stray pine cone that found its way under my “sleeping pad.” There are no peas under my mattresses.

Being a princess has its privileges, you know.

Chris Hunt is the national editorial director of Trout Media. He lives and works in Idaho Falls.

By Chris Hunt.