Sent into the wild by her boss, Magdalena O’Neal discovers the pleasures of the great outdoors. (Cacio e pepe helped.)

A triptych of images showing assistant editor Magdalena O'Neal lugging a cooler up a dirt trail, fiddling with a tent, and collapsed on a camp chair.
William O’Neal
Assistant editor Magdalena O'Neal discovers the exhausting joys of camping.

While I never considered the outdoors to be an enemy, we’re definitely not close friends. Family trips throughout my childhood included bonfires and, as I recall so clearly, no toilets. My apartment is warm, covered in pink décor, and has a fully stocked fridge and a TV that plays ocean sounds while I sleep. It is hands-down my favorite place. Why would I leave? 

So when my boss asked me to spend a night camping for this issue, I responded with an “uuuuhhhh” and then an excited “yes!” Realizing I needed professional advice, I called Evelynn Escobar, founder of HikeClerb in Los Angeles. HikeClerb’s mission aims to equip BIPOC women with the tools, resources, and experience they need to collectively heal in nature. 

Evelynn suggested I try primitive camping, but if I was going to use nature’s toilet, I would do it in the most private of forests I could find. My dad offered to accompany me to a faraway spot on land a friend owns in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He’d sleep in a hippie yurt. I’d rough it in a nearby tent. Knowing my dad would only be a scream away instilled the camping confidence Evelynn told me I would need to tap into. 

She mentioned food should be kept simple, things like chili or PB&J’s. I planned a menu: Red wine would be served alongside cacio e pepe. Totally simple, I thought as I grated cheese and prepped and prepacked my ingredients like my own private chef. Breakfast would be soft-boiled eggs and oatmeal. TCHO Drinking Chocolate accompanied by a copy of Kwame Onwuachi’s memoir, Notes from a Young Black Chef, would be my final course. 

Upon arriving at the site, I found a clearing that showed a sliver of ocean in the distance and felt myself relax in a way I hadn’t for, well, the entirety of the pandemic. Assembling my tent, I realized I’d forgotten a hammer to secure the stakes. I heard Evelynn’s voice in my head reminding me, “For some hikes, all you need is a water bottle.” I grabbed my “I ❤️ SF” water bottle and used its base to pound the stakes into the ground. 

Around three, I started dinner. Water was Jetboiled, pasta was added, strained, mixed with butter and cheese, a drizzle of sage oil, and a few large pinches of pepper. The combination of melting Carmody and Pepato cheeses, crisp mountain air, and view of nothing but ocean and trees and sky amplified the flavors of every bite, sharpened my senses, and made me very happy that I hadn’t just packed a can of chili and a sandwich. I sparked up the Jetboil for some cocoa, savored the brew, crawled into my sleeping bag, and dozed off in a chocolate haze. 

After waking before dawn, I ate the soft eggs and oatmeal while warming my hands over the steam of my coffee. By eight the sun was high in the sky and I began to pack up my site. I considered my trip a success; I had spent the most delicious night ever alone in the wilderness. As I write this back in my favorite pink place (a.k.a. my apartment), I can close my eyes and feel the pebbles in my back as I roll off of my sleeping pad in the night, and yet I can’t wait to do it all again. 

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