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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Camp Pain (July 31, 2012)

The world can be divided into two groups: those who do and those who do not. I speak of camping, of course. Actually, let me amend that. There are campers, glampers (those who need glamour in their camping) and non-campers.

Personally, I’m not sure the glampers really need their own category. If you need luxury in order to “rough it,” you’re really a non-camper in denial. Isn’t luxury camping a contradiction in terms? Camping is supposed to be about minimalism. It’s about packing only what you truly need, and leaving the comforts of home…at home. Glamping involves perks like outdoor hot tubs, spas, champagne on ice, Louis Vuitton suitcases, mani-pedis. If Ivana Trump were to camp, she’d glamp. She’d bring essentials like a butler, personal chef, $500,000 custom RV, diamond-studded hiking boots (for image only, not actually to be used on a trail), and 24-carat gold lantern.

And I don’t throw this gauntlet down because I see myself as a rough, tough camping maverick. At best I’m a reluctant camper. If I have to choose a side, I’m a camper, but only just barely. I’m willing to rough it in various ways but I also need enough food and sleep so that I’m not the poster child for Camping Gone Wrong.

I dread the thought of missing a good night’s sleep. Sleep is one of the only things that makes this busy mom’s juggling act semi-manageable. When this camping trip first was mentioned, I immediately flashed to all the terrible nights of sleep I’ve had camping. My mouth went dry. They wanted me to camp (not sleep) for three nights? Impossible. I put my foot down. In my semi-timid way. And insisted that it be a two-night trip, rather than the three nights they proposed. I’d won the battle. But the war scared the life out of me. I knew the others wanted to go, so I decided to be a good sport and join the gang. I want my kids to have happy memories of family campouts, so I agreed to make the trek into the wild. Was I truly excited about packing up every belonging we owned, leaving nothing behind (except good sleep) and heading for the mountains? Well, let’s say I had mixed feelings.

On departure day we divided the pack list. Hubby gathered gear that lives in the garage and I tackled all the indoor stuff: clothes, medicine, food, pillows. Despite my misgivings I felt a little excitement as things came together. As we pulled out of the driveway to embark upon our adventure, I began to scribble notes on camping. I asked the family what they most looked forward to on the trip. I jotted memories of camping trips taken with my grandparents. Nostalgia washed over me. I realized how much those memories of camping trips decades ago meant to me. A blog post formed in my head during our drive to the dirt. Er, campsite. I knew anyone who had ever tried camping would be able to relate to the glories as well as the grime of my camping tale.

As each mile passed, more camping memories popped into my mind. I pondered what camping entailed. Before we had the kids, Hubby and I had camping trips that involved no cooking whatsoever. It seemed like a lot of trouble to schlep cooking equipment and a cooler packed with a thousand pounds of ice and food, and to try to cook on a Barbie-sized stove. So we slept in a tent and bought food that didn’t require cooking, or in the case of camping in Catalina’s Two Harbors, went to the snack shack for nibbles. After all, at its most basic level, camping requires sleeping in nature. It’s the sleeping element—not the cooking part—that separates camping from grilling.

Yes, we were on our way to a true camping adventure. We had tents for sleeping, a camping stove for cooking, and mountains of gear. Traveling circuses probably don’t pack as much gear as we did. But when you camp with kids, you need to be prepared. Hubby and I could bring a tent and two sleeping bags and be okay (well, we could survive—I’m not saying it would be amazing) but when you have little kids you need a lot more stuff for camping. There’s the usual stuff (bedding, clothes, food) and there’s stuff that might not be so obvious to you if you haven’t camped with kids yet. I’ll share a secret: you need tons of band-aids. For camp pain. There may be very little blood actually shed, but camping with kids means they will stumble over rocks, get scratched by trees, trip on tent tethers, fall off picnic benches, and amass countless tiny scratches requiring giant supplies of band-aids. If for no other reason than the comfort a band-aid seems to bring them. Fine. I brought some. When that supply ran out we raided the First Aid box for more band-aids.

For me, the worst camp pain is trying to get comfortable enough to go to sleep. Many times we’ve camped with just a thin thermarest between the rocky ground and us. In more recent years we upgraded to an inflatable mattress but I still found myself waking up. Maybe it’s simply a byproduct of trying to sleep in an unfamiliar place.

Speaking of pain, the presidential campaign is in full swing, in case you are (somehow) unaware. You’d have to escape to the mountains to avoid mention of the candidates, the character attacks, and the economy. Escape to the mountains we did, where the country is not described as red or blue, but many shades of green. And yet we still talked about politics!

Since I’m already on a snarky note, here are the worst parts of camping:

  • Rough ground under the sleeping bag
  • dirty…everything
  • dry hands
  • bad sleep
  • car alarms

And now for the best parts of camping:

  • sixty-foot pine trees
  • sunlight shining through oak leaves and pine needles
  • Birds chirping
  • The rush of the breeze through the trees
  • The scrunch-crunch of dried pine needles under foot
  • Breeze on my skin
  • The rough bark of pine trees
  • Pine trees
  • Campfires
  • Toasted marshmallows

I feel like I must acknowledge the uncomfortable parts of camping but there were many good parts too. I liked seeing the woodland creatures: robins, blue jays, a bunny, a lizard and many scurrying chipmunks. Plenty of butterflies, too: yellow ones, white ones and Monarchs. Orange, white, yellow and purple wildflowers dotted the meadow nearby.

I asked our group what they liked best about camping and here were their answers:

  • Being with family.

  • Playing with my toys (!).

  • Going into nature.

  • Having fun.

  • Sharing nature with my family.

  • Waking up in the trees.

  • Cooking outdoors.

  • Remembering happy camping trips from the past.

Camping is different from regular life in various ways but one thought I had while we packed up camp is that we were very much guests of nature. You try hard to return the campsite to the condition it was in when you arrived. Of course, we weren’t in the condition in which we’d arrived. We desperately needed showers, the dusty car seemed to be packed with every item we owned, and I yearned for a good night’s sleep. But we’d done it. We’d camped, we’d bonded, we’d oooohed and ahhhed over nature and we’d created memories. Plus, we hadn’t been rained on!

I’ll close with several camping quotes I found online. One is by a renowned conservationist, the next is courtesy of a comedic author, and the last is by someone like me, someone who has camped (maybe the hard way). I think this rounds things out.

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. None of Nature's landscapes are ugly so long as they are wild.”                                                                                                                       (John Muir, 1901)

“Camping is nature’s way of promoting the motel business.”                                        (Dave Barry)

“I thought YOU packed the toilet paper!”


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