What is it about camping that gets me excited? Is it the anticipation of sleeping in a thin vinyl shelter out in the woods at night, the basic and primitive style of living, or the fresh morning air that cuts in gripping awakening as you emerge from a well-rested (and somewhat hard-surfaced) sleep? I try and think: what is it that I love about camping? I would like to think it’s all of the above, but when I really sit and think about it, I know what it is. It’s the bacon and smores. Which is ironic, seeing as when I’m comfortably placed in my house I like neither bacon, nor marshmallows. But this is why camping is fun. We’re out of our natural element.
I enjoy many different styles of this outdoor activity. Cramming as many essential belongings that I own in a small backpack and hike up to an unknown and raw destination. The last time I did this was about five years ago, pre-children, and I did a good job at packing the essentials. Food, blow-up pillow, propane and collapsible stove, mat, sleeping bag, one pair of REI’s ultra light rain pants, two tops, matches. It was easy: I only had to think of myself. Leafing through Foghorn Outdoors’ Pacific Northwest Hiking, I’d read up on a spot until I found one that sounded interesting to me and the next weekend, voila! I was on the go. I’d hike and immerse myself in the beauty nature holds, cross the random and unpopulated creeks, freshen my face, and find myself completely stunned by the silence of Mother Earth. This silence never gets old. After hours of grueling steep and advanced hiking, I’d find the ratty old sign stating the named lake (or hill, plain, river, whatever it was I was looking for) I was in pursuit of, and find an area to pitch the small tent.
The fun thing about this style of camping is you’re always busy, and it’s hard work. But this is part of the fun. When you find yourself having “nothing to do” you sit on a log overlooking the still lake and you’re in awe of the sounds you hear. Crackling fire, the occasional song of an unknown bird nearby, a crunching sound of twigs nearby (hoping it’s not a cougar, bear, or, heaven forbid, Sasquatch). Somehow, though, fear never enters the picture; you become a part of nature, a part of the grounds, and find a peace no spa treatment could ever provide. Suffice to say, you’re one with earth and you love it.
Post-children, overnight hiking is not on your top priority. I think it’s safe to say it might be because of the extra diapers, wipes, clothes and food (plus babies) you would have to trek up to the unpopulated area. And suddenly the fear of cougars, bears (and heaven forbid, Yeti himself) become a part of your 6th sense and you really don’t want to expose that to your wee little ones. So, family campgrounds comes into the pictures. And this, surprisingly, is the most mystifying adventure of them all.
A Landrover with a storage unit on top suddenly becomes so crammed with stuff that you can forget about backpacks or your rear-view mirror for that matter (after all, your stuff is so piled high in the back, what’s the use of this safety device anyway?). Packing becomes more of a humorous joke than a necessity. It’s almost like a game: how much of our house can we fit into this big clunky metal thing with wheels? Surprisingly, a lot. There’s food (enough to feed a small country), clothes to wear for a lifetime, diapers to cover a thousand baby bottoms, dishes, pots, pans, dish soap, air mattress that has a blow-up headboard, goose-down pillows, silverware, coolers and so much more. When the packing is almost done, you and your partner look at each other sheepishly and say something coy like,
“Did we forget anything?”
The road trip to the campground is always enjoyable. Singing songs, talks about smores and the beach, competitions for who can find the best roasting stick already beginning and a stop at a gas station, coffee provided. After hours of being in the car, admiring nature from inside as we listen to Norah Jones’ Come Away with Me we finally reach the destination. We pay our fee, get a handout of the local attractions, a map, and a friendly smile and are in pursuit of a number. We find our number: 68. Sounds like a good number. Campground looks good and clean and hey – it’s got a log! Spigot’s nearby, restroom and shower not far and the neighbors don’t seem too bad either. Pitching tent in this style of camping doesn’t seem to take too long (after all, most of it can just stay put in the car).
Whichever method of camping, one thing is for certain: it’s fun. Whether you’re alone in the middle of nowhere, nearly that of a Bedouin, or surrounded by many other families and their noisy children in a state park, it’s still camping and the mornings still have that hushed silence. The nights are dark and cold, the smell of smoke is just as pleasant, the work is just as hard, and the pillow (blow-up or goose-down) is just as comfortable when you hit your head on it at the end of the day. And really: the bacon and smores are too good to be true.