Did I Learn Anything From Camping? Um…

They made it look so easy...

They made it look so easy…

As Lori packed the last of our REI clearance swag and I stashed enough Zyrtec to keep a small village allergy-free, I psyched myself up for 3 days of wilderness fun. The “wilds” of Ohio were calling our name – by way of 1 insistent partner, “Think how close to nature you’ll be” and 3 enthusiastic kids, “S’mores every night!”

I really wanted to stay at home.

“You packed the hand sanitizer, right,” I asked Lori as I rummaged through my backpack.
“Yup.”
“What about the bug spray? The good kind – not that foo-foo environmental stuff.”
“Yes,” she stilled my hand and gave it a squeeze. “Don’t worry. It’ll be just like camping in the backyard.”
“But I watched you guys from the window.”
Her brow furrowed. “True dat….well, it’ll be fun anyway.”

Seven hours later, we pulled into the campsite.
It was not what I expected.

The rows of RV’s, trailers and tents brought to mind every bad action/SF disaster movie I had ever seen – you know, the kind where the government declares martial law and makeshift camps spring up across the land. I peered into the trees, half expecting the hordes of infected mutant zombie aliens to come crashing through the leaves.

I’m kidding.
Not really.

“This is awesome!” Nick sprang of the minivan and raced towards a gaggle of kids playing a few lots away from us. Gabe sprinted after him, stopping only at each fire pit to yell, “Everyone has S’mores!” before joining his brother in a pickup game of catch. Never one to be left behind, Olivia took off after her older brothers, then, realizing she was in fact let behind, waddled her way back to us.

“You ok?” Lori passed me a folded cot from the Sherpack.
“Mmmmhmmm.”
“You counting the hours until we get back to Chicago?”
“Minutes,” I corrected. “Counting minutes.”

Our Target tents were ridiculously easy to set up. And the inflatable mattress fit perfectly inside the tent – until the kids came back and used it as bouncy house. After that, it listed to one side for the rest of the trip.

“Guys, get your scooters and entertain yourselves.” They dutifully complied, and for the next 20 minutes we were able to unpack, organize and get a fire started. When they returned, we settled into a groove, the kids munching on fire-burnt popcorn, us nibbling wasabi rice crackers.

“This isn’t bad,” I mused, shooing gnats from my face. “I can be down with this whole nature thing.”

That must have pissed off the camping gods, because in the moments that followed, Nick almost fell into the fire, Gabe randomly threw up, and Olivia started screaming, you know, just because. They were tired, no doubt, from all of the novelty and excitement of our first family camping excursion, which is why they fell asleep almost instantaneously on their sloped mattress.

Our days followed a set pattern – wake, wash, eat, explore, commune, collapse – as we hit the beach, a few trails, and of course, Cedar Point. The days were pure delight – hearing Nick scream his lungs out on his first “adult” roller coaster, watching Gabe charm all of the retirees with his preschool lisp and impish smile, lifting Olivia above the waves as she giggled nonstop. But the nights were pretty miserable – filled with incessant buzzing from mosquitoes that left love bites I would have preferred from Lori to the spotty 3G service I nevertheless needed to finish some client work.

“This is hell,” I muttered as I stepped out of the car in which I had slept at a 65-degree angle for the last 5 hours. The first bursts of morning fire blaze through the clouds, and I held my breath.

This was it.
The moment of transcendence after my dark night of the soul.
Here it comes – I’m gonna feel –
Absolutely nothing.

The sun was pretty, but I still felt the same – my legs still itched, my mouth was gummy and I smelled myself.

Finally heeding the call of nature, I flip-flopped my way to the bathroom.

That’s when I saw them.

A woman in her late 50’s with a young man in his 20’s.

“C’mon, Tyler. Almost there.” His feet shuffled across the grass.
“O-o-o-o-o-o.” His face contorts, muscles straining to form the vowel. “K-k-k-k-k-ay.” His elongated neck and extended speech suggest a “condition,” but I knew not what.
“That’s it. You can do it,” she coaxed, and step by step, they made it.

A mother’s patience.
A son’s perseverance.

On the way back, I passed a pair of aging hippies, their battered RV a sore sight for eyes.

“Into the great wide open”

Together they swayed, the man crooning off-key in his companion’s ear.

“Under them skies of blue
Out in the great wide open
A rebel without a clue”

Around them, the camp stirred awake; plink of tin cups and whoosh of propane tanks mingled with groggy “g’mornings.”

I lost myself in that moment, becoming “one” not with Mother Nature, but with human nature.

Where love and acceptance
Compassion and communion
Found peace in the untamed
Wilderness of the soul.

My children greeted me as I rounded the corner – still in their PJ’s, happily munching toast around the fire.

“Can we come back again,” Nick asked, eyes hopeful.
“Of course we can, kiddo.”
“Yay,” Gabe piped in. “S’mores!”

8 thoughts on “Did I Learn Anything From Camping? Um…

  1. A lot of people go camping to immerse themselves in human nature; it can strengthen friendships and family connections. A lot of other people do it to get away from people, these are the folks in the catalogs who’ve sort of defined the public’s idea of what camping means. Everyone else has to figure it out, usually while telling stories around the fire…

    • Excellent points. I’m so glad you commented. I didn’t grow up camping, but I definitely see why so many people enjoy it.

      Even when we’re in the backyard, roasting marshmallows around the fire, we’re telling stories. There’s something magical in that.

      • It can be a little bit hard to see (hidden in plain sight). When we go to a movie, or when I was younger and the family would curl up on the couch watching The Simpsons, stories were involved, too. Replacing the couch with a fire doesn’t seem like it should cause anything magical to happen. I think a lot of the magic is in the extra sense of involvement when it’s someone in the family telling the stories. And of course separating yourself from things like TV and the internet means all you have left is your family, or your friends…

        There’s some discomfort, but it might be part of the … not the appeal, but the magic, in a twisted way. Surviving hard times forges a special bond. Maybe making it through a noisy night on the hard ground is a small piece of that?

        In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I’m the other type of camper. I go for the nature, and try to pick harder-to-reach spots that will keep most people away. Monday night I stayed up ’til almost 5 am next to a small alpine lake, watching the Perseid meteor shower, then finally slept in very late before coming home and telling my friends about my experience. I’d love to have company for these trips, but for some reason none of my friends want to come with me…

  2. We just got back from our family “camping” trip. I say “camping” because we do it in a 40 foot rv. Compromise has made camping possible for me. And now I do enjoy the parts were I step out into nature and spend the day in it…after I great night’s sleep in a real bed!

  3. I’ve always been of the opinion that one can commune with nature and still stay in a hotel at night – especially empathized when you described how you felt itchy and sticky and stinky. Glad you found something that touched your heart.

    • Yes – a friend described how she and her husband would hike for miles and then go back to their hotel. There’s something very satisfying about being able to take a nice warm bath.

      Still, I’m very glad we went. And since the kids really enjoyed themselves will definitely be doing it again.

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