My first camping memory is from Italy’s Bibione Beach on the Adriatic Sea, a small town that rests somewhere between Venice and Trieste, according to Google. The actual location of the place didn’t matter to me then. All that mattered was that I was at the beach and we were camping. My parents took my brother and me there a couple of times, along with other Americans who had become family friends over the years my father was stationed in Italy. It was not unusual for us kids to be surrounded by topless European women sunning on the beach or walking up and down the shore. That’s just not a big deal over there.
There was another overnight trip with my American neighbors somewhere in the mountains. I don’t know which ones, but we lived at the foot of the Dolomites (Italy’s Alps) and the girls and boys had separate tents. Led by my friend’s mom Cleo, we were a bit anxious about being so close to the mountain’s ledge so we pitched our tent closer to the rock wall. Sometime during the night, a storm moved in and the gusty winds shook the boys’ tent so violently it made the boys nervous enough to ask to climb inside our tent. The next morning, their tent was lying at the bottom of the canyon and everything that was inside of it was strewn along the lake.
While the boys cleaned up their mess on the mountain floor, my friend and I had breakfast and splashed around in our swimsuits. I remember having a really good time that day.
My later childhood was practically spent outdoors in Upper Michigan, even in winter. Summers, though, were especially busy with climbing trees with my friends and building forts in the woods (which we would stock with paperback books and blankets to sit on). I knew what to do in case I was ever approached by a black bear and our camping trips were plentiful. What better way to spend the summer than by having a lakeside sleepover with your best friends, our bellies sick from too many pasties and s’mores, all cooked over the campfire. Sometimes, the kids were responsible for catching all the fish for dinner. To capture lightning bugs, pick berries, and scale and gut the fresh-caught trout – those were our jobs as campers’ kids.
Later, my father brought home a small RV. I can’t remember it being entirely more comfortable but my parents enjoyed it. That little RV housed our family of five (and a large dog) on a cross-country road trip from Upper Michigan to South Florida. During that trip, I made a day-long friendship with a girl who lived at our overnight camp in Kentucky. I waved goodbye to her the next morning as she waited at her bus stop for her ride to school and my family headed to my cousin’s wedding in Cape Coral, Florida. On our way back home to K.I. Sawyer, Michigan, we parked our RV in the Fort Wilderness campsite in Disney World and spent a few days with the Big Mouse.
When I was twelve, my family received new military orders and we moved to a Washington, DC suburb completely void of wilderness. The nature parks were filled with homeless people vying for bench space and used hypodermic needles and broken beer bottles littered the grounds. To enjoy the outdoors meant driving for at least an hour or two away from the District and having to bump elbows with all the other people clamoring for fresh air away from the I-95 Beltway traffic and crime of the big city. It made going outside a lot of work. I think it was about this time when I stopped trying to make the outside a fun place and instead filled my bedroom with books and shut myself indoors.
I didn’t go camping again until I was 30. Having been charged with the care of dozens of kindergarten-aged Girl Scout Brownies, one of whom was a sleepwalking terror with a sassy little attitude, it probably wasn’t the best of conditions in which to re-introduce me to my once-favorite pastime. Camping with a gaggle of excitable little girls is a whole different kind of wild and I’ll never do it again.
I have a lot of camping memories, good ones, all of which I tried to appreciate while waiting for morning to come as I rested next to the St. Johns River last year and this past week in the Wichita Mountains. The hiking was my favorite part of our most recent trip and I think I’d be willing to put money into acquiring better walking gear (and packing gear) for myself to continue enjoying that aspect of outdoor living. Unfortunately, my husband has confessed to me since returning from Southwest Oklahoma that hiking is not his favorite part of being outdoors – camping is his favorite part.
It seems we are at an impasse.
While I know how much I used to love camping, I don’t know if I can learn to love it again. I prefer the comforts of home and of being in my own space, although I’ll admit the weather has been uncooperative every time I’ve gone camping as an adult (either ridiculously cold or windy, or sometimes both). To plan a trip outdoors with hiking, picnicking, and breathing in fresh air does not intimidate me, probably because I can freely move throughout the day knowing that I’ll end the day in my own bed. The confines of a camp, though, leave me feeling restless and agitated.
I promised my husband one more attempt at warm-weather camping. Knowing my psychological limitations, we’ll be able to better plan activities to soothe us both. And I will desperately try harder to smile more, participate more, and not be such a grumpy pants. I know attitude affects the experience and I have apologized to my husband more than once!
So, campers – got any advice? What are some ways you have been able to take the good and take the bad, to find comforts in being away from your comfortable home? Have you had to re-introduce yourself to the world of camping after living for so many years indoors? My biggest concern is that I am just not cut out for it anymore but that I’ll keep pushing myself to do it for the sake of wanting to like it and ultimately end up hating it.