The first time I ever went camping I was nineteen years old. My parents had moved to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and soon thereafter joined the legions of locals who camped out regularly. They purchased a cox camper – which is basically a tent on wheels – and became regulars. One of their favorite places was Camp Gerundo located at the foot of the Massanutten Mountain Peak. It was close to their home and Daddy’s job so they could set up camp even during the week. That way Daddy could easily drive into work and Mama could run home during the week and do their laundry if necessary. They were excited about their newly found freedom. I was still living in North Carolina at the time and they wanted me to join them as soon as I could get to the Shenandoah for a visit. At the very first opportunity they packed up and headed out with me tagging along.
We arrived at the Campground and after checking in they set their camper up in what they said was their favorite spot. We were essentially in the woods and all the “spots” looked the same to me but what did I know? Daddy and Mama worked in tandem setting up the camper, a large folding table with a camp stove and assorted supplies, folding chairs, and laying out a large indoor/outdoor rug. I was the “gopher” – AKA “go-for” person – just doing whatever I was told. When they had everything arranged to their liking they each settled into a folding chair and invited me to join them – which I did. I surveyed the scene. A circle of rocks surrounded an empty space where I assumed they would build a campfire. There was a large picnic table on our campsite within easy reach of the aluminum-folding table my parents had set up. Huge trees surrounded us. A soft breeze rustled the leaves as birds fluttered about, chirped, and sang. Occasionally I caught a brief glimpse of a squirrel or chipmunk moving on the ground or in the trees. I could hear other campers chatting or laughing at their campsites while others were just getting set up. The day was pleasant. The mountain air was fragrant with laurel blooms. We sat quietly enjoying the day. And we sat. And we sat. Until I ventured to ask, “Now what do we do?”
My parents laughed and said, “We’re doing it.”
“You mean this is it? This is camping?” I asked.
“Yes. This is it. What did you expect?” they returned.
“Well, I don’t know. I thought we’d chop firewood or something” I shrugged. They laughed and my daddy said,
“You can go gather sticks if you want to but we buy firewood down at the camp store.”
Oh, my. I sat there wondering what I had really expected from the adventure. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I had pictured folks with backpacks and hiking gear. And I am sure there are many of those people around the country but as with everything else in life there are degrees and preferences. My parents had discovered the art of just being – which I have learned some folks never manage. Later I discovered that I could hike at this Campground and swim in the nearby lake. There was also singing some evenings if you wanted to participate or just listen. Sometimes there was music – usually guitar. Sometimes there was marshmallow roasting or making s’mores (a roasted marshmallow placed on top of a square of chocolate which is seated on a graham cracker and is gooey and delicious). There was also ghost story telling and general shenanigans. Mostly it was delightful.
The bathroom situation was lackluster in my opinion. There was a bathhouse that provided toilets and showers. They were clean and well kept but still it’s a public place – and even with the privacy measures……well, like I said, it’s a public place. So think on that. And there’s the having to go to the potty in the middle of the night. You have to take a flashlight because you need to watch where you’re stepping because of uneven ground, rocks, sticks and the like – not to mention snakes. And then there’s the rain factor when you have to go to the bathroom with an umbrella. And you have to go with an umbrella AND a flashlight if it’s the middle of the night. And for you folks who have never been camping let me point out that at night in the woods it is REALLY dark – meaning you can’t see your hand in front of your face, literally – unless there’s a full moon – in which case it’s eerily beautiful. So there’s that.
I guess you could say that I mostly liked camping but it had its downside, in my opinion. So I was still a fan when some years later I was married and my husband and I thought it would be fun to go camping at the beach for a summer vacation. My parents were generous people and were happy for us to borrow their camper for the trip. Another young couple joined us and off we went to a beach on the Carolina coast.
The campsite could not have been more perfect – well, except for a few things. We hade a splendid view of the sound that provided breathtaking sunrises and sunsets. There were no campers in close proximity so we had a great deal of privacy. Otherwise, the points to consider when camping at the beach: (1) there is an over abundance of sand – which seeps into every possible crevice, be they be people, clothing, food, or tents (2) it is VERY hot and shade is a minimum and where it is available there are bugs of every variety waiting to bite and sting and annoy the hell out of you. The ocean breeze was both a relief and a villain. It brought deliverance from the heat but it also carried thousands of grains of sand.
The vacation began well enough. Our first meal on the evening fire was a salmon stuffed with shrimp and crabmeat wrapped in foil and baked to perfection. The wine was nice and the evening ended in a mellow glow. The morning dawned with the sounds of groaning and grunting and giggles that I slowly realized was the couple in the double bed on the other side of the camper – not ten feet from away from ours – engaging in sex. I nudged my husband who was already awake and alert to the activity. He put a finger to his lips and shook his head to silence me. I mean what in the world was I going to say? Lord, have mercy! Now I don’t want to come off sounding like a prude here. But, I mean, really. Ya know? I tried putting my pillow over my head but it was too warm to do that for long. I was in misery. And however long it lasted was too long. As soon as they were quiet my husband and I exited the camper. Neither of us said a word about the ill-timed morning activity. The other couple smiled smugly at one another throughout the day and it annoyed me no end. You’d think once would have been enough but oh, no! They decided to “take a nap” and you can just guess what happened. But the joke was on them because inside a tent at the beach in the middle of the afternoon is not cool. So we left the apparent sex addicts to entertain themselves and sweat while we found some cool shops that were cool mostly because they had air conditioning that we found preferable to the nearly unbearable heat. To say that our vacation was miserable would be an understatement. I can never think of camping at the beach without feeling a big fat “NO” coming unbidden up my throat and my head shaking “No-No-No” emphatically.
Lots of my relatives enjoy camping. My Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Earl were among them. They started tent camping and graduated to a travel trailer. This adventurous pair travelled all over the United States exploring America, meeting people, and generally having a good time. They had two granddaughters and their gift to each of them for their sixteenth birthdays was a camping trip across the country in the summer after school. I always enjoyed being with my aunt and uncle and I am sure those girls had a blast. And what a wonderful memory to have of time spent with your grandparents? I say this from the particular personal experience of my own children because when my daughter and son came along my parents took them on many camping trips that they remember fondly.
My husband and I agreed that taking our children camping was a good experience for them. We also thought it would be an affordable vacation for our family. My husband had been an Eagle Scout so he had outdoor skills and I trusted his abilities. We purchased a small tent and went camping at a nearby State Park. After we had set up camp we explored one of the hiking trails and then rowed around the lake. We built a campfire, cooked Hobo Stew, and roasted marshmallows. We enjoyed stargazing before settling down for the night. It had been a picture perfect day. Unfortunately, the next morning was not. As I tried to sit up my back screamed in pain. Uh-oh. I had experienced some back troubles after the birth of my children so the pain was not out of the ordinary but it was unexpected. Eventually I was able to roll onto my side and get onto my all fours whereupon I crawled gracelessly out of the tent on my hands and knees. I made it to the nearby picnic table where I was able to pull myself up onto the bench grunting like a bear as I did so. I thought my back would get better after getting up but alas! It did not. Our camping adventure came to an end before Noon that day and it was many days before my back recovered. I knew that my days of sleeping on the ground were over. Since that time I contemplated tent camping but I knew I’d need to make other arrangements about sleeping if I were to survive it. Procrastination set in. Time passed. Our tent rotted away in its box. More time passed. My husband and I considered purchasing a small camper for our retirement years. Time passed. Our retirement years have arrived. And we have given up the romantic notion of camping. I have come to accept that I am not really into public showers, bathrooms, or bugs – and most especially bears. I admire folks who camp – whether they do it in a tent or one of those fancy campers. I imagine their adventures with a sigh in the glow of a setting that would rival the Garden of Eden. In my imagination there are no bugs or bears or rain and nobody has to pee in the middle of the night.