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The Story of an Unlikely Camper

I’m convinced that there are two kinds of people in the world — those who camp and those who don’t.  Let’s just say my husband and I grew up on opposite sides of that fence.

His family was a die-hard camping family.  With four kids and a love of travel, they camped up and down the east coast throughout his childhood.  My husband has a never ending arsenal of childhood camping stories.

My family, on the other hand, was a non-camping family.  My parents’ idea of camping is a Holiday Inn, and that was just fine by me.  Suffice it to say, my camping experiences before I met my husband were severely limited.

Once when I was in junior high school, a friend invited me along with her family on a short weekend camping trip.  They had a pop-up camper, and the campground had a bathroom, so it was hardly roughing it, but I was completely out of my element.  It was dirty and buggy, and I was bored.  They actually cut their trip short and came home early because of me.  I’m sure they thought I was a gem.  (In my defense, it WAS raining and there wasn’t much to do.)

That was the first and last time I went camping until I got to college.

At my dear alma mater, all freshman students were required to take an outdoor education experience.  Welcome to New England, Little Miss Southern Belle.  You could choose a two-week-long wilderness expedition the summer before your freshman year, or a quad-long discovery course sometime during freshman year.  I opted for the less intense discovery course, and I put it off until the last quad session of my freshman year, when I could finally avoid it no longer.

I knew on my first day of class, when I discovered that I was placed in a class full of rugged guys and one other girl who seemed more comfortable hanging out with the guys than with me, that I was in for it.  For nine weeks, our group met weekly for team building games and ropes course adventures.  I could not have been more out of my element.  Then, in a final blow to my delicate sensibilities, the class culminated with a long hike and an overnight camping trip.  I dreaded it, but it could not be avoided if I wanted to graduate.

I got up on that ill-fated morning and teased my permed hair and applied a full face of makeup.  (This was 1990, and I grew up in the south, remember.  I knew no other way to start the day.)  Oh yeah, I think I wore white sweatpants too.  Can we say, out of place much?

When we set out, it was lightly drizzling.  About halfway up the mountain, I started to drag.  My legs just wouldn’t cooperate.  I felt weak and weary.  I was trying; I really was.  Evidently it was a new trail they hadn’t used in the class before, and it was more intense than what was typical.  Nevertheless, everyone else seemed to be doing fine.   The guys and the other female in the group forged ahead while I lagged behind, trudging up the mountain trail in my mud-splattered white sweat pants and wet, straggly hair.  It was full-on raining by then.  Finally they paused and waited for me to catch up and then declared a rest stop.

I sat down on a rock and promptly started to bawl. I was a drowned rat and an emotional wreck. I was young and thin and in decent shape. I had no clue why I couldn’t keep up. To this day, that still mystifies me.

Long story short… you knew this was coming, right? They turned around and came home because of me. They hadn’t expected the trail to be so tough, and they decided that at the pace we were going, they’d never make it to the top by nightfall.

The guys were disappointed. I was relieved, but absolutely mortified. I managed to escape the camping, but I was emotionally scarred for life. I felt like the biggest loser ever to walk onto that college campus.

My friends have never let me live it down.  Seriously, that story is LEGEND among my college comrades.  They’ve begged me to blog it.  So, to my dear friend D, and anyone else from college who may be anonymously reading along, you’re welcome.

All this to say… a natural born camper, I am not.

Fast forward five years.  I was a young bride, and my newly betrothed, dearly beloved, young idealistic husband announced that he wanted to take me camping.  ME — the girl who had never successfully completed an overnight camping trip.  ME — the girl who could bring entire college class to its knees.

Determined to be a good sport, I decided to try it.  (At least there was no hiking involved.  Or, thankfully, rain.)

One sunny afternoon in the spring of 1996, my eternally optimistic husband packed up his camping gear and loaded the car.  We met up with friends at a nearby campground.  We pitched a tent, started a campfire, and hung out chatting over wine and s’mores until well past dark.  And…

It was a success!

Not only did I survive the night, I actually enjoyed it.  We went camping several more times with friends over the next few years.  Those are among some of my fondest memories of our early married life.

Unfortunately, when kids came along, I lost my camping mojo.  For the past 12 years, I’ve been either pregnant or with a baby or a toddler in tow, and I’m not brave enough to try camping with those variables.  But now the kids are getting older, and I’m about ready to give it a go again.  What can I say, I’m a glutton for punishment?  Besides, it’s a fun, frugal way to spend quality time as a family.

A few weeks ago, someone from Coleman conveniently offered to send us some new camping gear to try out.  Little did they know how timely that offer was!  We are definitely in need of some updated camping gear, as it’s been over ten years since we last camped, and our cozy four-man tent is hardly adequate for our family of five.  I gladly accepted the offer, and a few weeks later, several boxes arrived on our doorstep.

We had planned to take an overnight camping trip at a nearby campground this summer, but our plans never came to fruition.  We may still fit it in before the weather turns cold, but in case it doesn’t work out this year, we gave our camping gear a trial run in our backyard last weekend.  After all, the stay-cation is the new black, right?

The girls immediately started fighting over who got the new sleeping bag, and they all wanted to help set up the tent.  In other words, it was typical family chaos and pandemonium.

Caroline learned how to stake a tent.

They even set up the rain tarp, even though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

(Note the little face poking out of the window.)

I wish I had more pictures, but true confessions: I slept in the comfort of my own bed while my husband and the kids slept outside under the stars.

Rumor has it that the airbed makes tent camping almost a luxury, but I’ll have to wait for a real camping trip to give you my personal opinion on that.  The pump does require an electrical outlet, so that’s something to keep in mind when choosing a campground.

Big shout out and thanks to Coleman for letting us participate in this campaign!

How about you? Are you a camping family or no?  Do you have any embarrassing camping stories you can share to make me feel like not quite so much of a loser?  I dare you to top mine.

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40 thoughts on “The Story of an Unlikely Camper

    1. Be afraid. Be verrrrry afraid. LOL. Nah, it’s fun, just make sure you go with someone who knows what they’re doing, and stay fairly close to civilization JUST in case.

  1. Oh this cracked me up.
    I was way more adventurous before we got married. We went camping a few times but now that I’m older it’s either an RV or a Cabin. LOL! My poor back can’t take hard ground any more. When we did tent camp I made sure after that ONE time sleeping on the ground in a sleeping bag that a blow up mattress was brought just for me!
    Really did enjoy reading your camping misadventures!
    HUGS!

  2. Yes, white sweatpants and a white sweatshirt! I still cannot keep from laughing when I remember your early arrival home, we were so shocked to see you and in such a state….one of many fond memories of knowing you!
    Thanks for sharing, its put a smile on my face!

  3. I can’t top your story. But I will say that my now-husband and I went on an overnight camping trip early on in our dating career during college. I took my pillow – and didn’t hear the end of it for quite some time. Haven’t been camping since. Our daughter is a little nervous about it, but our son is all gung-ho so I’m betting we put a trip together pretty soon.

  4. Oh, we LOVE camping! We haven’t camped since my accident but I understand there are tents for wheelchair users. Just haven’t been able to look into that quite yet.

    We have the same tent except it’s an 8. It’s a great tent, easy to assemble and take down, and ours has never leaked. You’ll love camping with an air mattress. It’s the best.

    Don’t forget to use seam sealer on your tent before you go, make sure you have a ground cover the size of the footprint of your tent, and most of all, have fun!

  5. I finally went for the first time this summer (actually two times, if we count the two nights we camped on the 3-Day! And I think we should!) and you have been totaly right not to camp with a baby/toddler! Mine was the only real party pooper for us (he didn’t understand the concept of SLEEPING outside, and thus, did not! Which means we didn’t either.) even though it was bloody hot and buggy as all get out. I would totally do it again and hey Coleman, if you’re listening, I don’t have gear – we borrowed all of ours! 🙂 And yeah, I’d have been that girl on the mountain, too.

  6. Bless your heart! My idea of camping is a nice hotel. We have thrown the idea of tent camping around, but the backyard is probably as far as we’d get from home…just in case.

  7. This is great! I can’t beat it but I can totally relate. I, too, agreed to go camping once with my outdoor-loving husband in the early days of our marriage. My most vivid memory is of not going to the bathroom- at all- for over 24 hours because I refused to go in the woods. Thankfully, we now have sons who love to camp so any camping trips are “boys weekends”!

    Thanks for the laugh!

      1. We have one of those little potty thingies and we put it in its own tiny tent! It’s a requirement for my daughter & me LOL.

  8. I love the idea of camping. It seems like such a cool, rugged thing to do. I have been pregnant, nursing or with a toddler for the past 13 years of our marriage. My husband knows better than to suggest it anymore. I have told him, respectfully, that I can’t imagine why I would CHOOSE to be up all night, outside, in the cold/wetness, smell like campfire, create 4 times as much laundry for myself (because we all know that it takes more than one washing to get “that smell” out and call it FUN. Children seem to enjoy it so I’d like for them to have the experience. Since I now have 5 boys, when they are old enough to help my husband with the the heavy lifting and set up, then I think the girls and I will drop them off and head to the nearest mall.

    1. Heh! That will work, except my girls are dying to go camping. Somehow, neither of them inherited my antipathy for the outdoors.

  9. We love camping! I camped off and on growing up, as I was in Camp Fire and my family camped on a couple of trips. My only requirement is plumbing, I don’t go outdoors. We tend to stick to state parks, at least right now. They usually have playgrounds for the kids and of course bathrooms. It is a lot of work right now, with the kids not being able to help very much, but that will change as they get older. We always camp in November, it has become our fall tradition. Thankfully there is a nice state park less than 30 minutes from us, so we can come home if things take a bad turn. We do take inflatable air mattresses for the grownups. I have camped pregnant more than once, including a trip with no air mattress when I was already 20 weeks along! 😉 One time we lost a pole to our tent, when I was in middle school, and we had to improvise and find a stick that would fit in the connecting pole. We felt like very accomplished campers after that. 😉

  10. We love camping in our family! I grew up camping and so did hubby. The first time I took my son camping he was 3. When he was little we only went for 1 night but now that my youngest is 7 we camp several times a year for 2-3 nights at time. Everyone in the family love it. We definitely go places with toilets, showers, and have to have an air mattress.

    Hope you make it camping next summer!

  11. We used to camp all the time when my dad was alive and I (mostly) loved it! But now, I’ve kinda turned into a grump when it comes to camping. Maybe it’s because I am now The Mom and I’m in charge of all the setting up and fixing food…and I really hate all that dirt that gets tracked into the tents. Drives me insane! LOL I do have two rambunctious toddler boys though, so I know camping is in my future….unless I can PAY someone to take them for me!

    1. LOL, yeah, I haven’t done it yet as a mom, but I’m hoping it goes well. The kids are old enough to help, so there’s that.

  12. Wow that’s some story! I am not that much for camping, but I am also pretty determined to make it a regular family experience for us. That said, we have ZERO camping gear. So…it will probably need to wait till we can find it in the budget.

  13. I have the same background – my husband’s family went camping all the time growing up and my family vacations were at the beach/hotel/seafood restaurants. When we were engaged I joined my soon-to-be family on a camping trip to the Smoky Mtns. So young and naive I was…the campground had NO electricity, only a toilet and a sink, NO showers, and we hauled water up from the creek to boil and then took sponge baths. You couldn’t get me home fast enough and I thought I had seriously made a wrong decision if this is how my future husband thought we’d be spending our vacations!!!!! Fast forward about 10 years and we had several families (who were all campers) invite us to camp over a Labor Day weekend. This time our 2 young daughters were with us and I got to really see how much fun it was. Of course, this time there was electricity, showers, nice bathrooms, etc. But all the kids played so well together and we rode bikes, took hikes, sat out by the campfire after the kids had all gone to bed. We ended up going from a tent to a pop-up camper to the travel trailer. I would have never dreamed I would love it so much (the travel trailer was fabulous!) We sold it a few years ago because life had just gotten so busy and kids’ college expenses. This time of year especially we all talk about those memories and how we miss going. My husband and I have said that as soon as we get our girls through college (in 5 more years!) we’re going to get another travel trailer and set out on the open road! Can’t wait! We still have all our containers full of camping equipment in our basement ready to go! I think you will find the kids will have a blast. It’s more work at times, but worth the family memories.

  14. I’m not terribly fond of camping. I did do it as a Girl Scout, but…now I need running water, electricity, a real bed, and no bugs. My husband would love to take us camping in one of those cottages now that our youngest is 2.5, but I keep telling him that camping is not my thing.

    My kids do want to camp so I’ve promised to ask my sister-in-law if we could borrow her tent next summer. I’ll stay inside in my own soft comfortable bed, and deal with the stink bugs that keep sneaking in our house.

  15. OH my gosh- nothing as hilarious as that BUT, living in WA and somehow being on the annual school camping committee for a non-camping girl was interesting. We’ve struggled through all sorts of weather while trying to keep 100 families happy. Also had one bad experience driving from my hometown CA straight to a northern WA campsite. I was pregnant and we ate at Burger King the entire way up so let’s just say that luckily, it was an easy-open tent when I got massively sick the next morning. I’m willing to give it another try now that our kids are older, too, but the hubby is having none of it.

  16. We tent camped all the time when I was a kid, but David and I haven’t been in a long time. Now that the kids are a little bit older I really want to take them. I bought a tent, but that’s about it. Hopefully when our weather cools off a little we can take them. Right now it is just way too hot.

  17. Ah, yes. The discovery class as a freshman was my first experience with camping as well. ugh. I remember not going to the bathroom until we got back to the place where the vans were parked because I just couldn’t relax enough to go outside. (I’m sorry if that was TMI) I haven’t been camping since, although I think I would be willing to try something that is more of a ‘campsite’ with bathroom facilities versus trek through the woods and set up a tent.

  18. Yippee. Now Gary will have someone to go camping with! We (he) spent most of our wedding gift money on camping equipment. I think I like to camp….just not while pregnant, with kids under 5, kids over 13, or in anything but perfect weather. All of which makes finding the perfect time to plan our family camping trip a bit tough.

  19. Hated, hated, hated camping in So Cal…then discovered that not all camping was in the DESERT or surrounded by millions of other campers. Now that we’re in the PNW I’ve discovered that I love camping! The first two years were tent camping and now I confess to owning a small trailer. Camping is so fun. Who knew?

  20. I love to go camping! My husband and I started out with a tent, the we got a slide in truck camper and now we have a travel trailer. Most places we go have hook ups, but our favorite place to go is up north by the river in the woods. There is no electricity or hook ups there, but the camper will run on gas so we do have running water (as long as our tank is full!) and we can still use the bathroom!! When we retire we want to get a 5th wheel and hit the road!!

  21. I only camped a couple of times as a kid and never with my parents. They were not the camping type! I always loved it and my hubby and I have done many camping and backpacking trips. Last fall I took my 4 year old on a 7 mile round trip backpacking trip and she did awesome. This summer we took the whole family and met up with another family and went car camping. It was great – we cramed 2 adults, a 5 year old and a 2.5 year old into a 2 man and gear tent. That night the dogs were forced to camp in the truck! I have to say we have never used a pay campground. We have always just found the perfect spot in the woods.

  22. We are a camping family, well were until we sold our camper. lol We used to tent camp, but then got our camper and LOVED it. I can’t wait to replace in the coming years.

    We have alwasys used Coleman…they are just a great company that we trust.

  23. My hubby who had wrangled the “gun” away from me when we were registering for our wedding at Target began scanning tents and sleeping bags. I looked at him like he was completely insane and said, “I’m sorry, have we met? I don’t camp.” He swore he would convince me of its awesomeness. Almost 10 years later and constant talk of “investing” in a pop up camper for our family, we still don’t camp. So yeah, I’m with ya 😉

  24. Tim grew up in a camping family. I grew up in resorts and on cruises (my dad was a travel agent).

    Now? I’m a camping girl, for sure. We spend as much time outdoors as a family as we possibly can.

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