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.