I am not much of a camper.
I have always wanted to be a camper, just as I have always wanted to be a dancer or a chef or a marathon runner. Unfortunately, I am not so interested in all of the work and discipline required to become any of these.
It seems a great sin to live in the Bay Area and admit such a shameful secret, but I am tired of pretending.
Until now, my single-mother status has kept me from having to join the ranks of camper extraordinaires. For the last five years, no one has expected me to spend any part of my weekend loading up my car with gear and pitching a tent in the wilderness for myself and my son.
Being without partner, I have been perfectly content to stay local and take my son to for his taste of the great outdoors.
When the inevitable question of “did you do any camping this summer?” has come up in a group of friends or acquaintances, I have only needed to remind everyone of my solo status to illicit nods of sympathy and understanding.
Of course, it was forgiven that I was not out exploring redwoods or hiking Half Dome with the rest of them. I mean, for crying out loud, there was only so much one woman could do!
I would feign disappointment at not having been able to take advantage of the tent sale at the .
“One of these days, I’ll get to dust off my CamelBak and get out there again,” I would sigh with resignation.
Alas, it is now one of these days.
For the past year and a half or so, I have been dating a man who is very much an outdoorsman. He can easily pack up what he needs for the weekend in a sandwich bag. He seems to delight in all of the camping details that I find most tiresome, such as packing up the food, driving into the mountains and setting up the tent.
It seems that now, with Crocodile Dundee at my side, I have no excuse.
This past weekend, the three of us went camping in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We had a marvelous time hiking through the redwoods and exploring the trails. We played Frisbee, snacked, wandered and napped. Later, we experimented with new fruits to roast by the fire after satisfying our craving for s’mores. (Bananas were a hit!)
So far, so good. But then the sun went down, and the shift began to happen. I quickly went from a state of "Camping Is Awesome" to "Ugh. Camping Sucks."
Basic tasks, like brushing my teeth and taking out my contact lenses, were executed clumsily in the dark. All around, there were murmurs of, "Where is my this" and "Where did you put my that" and "Did we forget the whatchamacallit?"
Finally, worn out from all the excitement of the day and wearing three pairs of socks to keep my feet warm, I climbed into my sleeping bag. Halfway through the night, I was awakened by my bladder and the sound of someone snoring—from the next campsite over!
Annoyed that the state park officials didn’t divide the campgrounds into "Snoring" and "Non-Snoring" sections, I grappled through the dark for my escaped left earplug. With no luck, I gave up and decided to go pee. I climbed over my son and my boyfriend, who looked obnoxiously cozy and content in their slumber.
Terrified that there was going to be a bear waiting for me in the bathroom stall, I tried desperately to remember what I was supposed to do in case of such an event. I decided I would make myself look big and scary, but then wondered if maybe that strategy applied only to mountain lions and not bears. Relieving myself provided less relief than I had hoped, as I spent most of my time in the stall certain that I would be mauled by a bear any minute.
Miraculously, I made it back to our tent in one piece.
Once inside, I discovered just how incredibly cushiony one inch of foam really is. It seems my sleeping mat had developed a puncture wound somewhere and was now completely deflated. I could only dwell on the discomfort for a couple of hours, however, as the birds decided it was necessary to welcome the day with a repetitive jingle that pierced through both my one earplug and the sweater I had wrapped around my head.
In the light of day, and with my harrowing night over, my camping experience began to move closer to the awesome end of the spectrum again. My coffee tasted positively heavenly after an eventful night in nature. After a couple of cups, I was energized and enthusiastic about the day ahead.
Until, that is, I found out that it was time to clean up and pack up. At that point, my feelings about camping returned to "ugh."
I began scrubbing the sap off my flip flops. I started fantasizing about the long hot shower I would take when we got home.
After a few minutes, I looked up and saw the guys rolling up the sleeping bags and taking down the tent. They looked so comfortable and in their element. They found nothing worth complaining about and only seemed to relish their time out in the woods, regardless of what they were doing.
The sight of them made me smile. I stopped scrubbing and slipped on my sticky shoes. Gratitude washed over me as I realized that maybe, just maybe, I could become a camper after all.
How lucky I was to have a partner who knew how to ignite my son’s passion for nature. John could make a mean campfire and captured incredible photographs of our experiences in the outdoors. He was willing to take on the brunt of the work and was always happy to do the driving.
Feeling warm and tingly in my belly, I closed my eyes and had visions of us frolicking together in the wilderness like a family on the cover of an REI catalog.
Nevertheless, I decided, we’d still be packing an air mattress before our next adventure.