Saturday, May 26, 2007

Camping Out: Really, I Can Do This

Memorial Day typically kicks-off the summer camping season for all of us fair weather camping types. Of course while I write that out of one side of my brain the other side is objecting because I/we don't like to camp on major holiday weekends. There is something about the way the most unassuming and family-friendly campground turns into a nonstop flow of booze, trash and overflowing toilets under the crush of holiday campers. Thanks but I would rather pass on all of that excitement reminiscent of college Greek Week.

So while we will not be camping this weekend we will start planning where we might camp later in the summer. We are not exactly veteran campers; I guess you could call us campers second-class. Our first camping, as in tenting, experience was in 2001 and we were quite the sideshow for the neighboring campers. At the time we had this enormous turquoise canvass, six-man, cabin-style tent with the poles on the outside. Hey, it was $5 at a divorce sale (and that should have been a clue, right).

On our inaugural camp-out, using a system of ropes and adjacent trees, it took us no less than an hour to pitch the tent. Shoot, it was so heavy it took both of us to carry it from the van to where we needed to pitch it. Even though we had practiced at home, the tent had been rolled in its storage bag so long the creases were darn near permanent. Every time we tried to stretch out the floor, when we let go, it would retract back towards the middle. We eventually figured out that it would hold somewhat in place if we put the poles through the floor rings. Finally the frame was hoisted upright with the canvass hanging from it. Well, sagging actually, and it took considerable nipping and tucking to create an interior space. Wouldn't you think one of those spectators would have had the decency to suggest that the poles were reverse-pitched? But no, not a word; just bemused stares.

Sorry, there is no photo of that tent (that I can locate, anyway). After two years, and two more pitching shows that were only slightly less entertaining, that tent was replaced with a modern lightweight Coleman Sundome that in a pinch I can erect myself.

Tenting in Cook's Forest State ParkWe used this tent on our vacation tour through Pennsylvania several years ago. The photo was taken in Cook's Forest State Park. This ancient forest has been designated a National Natural Landmark. Also the Civilian Conservation Corps established a camp near where the campground stands today, but I digress. This trip was noteworthy because it was the first time we spent a whole week in a tent beyond the "run home" radius. We were taking in public events on this trip so a decent bathhouse was a priority.

We still have that tent and it gets used for shorter more predictable camping weekends. However, we have reached the age where crawling on the floor, um...ground, isn't always fun even if we use a air mattress to ease our bones; and neither is getting soaked. So last August we tried a Camper Cabin at Hueston Woods State Park. KOA has offered these for quite a while now, but the state park system has just started placing them in select parks. We wanted more shelter from heavy storms, and a refrigerator to supplement our coolers, but we didn't need (or want to pay) for a full-sized housekeeping cabin. Camper Cabin at Hueston Woods

I have to say it was ideal for the two of us. We had room to stow our stuff, tables for dining and writing, a barefoot friendly floor, a porch swing, and if we had needed it there was an air conditioner. Some purists reading this might say this is not really camping, but I counter that it's rustic enough for me; and still quite a bit of work compared to a motel or hotel, but considerably less expensive.

Actually, during the middle of the week when occupancy is low, I think it has immeasurable advantages to staying in a hotel or motel. At how many hotels can you wake up to count how many different bird calls are in the vicinity? There are no shared walls with neighboring cabins. When you're hungry, you don't have to go out to eat; provided you remembered to bring food and something to prepare it in. There is less light pollution so you can see more stars at night.

Some might think we will never be real campers because we don't backpack, and that's okay. See, they are unaware of the mountain that for years got in the way of camping at all. Ever since I was a kid looking at tents in the Christmas catalog, camping was a dream without a plan. No one in any of my family ever camped. Add to this an anxiety about no doors or locks, wild animals and dealing with bunches of people we wouldn't know; it's a wonder I made it through the first night. Okay, I had a little trouble getting into the car for the first camp-out, but once we cleared town I was good to go. And really, I was so excited by how well it went, the gnarly tent notwithstanding, that I agreed to do it again two weeks later.

So I encourage anybody who has not camped to try it at least once. Now be smart and do some homework before you invest in a lot of stuff and set out. Find out want kind of experience you would be comfortable undertaking. We used Rutter's Camping Made Easy and still take it with us because something new comes up every time we camp-out. So what what is your memory of camping?

1 comment:

sylvia c. said...

"Hey, it was $5 at a divorce sale"
Too funny!

I don't mind camping, but I can't say it's my favorite thing to do.

So, my favorite memory..sleeping on my dad's flatbed pickup in our drive way...lying next to all my girl-friends...looking at the stars!

Middle-school...oh, those were the days!


Sylvia C.