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Camping Is Soooo Overrated!
Having a blood-thirsty tick coaxed out of my back with the flame of a Zippo lighter one summer at Girl Scout camp should've been a huge clue that camping is overrated as a Fun Thing To Do.
Or, on an earlier Girl Scout camp-out, five mostly-sleepless nights in a lumpy, ancient Army-surplus sleeping bag that weighed a ton - even when dry - that a well-meaning WWI veteran neighbor brought over on learning my parents couldn't afford a modern, light-as-a-feather nylon one like the other girls had.
Or, on the last morning of camp, dragging that ancient sleeping bag back up a steep hill to the shelter house in an equally-ancient Army-surplus canvas duffel bag.
Enduring such things, the Scout leaders assured me, was simply part of the Joy of Camping.
That sleeping bag, btw, was never used again...by anyone . In the excitement of finally returning to civilization , I'd forgotten to mention to my parents that my troop's tent wasn't totally waterproof, that a sudden downpour the previous night had soaked my sleeping bag...and only mine. There was no time to dry it out the next morning, so I simply stuffed it as best I could into the duffel bag.
Back home, the bag and its contents were hauled to the basement and not opened for several days. Surprise! No amount of airing in the sun on the clothesline in the backyard could eliminate the damp, musty smell from that sleeping bag, let alone the patches of mold that had so quickly blossomed in those few days in the cellar. I suspect the neighbor wasn't lying when he said he was glad it was ruined. Having lived through the depression, his wife wouldn't let him toss anything usable. Now it wasn't.
Fast forward a couple of decades to when moi was still under the spell of the fallacy drilled into her in childhood that voluntarily foregoing modern conveniences for days at a time was a good thing. Virtuous . 'Deprivation builds character' and all that.
One camping trip, however, jumpstarted the process of disavowing me of that belief.
It promised to be fun, five adults and our offspring of various sizes and ages spending 4th of July weekend on the shores of a nearby lake. Since at that point I owned very little camping gear, I called upon an outdoors-loving cousin for the loan of a tent, and we arranged a meeting point for the transfer. Not until he and his teenage son were muscling the tent out of the back of his van did it occur to me that a man with six rowdy teenagers would have a tent that was not only large but sturdy . Large enough, as a matter of fact, to sleep twelve comfortably...and made of canvas , not nylon. Shades of that long-ago week at Girl Scout camp and the Army-issue sleeping bag!
Nonetheless, it would protect the kids and me from the elements for the next three days and nights...or so I thought as we eagerly drove off toward the lake. After much huffing, puffing and cursing, the tent-for-twelve was duly erected as the "anchor" of our little compound of five tents of various sizes at the foot of a ridge on the west side of the lake.
All went well the first day and night. The weather was perfect for swimming, feasting on hot dogs, hamburgers and s'mores charred over a campfire, and enjoying the outdoors in general. By evening of the second day, however, the skies had clouded over.
After dinner and a couple of hours of chatting around the campfire, we said our goodnights and retired to our respective tents. Around 11 o'clock I was awakened by the sound of "drip...drip...drip..." somewhere inside the tent and jumped up out of my (nylon, of course) sleeping bag to investigate. To my horror, there were puddles all over the floor of the tent, from dozens of tiny pinholes in the roof! After maneuvering the kids' sleeping bags away from the biggest puddles, I was scooting back into my own when the wind started howling .
Hearing pounding and shouting, I jumped up again and peeked outside. My friends were frantically working to re-secure corners of their tents that the wind had yanked loose. No sooner were they were done and safely back inside than the wind and rain stopped . Just like that. For several minutes it was deathly quiet. Then the wind picked up again, a loud, eerie roaring that sounded like a freight train going by on the other side of the ridge. The problem with that scenario was there were no train tracks within miles of the lake.
The roaring went on for what seemed hours , but probably more like 15 or 20 minutes. Then it started raining again. Pouring, actually. Like a monsoon. Periodically I checked for new leaks and puddles. So much for sleep until the storm moved on. The kids never stirred.
The rain and wind didn't let up until mid-morning the next day. At some point in the wee hours, while listening to the wind trying to rip the tent from its moorings and the unceasing "drip drip drip" around me, I decided a sleepless night in a leaky tent praying the wind wouldn't carry it and us away was not my idea of fun. As soon as the skies cleared and the sun came out, the kids and I headed back to the land of flush toilets, AC, and roofs that didn't leak like a sieve.
And the eerie roaring that sounded like a freight train? That was a tornado wreaking havoc along the other side of the ridge.
Did that experience turn me off to camping forever?
Nope. For the rest of the summer, though, our preferred campsite was our own backyard. A kiddie pool worked just fine as a swimming area, a charcoal grill as a campfire.
The very next spring, I put several hundred dollars worth of camping equipment on lay-a-way, and by summer was ready for...even looking forward to ...what would turn out to be another weekend of torture. Different lake this time, 80 miles from home, 3 miles from the nearest town...and the nearest non-stinky, air-conditioned public toilet. Our co-campers were the owner of the leaky tent-for-twelve, which over the winter had been repaired and waterproofed ...imagine that...and his six rowdy teenagers.
That weekend in July would turn out to be one of the hottest on record. We soon learned that 100+ degrees makes even those clad only in bathing suits sweat, that mosquitoes love sweaty bodies, even those covered in Avon Skin-So-Soft, and mosquitoes love hanging out in places sprayed liberally and often with insect repellent designed for large open areas. When the temp is 100+, ice also melts rather quickly in the best of ice chests if constantly opened to retrieve a cold soda, or just a few pieces of ice to suck on.
Then there was the afternoon I nodded off on an air mattress in the roped-off swimming area and the terror of waking to the sight of a speedboat bearing down on me after I'd floated beyond the ropes. After furiously paddling out of its path, I learned that one of the Six Rowdy Teenagers on another air mattress had watched me float beyond the ropes and done nothing!
By the third day, in addition to the initial cost of the camping gear itself, I'd forked out at least $100 on bagged ice to keep the perishables from perishing, ice purchased on each 6-mile round trip to the gas station that had the above-mentioned non-stinky air-conditioned loo. Another $100+ went to keeping the mosquitoes supplied with hourly fixes of Eau du Not-So-Repellent from the Wal-Mart a little ways past the gas station.
What finally turned me off to camping forever? Realizing, while unloading the umpteenth bag of ice and bug drugs, that for the same money (or less ) I could've been in a really nice hotel where a trip to a non-stinky, air-conditioned loo didn't involve driving 3 miles. Where "roughing it" meant having to walk to the end of the hall for ice because our room didn't happen to be directly across from the ice machine.
Hard to believe now that I made fun of the people in the air-conditioned fifth-wheel parked at the edge of the camping area. The one with TV antenna on the roof and the noisy generator that powered the AC, a TV, and a fridge that kept their perishables from perishing and their ice from melting ever . Did I really call those people wusses for never venturing out of the AC to enjoy the outdoors like we were?
Yep. I did.
Never mind that those "wusses" might've been two of my as-yet-undiscovered distant cousins from Illinois who travel the country six months of the year with a 35-ft fifth-wheel equipped with all the comforts of home: a queen-size bed, a full-size Hide-A-Bed sofa for guests, her Spinet piano, a full-size upright freezer to hold a side of beef and other meats custom-cut by their hometown butcher, and a fully-functional kitchen with a special cooler for the interesting wines they find along the way.
For the record, I did enjoy camping once on the banks of the Mississippi at a blues festival, in spite of the jerk who parked his pick-up next to us the first night and proceeded to play Grateful Dead tapes until we and several others complained, (Why anybody would bring Dead tapes to a blues festival is beyond me...) Anyway, being lulled to sleep by the mournful "chug, chug, chug" of tugboats pushing strings of barges up and down the river was heavenly , as was waking to the sky just turning pink through the trees on the far bank.
And there were no mosquitoes!