Anyone who knows me knows that there is very little about me that says, “Let’s go camping!” Despite being the daughter of a career Army officer who spent much of his career sleeping in some sort of make-shift shelter in the woods, desert, or jungle, I myself managed to avoid it for the first three decades of my life. I remember a few occasions where my brother and I tried to convince my parents that their (refusal) reluctance to camp was robbing us of some great childhood ritual, so every now and again my brother and I would unsuccessfully campaign for a camping trip. The closest I ever got was when I was 10 and my parents agreed to send me to a girl scout camp in Switzerland with my childhood best friend, Sarah, who was French and had attended this camp for years. My mother tells me that I barely had one foot out of the car before the look in my eyes indicated I was in way over my head. But in a bold display of (stubbornness) determination I managed to stick it out for a whopping 12 hours before I decided that I, too, was not meant to sleep on the ground.
Fast forward 20 years to this summer when, over a (few) glasses of wine one night a girlfriend and her husband told Doug and I about their family’s annual upcoming summer camping trip. I’m not sure if it was the vivid picture she painted or the Malbec, but the sound of beautiful hikes, rolling streams, firefly catching, and s’mores-fire building sounded downright romantic. I pictured all of our kids picking wild raspberries and roasting marshmallows and I completely ignored my (pessimistic) thoughts of mosquitos, poison ivy, sweat, and dirt. “It’s only for one night and I’ve got a great place you can rent a tent from. Each family chips in for food and supplies and the campsite is only 20 minutes away. The kids go to bed early and the adults sit around the fire for (uninterrupted) conversation. Oh, and there’s indoor bathrooms you can walk to!” Honestly, who could say no to that?
Doug. Doug could have said no to that. Without an ounce of hesitation. In fact, I’m all but certain he was just about to pipe up (a rarity, for anyone who knows my strong, silent type husband) and decline the gracious invitation before my sense of adventure took over and I blurted out a big fat, “We’re in!” I think it was the first time in our 13 years together that he actually reconsidered his choice in me as his spouse. I’m certain that I could have offered him an alternative of seven consecutive Saturday afternoons at Michael’s Arts and Crafts store versus 24 hours of camping and he would have actually considered taking the former. While we both absolutely love to hike and be outdoors, Doug’s idea of camping is sleeping in a hotel next to a park. But, I sprinkled a little guilt (we Catholics are pros at this) on by emphasizing what a great experience it would be for (me) us as a family to try something new and get out of our comfort zone and after that he was (kind of) on board.
As the big weekend drew closer, I set out to physically and mentally gear us up for our big adventure. I found out there are several outdoor companies that rent their equipment as well as sell it and that, for the right price, you can borrow everything from headlamps to hammocks (you know for beach camping which is, apparently, a very real thing). My first phone call to find a tent was an education in itself. When the sales associate asked me what kind of tent I would need and for what kind of camping, I think I said something to the tune of, “The kind you sleep in outside in the woods.” The same associate then kindly (mocked) informed me that there are all kinds of tents . . . for all kinds of camping. You can guess where our conversation went from there.
Once I had successfully checked off the list of essential equipment that my camping-expert friend had recommended, I set out to recover my ego by conquering a separate list that I knew I could handle: food and beverages. Since we were not going to be under the threat of bears, we could basically bring whatever our coolers could handle. Each family adventuring to the camp was responsible for certain foods and drinks and my girlfriend graciously tasked me with alcoholic beverages, simply because she
knew how much I would need them loves my taste in German beer and wine. At that point, in my mind, we were all set. Good equipment, good refreshment, good people . . . and away we went!
Once we arrived at the camp site, we set up our respective tents at our assigned places — which surprisingly did not take Doug all day, thanks to our resident camp advisors who knew exactly what they were doing. Afterwards, we were all free to enjoy the splendor of the day. Truly by the grace of God, we were granted an exceptional day for camping; dry, not too hot, and just enough shade. We took one of the most beautiful hikes we have ever taken in our local area and the kids enjoyed hours of soccer, frisbee, and (I knew it!) raspberry picking. I learned that the origins of “campfire songs” were actually built around a campfire which is exactly where we all sat around singing them. Our group of family friends is something of a mini-United Nations, so we each shared folk songs from our respective cultures in Spanish, Italian, French, and German. We lit sparklers and caught fireflies. The kids adorned themselves in glowstick necklaces, bracelets, and crowns. We roasted marshmallows, drank wine, and laughed. We shared God’s word and the gratitude we all have to Him for bringing such a wonderful group of people together. Lost in all of our laughter and prayer was just how dirty all of us were.
So, if any of you are thinking about taking a camping trip but are letting your nerves get in the way my advice would be to jump in with both feet. Find a group people who know what they’re doing and who you trust not to mock you endlessly since you don’t! Embrace the dirt, the sweat, and the alluring aroma of sunscreen and bug repellant. Dig down deep in search of your sense of adventure; the one we all seem to have when we’re little but tend to bury a little bit more each year as we grow. Arm yourself with the best of friends, food, and drink. Build the fire, sing all the songs, and laugh at how awfully you all smell. Let the kids cover their shirts in wild raspberry juice and their cheeks in sticky marshmallows. I promise you, you will not be sorry. What I thought was going to be an exercise in frustration turned into another highlight of our summer and the beginning of an annual summer tradition.
While I took many, many pictures of our inaugural camping trip, there are few that I can share out of respect for friends who do not wish to have themselves or their children plastered all over the internet. However, the one I can share does a wonderful job of capturing the overall essence of our weekend. Tiny hands holding big sticks as they navigate through God’s creation together . . . while avoiding poison ivy. 🙂