Camping. The world’s most confusing hobby.
It makes about as much sense as fertilizing a lawn that you have to mow twice a week. Humans have spent hundreds of thousands of years solving the challenges of nature. We live in houses that maintain a stable temperature, supply clean water on demand, carry human waste out through a magic network of pipes, rain water is deflected by advanced roofing systems, beds adjust to our individual preference of firmness, and if we want to experience nature or community then we pull out some technology and surf the vast world of the internet. Dogs live better in these modern times than cavemen ever thought about. Yet here, in the pinnacle of this accomplishment, is a growing culture of people who yearn to eat reheated trail food and shit in the woods. I don’t have that burning desire.
Deep down in my soul, I enjoy domestication.
I know this because last year we tried camping. It was Memorial Day weekend and my father always has a family get together at his vacation spot along the Tennessee River. There are enough utilities for running water, an RV hookup, and a guest bathroom. A good balance of rustic and domestic. This particular weekend was foreshadowed by a trip down the clearance aisle in Walmart. As fate would have it, there was a two room, easy-up ten-man tent on sale for $5 BILLION dollars. (I’m sure it was a deal but I hate spending money so my memory recorded it as expensive.) We had a lapse of sanity and thought to ourselves, “Camping could be a fun family activity. Think of all the memories and closeness we will gain. We don’t have a dinner table so surely we could do better at quality time. Yessir, a tent is exactly what we need.” This is the point where I reflect and I am disappointed that Jesus didn’t intervene and burn the clearance aisle to the ground as an unmistakable sign that we shouldn’t go camping. Shame on you.
I recall being hesitant, “I don’t know honey, it sounds like a lot of work. I don’t remember ever sleeping in a tent and enjoying it.” She wasn’t having it, “Nonsense. Camping is fun. I remember doing it this one time really long ago.” (I think she has dementia and was remembering a Care Bears movie or something. No one likes camping in a tent.
Didn’t matter because as every good man knows, Happy Wife = Happy Life.
We bought the tent and lots of accessories. If the tent could hold air pressure we might have had a sufficient kit to colonize Mars. Whoever survived the six month road trip to the Red Planet would have been good to go. Bravely, we declared our intentions to the family, “YES we are coming this weekend and we are CAMPING!”
Fast forward to the weekend. Setup of the tent was flawless. We had fans, sleeping bags, air matresses, two coolers of various beverages, soft pillows, warm blankets, mosquito deterrents, and the tent even had a screened in porch area that acted as an airlock for bugs. This was going to be awesome!
Our dreams of family bliss began to erode almost immediately. The kids were so excited about the tent that they wouldn’t stay out of it. I was constantly urging them to “Close the damn flap!” or “Don’t walk on the beds with your shoes!”
The weather was pleasant in the morning but it started to get annoying by mid-day; Temps in the 90’s and humidity around 101%. I also began to realize that choosing a big weekend as our first tent experience was erroneous. A fellow river-goer had hired a band to play and there was no shortage of booze. Drunken Frisbee and Bean Bag Toss accompanied by cover band renditions of all the country classics definitely drowned out the cicadas and peep frogs.
By ten o’clock the children were all way past bedtime and exhausted from all the dancing and playing of the day. We rounded everyone up including the fowl breathed dog and entered our tent. I mention the dog’s breath because in about five minutes we realized that sleeping in a tent on a hot humid night is very much like being nestled in a fat man’s armpit if that man was also wearing a windbreaker. The fans were useless against the foggy air. The kids were in a separate room in the tent and all four were piled together on an air mattress. The touching, cover stealing, and rolling around provided constant complaining. The dog decided that she needed to go out about four different times because noises around the tent sounded like something malevolent was planning an attack. I think once it may actually have been an armadillo but I didn’t care. Two hours past bedtime and the children were still waking up and complaining. I was down to my underwear and trying to sleep without physically touching anything. Supermom was covered a stream of air from battery powered fans. The crowd outside had been distilled down to only the drunkest people left at the party. Their talking volume was near a yell and their vocabulary was fifty percent swearing. At two o’clock in the morning, fuck becomes a universal word; noun, verb, adjective, adverb, exclamation mark, a comma. I knew the children were listening because I heard one of them sigh and mutter something about “hot as fuck” as she tried to steal a blanket back from her sister.
Then, at 2:35 a.m., I snapped. I had enough of this adventure called camping and I was done. Maybe it was the fifteen mosquito bites on my abdomen. Maybe it was knowing that some campers would be getting up for the sunrise in four hours and the children would rush out to join them and make me get up too. Maybe it was simply sleep deprivation. Who knows? At any rate, I had enough and jumped up out of bed. The only words I uttered to Supermom were, “Fuck it”. I went and started the van and began systematically loading sleeping children into their car seats. I rolled up anything I thought we might need and threw it into the back. Supermom grabbed the dog and some pillows and barely had the door closed before we pulled out onto the gravel road and headed home. I didn’t give a damn if the fans caught fire and the tent burned to the ground. I was utterly unconcerned with anyone stealing any part of the stuff we left behind. I was done.
I went back to the campsite in the early afternoon of the next day. No one said much and my brother and sister-in-law had packed up most of the stuff for me. They are good people. I loaded everything into the van and brought it home to our garage where it has been sitting ever since.
Every so often, Supermom will mention nice weather and ponder going camping in our tent. I try to smile as the left side of my faces twitches in revolt. Four billion years of evolution of life did not culminate into a species who can overcome every element only to go camping. No thank you.
If you enjoy camping, you are insane and this post is for you. When I want to feel connected to nature I will eat a Cobb Salad. Take a bath hippie. This particular story was by request so Mr. L, you’re welcome.
-Underdaddy to the rescue.