Monday, June 27, 2011

This is My Kind of Roughing Jenny Gardiner

Summer's here and the camping is easy… Yeah, right.

You might have gleaned from previous pieces I've written that I'm no fan of camping. In fact if given the choice to camp or take a Calculus exam, I'd be hard-pressed to come up with a satisfactory decision. (You may have also gleaned from previous columns that my math skills came to a grinding halt in Mrs. Harcharik's fourth grade math class. Thank goodness she mercifully allowed me to write an essay about Albert Einstein in order to make up for my lackluster year-end grade. Didn't help me to ever learn to balance a checkbook, however. Nevertheless picking between the two would practically be a Sophie's Choice for me.)
Back when my husband and I were dating, he decided he wanted to make a believer out of me in the camping department. I'd grown up as a beach baby, vacationing with sun, surf and sand when I went on holiday. The idea of roughing it in a tent in the woods during vacation never arose in my childhood. Well, there was that time my Girl Scout troop was supposed to camp for a weekend, only to be thwarted by flooding from Hurricane Agnes. Instead we did a day-trip and were forbidden from using the latrines because poisonous snakes were floating around in them. Yep, camping didn't present much in the way of charms with that red flag.

But my husband came up with a snake-free plan that entailed us camping amidst the rugged coastal beauty of Acadia National Park in Maine--how could we go wrong? Well, we erroneously arrived a day early for our reservation. On Independence Day weekend. Nary a campsite to be found (a day earlier in Freeport we were told the only place to stay in all of coastal Maine due to holiday crowds would be a display tent at the LL Bean store. Seriously.).
Luckily the park ranger was able to come up with a lone campsite that had been abandoned by some early-departers. After setting up the borrowed ancient tent (I was warned not to touch the canvas as any place you'd touch would leak if it rained--good luck there), we cooked steaks over the grill, made s'mores, and basked in our happy camper experience, just a little smug we were able to nab a campsite so late despite our scheduling error. After once more admiring the breathtaking canvas of stars in the clear night sky, we zipped the tent closed for the night. I set my book down next to my pillow as I was falling asleep, then several hours later woke to it floating away from me. Turns out a storm had come in, and the aged tent leaked in approximately, oh, two million places. And our campsite was at the bottom of a flood plain.

We spent the night in our Honda Civic, and cleaned the muck out of our mildewing tent at dawn the next day. Memorable? Yes. Fun? Not so much.
A few other camping experiences (one after the release of the Blair Witch Project had me sleepless for fear of looming murderers) left me with a generally tepid reception toward the practice of camping. I did, however, love camping one time: when we were in Africa, some 25 years ago. Much of our trip involved roughing it--including a few nights in a spartan tent in which we came face-to-hairy-face with a hirsute spider the size of my hand skittering across my bed (which resulted in my enveloping myself from head to toe in a circa WWII army-issue stiflingly hot wool blanket/spider guard each night). But then we spent two glorious nights in a luxury tented safari in the Masai Mara with a mahogany four-poster bed, marble sink, the works. I was in heaven.
Now Africa was about the only place in which austere camping even remotely appealed to me. Cloaked beneath the barely-there canvas of a tent with the possibility of a pride of lions or a herd of elephants loping by seemed so cool. But snoozing away in dense Virginia woods with ticks and spiders and snakes of no real mystique threatening me? No thank you. I'll take my own cozy bed any day over that.

But then I heard about about glamping. A friend filled me in on the beauty of glamour camping, the pampered persons alternative to getting down and dirty to enjoy the great outdoors. It involves king-sized beds and maybe 600-thread count sheets and fluffy down comforters and someone else doing all the dirty work. And me not having to trudge in the dark amidst the things that are going bump in the night just to find a public toilet (one that always fails to have a seat, is usually prison-issue stainless steel and comes equipped with cobwebs). Glamping is my kinda camping: the country club variety. Not that I'm elitist, but when it comes to camping, I need the comforts of home. And then some.

I usually suck it up and camp once a year with my family, me in full martyr mode. Usually the general family consensus at the end of the weekend is that Mom should've stayed home. But this glamping thing, it seems like a happy medium, a meeting of the minds. Except for the price, which can't compare with the pack-it-all-from-home way, darn it. If only someone would come up with discount glamping, all the comforts, none of the expense, I'd be golden. And maybe even try to pretend I'm enjoying myself just a bit.
Until then, I think I'll aim for microwaving s'mores and kicking back with the TV remote, maybe even attempting to balance my checkbook. And just be very, very grateful I'll get to sleep in my own bed with a roof over my head.

Jenny Gardiner is the author of the award-winning novel Sleeping with Ward Cleaver (coming back in ebook form this week!), as well as the novels Slim to None and Over the Falls and the humorous memoir Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me. She also has a story in Wade Rouse's upcoming humorous dog anthology I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship (NAL/Sept '11), a fundraiser for the Humane Society of the US and selected animal charities.

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  1. Oh, another non-camper chiming in here. My girl scout troop was also washed out by Hurricane Agnes! We actually had to be rescued by the park rangers. Good times. I've been sucked into camping twice since then (with my kids and a bunch of other families). The first time, yup, you guessed it, flooded out of a campground on Lake Michigan. The second time, we did have rain but no evacuation. There will be no next time unless it's glamping.

  2. Glamping sounds like the perfect fit for me!

  3. Hey Jenny, sometimes we have to learn when it's best to just stay home:). For me it was skiing. Once everyone in the family had graduated to black diamonds, leaving me to swoosh down the slopes alone, I decided it was time to reconsider going. I'm less grumpy and they are too!

    I grew up camping with my family in a pop-up tent-trailer. We had a lot of great adventures--probably better at a distance now that my bones are a little creaky!

  4. Like Lucy I grew up camping first in a pop up camper, and then trailers, and I did go to GS camp but we always had cabins or elevated tents. I am NOT a nature lover in that sense, I love National Parks, I can do short hikes, but on the ground camping, eh, no thank you. My sister now has a motor home worth more than our house, I think I could handle that one.
    Personally, a nice hotel with thick towels and a guest terry robe is a much nicer vacation.

  5. Oh Jenny, I knew we must have been connected in a past life. Or maybe a parallel universe. First camping experience, in college. My boyfriend at the time + 7 of his friends. April in Ohio. The guys doing all manner of drugs, me doing "And you call this fun???" That was before our canoes turned over and all of our food and sleeping bags were drenched in 50 degree water. I kept trying over and over, maybe 6 times in all. HATE camping. It's not for me. last trip was a great plains trip in Nebraska. No tree cover. Porta-potties. Me with diarhea and vomiting flu for 15 hours. INSIDE the Portopotty. HELL.