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  • Writer's pictureAlice Wyatt

Camping Ain't That Bad

Summer is upon us! For many adventurous souls, that means camping. I am not a willing camper. Growing up on a Forest Service compound in Eastern Oregon, my backyard was the national forest. It was a lovely playground, but I never wanted it for a bedroom. I like to be clean, warm, and bug-free.

I only have one childhood cramping memory. It didn’t feel much different from everyday playing, except there was a lake, and all eight of us slept together in a canvas wall tent. Why didn’t our family go camping more often? I realized precisely why when I became a mother. It is a ridiculous amount of work to take a perfectly good house, load it into your car, and set it up again in the woods. 

Back in the day, mine and my mother’s, there was not today's fancy, lightweight, cleverly engineered outdoor gear. Our sleeping bags were all the blankets stripped from our bed. Cooking occurred on a grate from the oven, balanced on two rocks inside the fire ring. A hand-washing station was two items hung from a low tree branch: a bar of soap inside pantyhose and a Clorox jug filled with water. A nail with a string attached plugged a hole in the bottom. Pull out the nail, wet your hands under the trickle, lather up with the pantyhose soap, rinse, and put the nail back in. Presto, you are ready for a hotdog and s’mores. 

Nowadays, wet wipes, antibacterial soap, pump spigots connected to 5-gallon water jugs, mini grills fed by mini gas cylinders, and feather-light sleeping bags stuffed into sacks smaller than a throw pillow, are readily available at a decent price. A modern-day camper can expect to be reasonably clean, dry, warm, and well-fed. 

So, here I am with three friends in the Gila National Forest. I pack light: tent, sleeping bag, air mattress, ground cloth, towel, two changes of clothing, swimming suit, four gallons of water, a cast iron skillet, spatula, coffee mug, French press, coffee, half and half, Smooth Move herbal tea, ramen noodles, instant oatmeal, pre-cooked bacon, eggs, apples, three books, journal, flashlight, that all-around helpful tool, a Spork, TP, lotion, bug spray, toiletries, vitamins, extra socks, watercolors, watercolor paper, brushes, and chapstick. 

I love being with my friends. I love the woods, birds' songs, and the burble of the creek below my campsite. The first evening is delightful. We make dinner, have an adult beverage around the campfire, and tuck ourselves into cozy sleeping bags. I wake up on Tuesday morning and look at my phone. 6:30 am. Oh my God. In four hours, it will be 10:30 am, two hours before noon, which is only halfway through the day! Eternity stretches before me. I remember feeling this way with small babies. One million hours of boredom staring me in the face. 

My friends do not have this hangup. They rise with the sun, boil water for coffee, look after the dogs' needs, and tidy their campsites, plan adventurous hikes up into the woods. I brush my teeth, change my underwear, zip up my sleeping bag, and think, “Now what?” 

It’s not that I don’t know how to relax; I do. I was born relaxed. The problem is, my two favorite forms of relaxation, reading, and sleeping, are considered anti-social activities when with a group of friends. I have never been good at chit-chat. I run out of chit about 10 minutes into any social occasion, and my chat becomes head nods and a vague repetition of the last thing someone has said, “Oh yes, this coffee IS good.” or “No, I pooped last night, you can have the shovel.”

Despite this, my friends keep including me in the camping invites, and I will keep going. It is good for me to be in a wild place and observe the world without thinking I need to do or say anything. After all, I am warm, dry, relatively clean, fed, and reasonably happy. Life could be so much worse. 

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