‘We’re going camping,’ my sister-in-law mentioned one night. Casually. ‘Do you guys want to come with us?’ I considered the invitation. I’ve never in my many decades upon this earth spent the night out-of-doors. I attempted to, once, in a mountainous village in Bolivia. But after a couple of hours of tenting it, I decided I’d rather bunk with my then-teenaged sisters-in-law, than lie on the ground; over-analyzing every noise and rustle. Fully expecting to be attacked by some wild creature.
But we have these boy-children living with us, and they’re always begging to sleep in a tent.
I ran the invitation past the professor who stared at me wide-eyed, in disbelief, that I – non-camper – was suggesting we….camp. ‘It just seems like a good chance to try it,’ I explained. ‘We’ll be with other people who know what they’re doing (i.e. setting up camp) and it’s only one night. And it’s on the way to Michigan,’ I added. Because I’d had the other awesome idea to drive 7 hours to go to the beach in Saugatuck.
He posed the question to the oldest blond wonder. ‘Are you interested in going camping?’ the professor asked the Gort. ‘Yes, I’m interested!’ he replied without hesitation. And so it was settled we would go camping with the professor’s middle brother, wife and their two oldest girls.
A family friend had agreed to loan them a pop-up camper, thus it seemed I’d be spared the indignity of sleeping on the ground.
True to form, we packed nothing. We were en route to Michigan, and our van was filled with suitcases, a pack ‘n play, snacks. But nothing remotely useful for camping. No sleeping bags. No bedding. No pillows. No towels.
I considered our ill-preparedness on the drive to Pokagon State Park. ‘Agh, it’s just for one night,’ I decided.
One very long night.
Our companions arrived around 6.30pm. The professor and his brother began the arduous task of setting up camp. While the rest of us went to the ‘beach’. Yes it may sound as though I got the better part of the deal there, but bear in mind not one of the three blond-wonders can swim. So taking them to the beach basically involves me standing in the sand, squinting into the sun and doing my best to count children. ‘One, two……..three.’ ‘One………two…….three? Three.’
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
The boys were in heaven, playing in the sand, frolicking in the water, and I questioned my decision to drive all the way to Saugatuck, Michigan, just so they could go to the beach. Surely they were just as happy with the state park’s gravelly sand and the cordoned off swim area where speedboats whizzed past every two minutes?
We returned to camp well past the dinner hour. The camper was ready. The tent was set-up. Somewhere, another camper sat awash in nostalgia – blaring the Eagles and Air Supply over his speakers.
I hadn’t expected a soundtrack for my camping experience. And certainly not the Eagles – much as I love them.
I set aside my pride and borrowed my sister-in-law’s towel to dry off the boys before helping them the wet, sandy boys into their pajamas.
It was dark. There was a fire – the kind that engulfs young, careless children who run toward it while looking backwards. People were trying to roast hot dogs and sort out bedding. And Percy kept running into the ropes securing the tent to the ground. Perhaps there is a more technical term for those ropes, but I am not aware of it.
At some point – 10, 11, 12 o’clock – we retired for the evening. Upon seeing my pillow-less bed, my sister-in-law graciously offered me her second pillow. But I already felt badly about using her towel, I couldn’t use her pillow, too.
So I lay diagonally upon my bed, next to my pack’n play-sleeping cherub and waited for sleep to come. Which it did, in bits and pieces, when my mind wasn’t fixated on the other campers’ whirring air conditioners, their raucous conversations, or the possible-bears rummaging through garbage.
At some point I woke up, having dreamt there were mice running through the camper. I had an unsettling realization: mice could run through the camper. I was sleeping outside in a rickety camper with all manner of creatures. There was no telling what could be lurking outside – or within – my sleeping space.
And then I was wide awake; freaked out. And I was cold. I had no pillow and no blanket. I felt around in the dark for the thin blue cardigan I’d stolen from my sister’s Goodwill pile earlier in the day. I attempted to wrap myself in the navy poly-cotton but alas, it was not large enough. A flimsy drape would have to suffice. I willed morning to come, quickly.
Around 6.30am, young Percy and I stumbled out of the camper and into the morning light. I was a (cold) mess. And my unwashed, uncombed hair looked woolly.
I considered the experience: a lot of work, very little sleep, up at 6.30am, slightly-scary shower facilities, terrible food.
Suddenly it dawned on me. I had camped, many times. I just hadn’t called it camping, I called it: driving from Calgary to Indiana. The terrible food, the lack of sleep, the unreasonable hours, the strange soundtrack, and the scary bathrooms – I’d had it all before……
I’m calling it carping.