Some of you are shaking your heads indignantly right now. It’s okay - I know your type and I recognize that there are a select handful of folks who are born with Bear-Grylls-esque blood coursing through your veins. You’d be content to live off the grid, foraging berries and tree bark for your meals. Your children are born with Osprey baby carriers clutched in their hands so you can tote your little ones on your backs as they ride in style, complete with tiny Patagonia puffy jackets and Marmot beanies. Every member of your family has an Eno (because who needs a tent these days?), and you each love being one with nature, having dirt under your fingernails, and feeling hungry all the time.
For the rest of us, the overwhelming majority of people who wouldn’t have survived even 24 hours during the pioneer days, camping serves only as a small taste of what hell must be like.
I tend to be an idealist, which is probably why I’m always disappointed by the actual realities of life. We recently decided to go camping with our dear friends, and I was sure it was going to be the best weekend of my life. Never mind that I don’t like bugs or dirt or saturating every one of my belongings in campfire smoke. This was going to be a blast, I just knew it. Our friends are former hard-core campers, but having children has leveled our playing field significantly, so I knew I’d be able to hang.
Between our two families there are six children, ages five through nine. I first started getting concerned about our trip as we talked meal prep, making grocery lists for ten people for three days. In case you’re wondering, food for ten people for three days equals out to about half of the food at Kroger. Per person. We determined that we needed three full-sized coolers to carry our perishables, and about 19 grocery bags to carry the rest. So much for berries and bark.
You’d think we’d have run out of room in our vehicles after loading them up with all of the rations, and you’d be right. Yet somehow we also managed to fit in three tents, ten camping chairs, ten sleeping bags, ten pillows, six hammocks, clothing and toiletries, a portable stove, three Kindles, two dogs, and a hot pink American Girl tent for a very privileged doll to sleep in.
When we finally arrive and snagged our camp site, the setup began. As you can imagine, lugging all of the aforementioned necessities took some serious time. The campsite itself was great; close to the parking lot, yet secluded. Our friend told me we were “glamping.” I told him that the bug-infested restrooms were over a quarter of a mile away, and that there was nothing glamorous about that. We agreed to disagree.
Did I mention I was sporting a gigantic toe-to-knee-sized air boot during this expedition due to torn ligaments in my ankle? As I’m sure you can imagine, it made the whole weekend that much more enjoyable. Especially the “short” walks to the restroom.
The campsite had obviously been used a lot, because there wasn’t any grass to be found. It was a giant dirt circle in the middle of the woods, and the gray dust quickly coated all of our things, including my air boot and our small white mini-Doodle.
The kids ran off into the forest in search of a fort and the rest of us sat around the fire, chatting. After too much silence, our friend went to find the kids. And he did find them...playing hide and seek in some other people’s campsite, screaming like wild banshees. After a stern talking to about camping manners, they continued to play while we started to prepare dinner.
It was then we realized that between the two families, we only had one small saucepan to cook in. Ruh-roh. Cooking rice and beans for ten people on a tiny camping stove in an extra small pot proved to be a challenge. I think dinner was ready approximately three hours later, and by then the kids weren’t hungry anymore because I’d passed out Hawaiian Rolls to them in mass quantities just to keep the hunger cries at bay.
The first night wasn’t a peaceful one for our friends. Between their dog and their children, they were awakened at least eight times, and so, in turn, was I. As I listened to my friends try to shut up their dog and take their kids potty in the pitch dark, I giggled to myself. Then I remembered I was sleeping on the ground and that I, too, was miserable, and I cried.
The trip went downhill after that, if it’s even possible. The kids worked together to come up with every possible way to get dirty, hurt, or in trouble. They were full of bright ideas, ideas like:
HEY, let’s go jump in that huge pile of ashes with our brand new Nike tennis shoes on!
HEY, let’s put sticks in the fire until the ends are glowing red and then chase each other around with them until one of us burns the other!
HEY, let’s start a hike and then cry and complain halfway through that we’re tired and our legs hurt and make the rest of the hike utterly miserable for anyone in the general vicinity!
HEY, let’s ask for food again! ALL. DAY. LONG.
HEY, let’s use our Eno hammocks as slingshots, catapulting ourselves into each other until one of us cries!
HEY, let’s dump our bottled water out on the fire, diminishing our drinking water supply and extinguishing the fire at the same time!
HEY, let’s throw massive handfuls of dry leaves on the fire, resulting in ash raining down on our camp like it did when Mt. Vesuvius erupted!
And that’s basically the rest of our trip in a nutshell.
On our last night in the wilderness, our friends’ son was hit with a violent stomach bug. He was screaming and writhing in pain, the likes of which I have never seen. The other 40 campsites of folks got to experience the trauma along with us. I’m sure we were very popular guests.
Also, did I mention that we went camping over Daylight Savings weekend? That’s the best part, in my humble opinion. By best, I mean worst. Where the kids had been waking up with the sun a little before 8:00 a.m., I heard the first stirrings from them that Sunday morning well before 7:00 a.m. The other people in the campground no doubt heard them, too. Every person camping near us in the north Georgia mountains was able to was forced to enjoy the Sunday sunrise along with us. And by enjoy, I mean endure.
Later that morning we dismantled our tents and took down the Enos and packed up the leftover food and lugged all of our dust-covered belongings back to the cars, kids crying over the manual labor all the while. We drove our filthy selves back home, took showers, and immediately fell into our beds, exhausted. After a brief nap, we spent the remainder of our day unloading the car, cleaning our camping equipment, and washing dirt-and-smoke-covered clothes.
Basically, what I’m saying here is that camping is the worst, and things that seem to be too-good-to-be-true usually are. Realism trumps idealism every time. Or at least it does until the next idealistic adventure presents itself, in which case I’m fairly certain I’ll repeat this cycle of mine again. Until then, I'll just enjoy my soft bed and my four-burner stove. Every. Day.