If I were playing the game “I Never…” a year ago and someone posed the question, “I never made out while camping?” I’d have drunk half my glass, even though that’s not how the game works.
What else are you supposed to do when you’ve participated in one scenario, but not both?
Some of my senior co-workers at ABC News in New York used to make fun of me for missing out on TV shows growing up in the ’80s. I think one of them even wanted to start a running list of sayings or pop-culture references I didn’t get.
I had strict parents, OK? So no, I didn’t watch “21 Jump Street” or “Saved by the Bell,” and no I can’t quote Magnum P.I., though I at least know who played him.
Camping wasn’t really a topic of great discussion in New York City, though in the rare times when someone brought it up, I’d receive the wide-eyed-with-disbelief response.
“You’ve… NEVER… been… CAMPING?”
Contrary to popular belief, I lived a fun, not-so-sheltered childhood. While most of my peers were camping or watching the brat pack, I was skiing with my family in the Swiss Alps or vacationing along the Italian Riviera. We moved overseas when I was in sixth grade and living in Europe brought a whole new meaning to family road trips. Life was good and I didn’t feel like I missed out on much. That is, until high school. Then swimming became my life and grades started to matter.
The only “camping” I’d done involved me spending a few hours with a book and a blanket in our tree house in the backyard. My dad built it all by himself and the flawless architectural mini-piece still stands on our property today.
My brother and I even had a teepee growing up, but it was so nice we were never allowed to take it outside. The only characteristics I remember about it were that it was red and it had some kitschy Indian embroidery on it. I loved escaping the dullness of my bedroom and sneaking inside the fantasy world of the teepee where me and my stuffed animals became rulers of a secret, guarded land.
MaineMan and I met just a couple of weeks before my 30th birthday. We were living in different cities at the time — I was in New York and he was living here in Los Angeles. We danced the night away at Warrior’s wedding and the next thing I knew we were both taking turns every month flying cross-country to see each other.
I learned very quickly through conversations and e-mail quizzes (a fun way to get to know someone) that MaineMan was every bit of the mountain/adventure man I’d ever wanted. He sailed, he rock-climbed, he surfed, he snowboarded, he fished, he camped.
When MaineMan found out I’d never been camping, he planned on getting me in a tent on my next trip out west. A few days after Christmas (January ’10) we drove up PCH past Malibu and pulled off before signs to Point Mugu. For $30 a night we got a parking spot, a picnic table, a fire pit and a dirt floor with a view. It was fabulous.
Just a little over a year later I am about to embark on my sixth camping trip. We’ve been to the Kern River (Kernville) where we went fly-fishing; we roughed it through snow flurries in Joshua Tree two weekends in a row in January; and most recently we had our first group camping trip where a bunch of my new diving friends met with tents and a pot-luck dinner across from Leo Carillo State Beach.
I love everything about camping: from learning how to put up the tent (I still can’t do it by myself) to starting a fire (finally did this for the first time without a match), from making our beds (sleeping pads before sleeping bags!) to guzzling whiskey for dessert. I even look forward to our Walmart runs where we pick up last-minute supplies and two days’ worth of chips, veggies, dips, booze and firewood.
This weekend’s destination is Calico, Calif. I don’t know much about it except my friend asked, “Are you into haunted stuff? Or ghost towns?”
“Umm, hello?! The entire cross-country trip with my mom I kept begging to stop at haunted houses. We never did, but I’m obsessed,” I answered.
I read online that Calico was an old mining town built in 1881. Talk about a gold rush. Calico had the shortest lifespan of any village I’ve ever heard of — it became a ghost town in 1904.
I neglected to tell MaineMan anything about hauntings or ghosts, only because I made us both sleep in the car on our last camping trip to Joshua Tree. I heard noises outside our tent that sounded like someone or something walking in the dirt. Whatever it was kept pacing back and forth, back and forth in the gravel, like it was going to jump in our tent. It freaked me out to the point where MaineMan finally gave up and said, “We’re sleeping in the car!”
The next morning MaineMan tried to tell me it was just a bird. Not. So. Much.
Friends back east seem worried I’ve become a granola-camper, but I reassure them I still like myself a nice hotel room and a fancy restaurant, though both aren’t quite as rewarding as packing, making dinner with head-lamps on, enjoying some fresh, traffic-free air for a couple of days and getting drunk with your honey over some beer and whiskey. Have whiskey? Will camp.
I don’t know the secret to happiness, but what I do know, is if everyone took a weekend or two a year to ditch the safety of their rooftops, wireless connections and DVRs, maybe we’d all be a little bit more relaxed and connected to the things in life that matter.
“Ready for cowboy camping?” asked MaineMan.
“What in the world…?” I said, cross-eyed.
“You know, no tent. Just you, the ground and the sky,” said MaineMan.
“Baby steps, babe, baby steps…”