Last week was spring break, so we decided to take a quick camping trip. A couple of days of roughing it would purify our relationship with nature, as well as remind us how little we need to survive.
Or so I thought.
I still labor under the illusion that camping is the simple activity it was when we used to throw a tent and some sleeping bags, along with a little food, into the car and drive off for a day or two of reacquainting ourselves with nature. Maybe it was never as simple as I remember it, but this outing turned out to be an expedition approaching a moon landing in complexity and specialized equipment.
Back in the olden days, camp cooking was a joyously limited affair. We would use a campfire or Coleman stove to boil water for oatmeal in the morning, maybe adding a pan of scrambled eggs. Lunch would be fireless, consisting of trail mix, fresh fruit, maybe a sandwich or two. Dinner would consist of spaghetti boiled over our fire and topped with a jar of sauce. For variety, we might bring along a box of macaroni and cheese for the second night.
So when I started putting together our supplies, a couple of faces wrinkled. “I don’t like that,” the pursed lips on those faces said.
My first instinct was to say “tough,” but Joyce overruled my first instinct. Next thing you knew, we had the oatmeal, two different boxes of cereal and two kinds of milk in a cooler, three kinds of fresh fruit, an uncounted supply of dried fruits, nuts, and candies so every person could make his or her own preferred trail mix. We tried to figure out a way to make hard-boiled eggs fit our cooking schedule to accommodate my son-in-law, who won’t eat eggs any other way. We supplemented our main course with one or more side dishes. One night we roasted hot dogs and topped them with all the condiments everyone wanted to bring, along with coleslaw made with cabbage and mayonnaise brought from home. Of course, we had to buy a new cooler to carry all the perishables. We used up more bottled gas than I ever imagined possible, even though we didn’t try to heat water for washing the dishes as we used to do. Luckily we had a new bottle of environmentally friendly camp soap designed to work in cold water.
The same thing happened with lights. On our last trip, the family decided, we didn’t have enough. So off to REI, Sports Authority, Dicks Sporting Goods, and assorted other places to survey the current state of the art of camp lighting. Soon we had 1.4 lights per person, along with alternative power supplies for most of them.
And so on.
It soon became clear that even our Outback could not carry all the camping stuff we were now using in our escape from our at-home stuff. So we ended up taking two vehicles, both filled with not only the comforts of home, but one or more backups in case one of the comforts experienced a power failure or got broken. Everyone except my 7-year-old granddaughter had a smart phone in case we got separated (although the batteries died within hours because the built-in GPS apps kept trying to figure out where we were), a fishing rod and reel per person (along with a new tackle box filled with new lures and bait, most of which were lost in the New River by the time we packed up to come home). There was even a GameBoy just in case nature was too boring to be borne.
I was feeling pretty depressed about how little wilderness we were allowing ourselves to experience, until a family in a Ford 250 diesel pulling a camper, along with a following Toyota , set up across the way from us. Kids, dogs, bikes, a portable kitchen and a sheet metal fire pit came spilling out of the vehicles, along with just about everything you could imagine.
“Yeah, camping is a lot of work,” said our neighbor in the pop-up camper as we watched the adults set up all their stuff while the children rode the bikes they had brought along. I nodded in silent agreement.
“It takes a lot of stuff to get away from your stuff,” I thought.
Our neighbors were well equipped, but they didn’t have all the technology available to family campers today. They didn’t have the portable network dish for their TV, for instance.
Another family a little farther down did. I saw it when I walked by on the way to the bathhouse. The family was watching their favorite shows while Mom cooked dinner in their custom outdoor kitchen.
So we didn’t even come close to outdoing the Joneses in our back-to-nature spending spree.
But we did have a lot of fun, and I have to admit it was nice to make ‘smores over our campfire, sitting on our folding chairs, using the specially designed hotdog-and-marshmallow roasting wands. Years ago, I would have had to do something primitive like look for a stick out in the woods.
But I couldn’t help noticing the young couple who set up a simple dome tent next to our site. They lit up an old-looking Coleman gas lantern and sat at the picnic table to play a game they had brought along for entertainment. They ate something that didn’t need cooking (I couldn’t see what because the glare from our two lanterns and five flashlights made their campsite look dark). Soon after finishing their game, they went into their tent, unrolled their sleeping bags, and went to sleep.
We had to spend awhile packing up all our supplies and food and putting the boxes in our cars, where we would go to retrieve them the next morning to set up for cooking breakfast. We spent an hour cooking, eating, and cleaning up.
The young couple smiled at us as they rolled up their sleeping bags and tent, tossed them into their trunk, then hit the river for a day of canoeing.