Every summer, my husband and I head for the woods, flushed with optimism and giddy with anticipation. The maps are crisp, the fuel cans are full and the road is open.
And every summer, I forget that the reality of
camping is different than that pictured in Dodge Dakota commercials
and my mind.
I imagine vigorous, seamless
hikes. In truth, my walks entail a ream of moleskin, a wheel of
duct tape, numerous applications of sun block, the removal of
several layers of high-tech clothing quickly followed by
re-application of clothing, incessant adjustments to pack, boots,
shoelaces and attitude, five to 10 pee breaks (due to zealous
obeisance to the "copious and clear" rule), two to 15 Kodak
moments, and several instances of feigning interest in wildflowers
when I am really just catching my breath.
husband has his own ways of fiddling. He's a cartophile
extraordinaire. He doesn't just like maps, he loves them. Camping
starts with the Rand McNally Road Atlas, which he has highlighted.
His backpack holds a library of road maps, folded like origami. (I
remember the first time I refolded one of his maps wrong. He looked
as shocked and horrified as someone who was watching his house
burn.) At every trail junction, he spreads the maps out like a mad
general, smoothes his hands over them, then points and says, "Look!
We're right here."
Far from an honest and
simple experience, camping in tandem is based on complex and
well-calculated lies. Consider the following common camp
"Really, you have
the last Mint Milano."
really not that cold, I just need some calories."
"I've never been to this area
with another woman/man."
"We're almost there."
"Just a quarter mile now."
"Your hair is not so bad."
"You don't smell too bad."
"My back feels better when I
sleep on the ground."
Powerbars are pretty good."
"As long as you don't
surprise "em, yer fine."
Every year, too, I
fall victim to the fantasy that I will meet nature on its own
terms. I hope I will be blessed to hear the bugle of an elk or
catch a glimpse of an eagle. In most cases, my encounters with
nature, "red in tooth and claw," involve fat campsite animals.
These creatures, tame and ruined by the flotsam
and jetsam of campers, include corpulent, aggressive marmots; cue
ball-shaped whiskyjacks and obese squirrels that appear with the
first crinkle of a dehydrated meal bag.
hearty, nourishing meals I had envisioned (venison stew with spring
vegetables baked in a Dutch oven), are, in reality, low-brow: Tuna
Helper followed by two packets of blisteringly hot cocoa served in
an insulated cup that still tastes like Lipton's tomato soup. After
two days of packet meals, I start to indulge in incessant food
"When I get back,
I'm having mashed potatoes and brownies," I'll say, while swigging
out of a plastic bottle wrapped with duct tape.
My husband will try to trump me. "I'm having surf and turf with a
baked potato with sour cream and fresh chives," he'll say, cutting
a bruised apple with a dirty Swiss Army knife.
We continue this culinary masochism until we are resentful of our
couscous and gorp. Depressed, we switch topics and begin picking on
philistine RV-ers who happen to be eating a lot better than we are.
On the last day of camping, one of us
inevitably spills fuel in the back of the car or rubs peppermint
Dr. Bronner's soap into an eyeball.
Nevertheless, last year I slipped out of my sticky down bag at 3
a.m. to answer nature's least romantic call. I had forgotten my
head lamp, so I slammed into the campsite picnic table. I sat down
to massage the throbbing knee and looked up. Above me was the Milky
Way as I had not seen it in years. An owl hoo-hooed somewhere in
In the morning I wrapped my
cold, pink fingers around a cup of coffee as the sun came up. Camp
coffee is always better than I remember.
Lou Bendrick can pitch a tent in just under a
half hour. She lives in Telluride, Colorado, and is a contributor
to Writers on the Range, a syndication service of High Country