The first time I went camping, I was about eight. My dad set up our tent right on the beach. Unfortunately, instead of sand, that particular beach was full of rocks.
This made for an uncomfortable night.
The second time we went camping as a family, we at least picked a sandy beach to do it on.
Unfortunately, that beach was also directly in the path of a major incoming hurricane. Around midnight, the Coast Guard woke us with the news by surrounding our tent and shining flashlights in at us.
So that trip was also super fun and memorable.
I share all this to explain why it’s taken approximately 36 years for me to try camping again. Now I will tell you why it was worth the wait.
Right before we were scheduled to leave for our trip, I experienced a real “first” – I got my very first hemorrhoid. Not only did this help me to finally understand what everyone else has been complaining about all these years, but it awoke within me a new and profound appreciation for the rigors of pre-modern life.
Ergo, most people take their hemorrhoids to the doctor’s office. I take mine camping.
The good news – the hemorrhoid loved the river tubing portions of our trip. I began calling it “The Visitor” and consulting with it before we chose which activity to try next. Pretty much every time I asked, it selected “tubing” or “swimming.” We did a lot of that.
But we also hiked, drove through the mountains, explored a cave, learned to cook over an open fire, counted wild animal sightings, watched fireflies, witnessed a moonrise and so much more.
And throughout it all, I managed. It got uncomfortable at times, but I didn’t die. I had my creams and my wet wipes, and yes, I used them. I fell about 10 or 100 times, in the river, on the trails, at our campsite….at one point I dropped a large piece of firewood on my toe, which produced sufficient blood flow to at least qualify me for a bit part on “Grey’s Anatomy.”
By the time we turned our car towards home, I had scrapes and cuts on both knees, both ankles, the left side of my face, my right elbow, my right rear thigh, and of course a certain aching big toe.
I hadn’t showered in three days and I had forgotten all about little luxuries like shaving, plucking, changing clothes and hairstyle selection. There was only one style option – out of sight, out of mind.
This felt incredibly freeing.
It also seemed incredibly significant that, at a time in my life when all of my unwashed, unshaven, un-sanitized inelegance was on its fullest and most noticeable display, my relationship with my partner felt closer than ever.
I guess I’ve just never TRULY believed that I can be sincerely and deeply loved specifically for what is on the inside of me and not for how well I present myself on the outside.
From this I have learned that “recovery” really isn’t a destination. It is always unfolding, always deepening, always eager to explore how my most vulnerable inner being is also my strongest and bravest mentor and friend.
On a slightly different topic, I have also learned that it can be very easy to get used to peeing in the woods.
It didn’t take me long at all to grow accustomed to the “squat, squirt and shake” method, to the point where, when we began driving back towards civilization, I sincerely questioned how come all of a sudden I had to locate a very specific and well labeled, four-walled, locked-door facility for this particular activity.
Just to clarify – it’s not like we were in the backcountry roughing it. We had a well-cleared and shady campsite with a potable water spigot, concrete pad and picnic table, lantern pole, black fly bait bag and our own personal parking spot.
There were bathrooms and showers on the premises, although not technically within walking distance for us.
The camp general store had WiFi and pretty much everything else.
There was a gift shop where I enthusiastically purchased jewelry, park memento stickers, locally poured soap, and a shot glass with a plastic armadillo clinging to the side of it.
But still, for me in my carefully cultivated, clean and dry and air conditioned big city casa, camping out as a 46-year-old adult was a revelation. Throughout, I felt small and grateful and nature felt big and wild. This also felt just as it should be.
We were keeping company with wild turkeys, deer, coyotes, foxes, vultures, hawks, armadillos, buffalo, jackrabbits, cottontails, and so many more, including one particularly territorial male cardinal who had designated our campsite as his personal turf, and who consequently kept up an unceasing attack on our car mirrors and windshields from dawn until dusk daily.
It was wonderful.
I highly recommend it.
Today’s Takeaway: Do you ever wish you could just totally escape from “regular you” for a bit? Do you ever start wondering if the people you love might love you less if you skip the shower for a day or few? Have you gone camping as an adult? If so, what did you like/not like about the experience?