Camping is great. Except when it’s not.
I don’t like camping—the kind where you sleep on a camping pad on the ground and there are no real bathrooms or showers, just an outhouse. Or not even an outhouse. I really hate that kind. Whatever happens, I will not be forced to do my business in the great outdoors.
Unluckily for me, my whole family—three siblings and both my parents—love camping. As does nearly everyone in my community. So every August, after my dad is done teaching summer school and before the regular school season starts, my family spends three to five days at Ditch Creek Campground. It is truly beautiful there. Spruce covered hills rise up on either side of the campground and the creek runs through the back of it. We arrive on Monday or Tuesday, pick a shady campsite along the creek, and pitch our tent. Our eight man tent is huge—we could probably park our minivan inside it. Not that that would be a good thing to try.
But if you spend any amount of time in that beautiful place, you will find the dirt. I hate being dirty; on my first birthday I cried because I got cake all over my hands. If I had known how dirty I would get when we went camping, I might have died from shock. Every morning, once the sun comes out, I apply sunscreen. Then someone drives by the campground at 40 miles per hour. Clouds of dust billow up behind their vehicle and slowly drift toward me. Most often, the dust sticks to my arms, neck, face, and legs, thanks to the sunscreen. Over the course of the day, sweat, creekwater (which probably has bits of cow pie in it), and woodsmoke get added to the mix. Little colonies of acne start forming on my face. I always request first use of the shower when we get home, and my brothers are always happy to grant it to me—they have to be forced to clean themselves.
I have several fond memories of camping—splashing in the frigid creek while the hot sun beats down on my head, and my brothers burning one breadstick after another over the campfire. Many times when I was younger we slowly fed our marshmallows and graham crackers and chocolate to the infamous S’more Monster who lived behind our minivan, one bite at a time. My S’more Monster always devoured its treat quickly, while my sister’s took miniscule nibbles. I laugh every time I remember the night that my brother rolled out of the tent while he was sleeping and didn’t notice until he woke up in the morning. And lying awake in my sleeping bag at night and hearing my family members all try to tell everyone goodnight at the same time is something I always enjoy. That’s thirty-six “goodnight!”s every night.
But after those “goodnight”s comes misery. I have slept on several of my grandparents’ Therm-a-Rest camping pads, all them ancient—the first so old that it doesn’t even say “The Original Therm-a-Rest” on it. There were no other kinds of Therm-a-Rests to confuse it with when it was made. Though they make my nights more comfortable than if I had nothing, I’m usually sore in the mornings. And unfortunately, the past two times we went camping I have had a miserable cold, which means I spent every night running out of tissues and trying not to wake my whole family up with my coughing. Needless to say, those were not pleasant experiences and I am not eager to repeat them.
When I get up in the morning, stiff but still in one piece, there is always hot chocolate. My mom boils water hauled from the pump the night before and gets out the mugs and spoons and blue cardboard box of Swiss Miss hot cocoa. My siblings and I get one packet of hot chocolate every morning except for the last day, when sometimes we get two. We all have our own ways of preparing our drink—I like to keep my ratio of hot chocolate mix and water about equal, while my sister picks out all her fake marshmallows and then waters down her mix so much you can hardly tell it’s in there. Before we have a chance to do that, though, we have to choose our mugs, and everyone wants the cream and brown one that announces, “You toucha my cup I breaka you head.”
Once the hot chocolate is all consumed, the flies wake up, and they get worse as the day gets warmer. I always spend more time shooing away flies than eating lunch. I don’t blame them for liking my food—I’m sure that hummus tastes much better than cow poop—but I’d rather they kept their germs out of it. I’m not a person who would shriek and run away at the sight of a spider or beetle (unless I walk into a thick spider web and the spider starts crawling up my shin—this happened last August while we were camping), but I find all kinds of bugs repulsive and constantly worry about ticks, since they are the most disgusting of all. My brothers notice this and one in particular always announces for my benefit when he finds a bug on himself that has a slight chance of being a tick. (He is also very concerned about ticks, so that might have something to do with it. When we visited New Hampshire two summers ago he gave himself tick checks every ten minutes.) I have never had a tick on me, but I can’t stand the thought of having to pull off a bug that is bloated with my own blood. I would rather keep bugs out of my body than drink mediocre hot chocolate out of a camping mug with funny sayings.
I don’t want to go camping because I can get everything that I like about camping—the family memories and the beauty of nature—without sleeping on the ground for four nights in a row and going a week (well, five days) without a shower. As soon as I am able to miss out on camping, I will. But for the next few years at least, I’m stuck, subjected to the pain of being dirty and spending all my waking moments with bugs.
Header image courtesy of the author