Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Campers

Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Campers

I think I hate camping.

I say that after having spent one night — 16 hours — camping with my brother this past weekend. I haven't been camping in years, and have been wanting to go for some time, so we scheduled a night in the Moraine View State Park in Illinois.

We figured the fall would be the best time to go, because we would avoid the mosquitoes of summer and the rains of spring. Plus, snakes are out more in the spring and summer, and I hate snakes with a white-hot passion.

We arrived at the park at 4:30, two hours before sunset. I had my sleeping bag, a couple extra shirts and heavy socks. It had been in the 60s, so I figured I was overpacking, especially when Andrew showed up with a big giant backpack and an extra change of everything, plus thermal underwear.

"Oh crap, I forgot my sleeping pad," he said when we got to the campsite.

"Wuss," I thought. Who brings thermal underwear and a change of clothes, let alone a sleeping pad? It's 60 degrees out, we're only going to be here for one night, and we're roughing it for a reason. You don't use a pad to rough it.

Famous last words.

Everything about camping is intentional. Everything we do is for survival. Of course, it's not really that dramatic, since we were only a 10 minute walk from the car. But I began to see how camping is a callback to our ancestors and what they did to survive.

Everything is geared toward surviving to the next morning: setting up a tent to have a safe place to sleep. Starting a fire so to keep ferocious animals at bay. Cooking dinner to have the strength to find more wood and food the next day. And so it goes.

Camping is like the survival sports that became Olympic sports — archery, fencing, winter biathlon, cross-country skiing. We have turned into recreation those things that we used to do just to eat or sleep somewhere safe.

I remembered my young camping days when my dad would set up a heavy canvas tent that was old when Genghis Khan used it while invading Asia, and how we had to get rid of any pebbles and sticks so we didn't sleep on them. We prepped the site and set the tent up in an hour — an eternity if it's cold or raining. Only 90 minutes before sunset, and we still needed a fire.

Since this was a state park, we had to go find firewood that wasn't too soaked from the night before, and chop it to firewood sized pieces. We couldn't cut down any trees, and could only use the wood on the ground. After six tries, Andrew finally got the fire going, and we cooked the bratwursts we had brought with us.

The other problem with camping is that since it gets dark early, and there's no TV, you tend to get bored easily, and bedtime sometimes can't come soon enough. Of course morning can't come soon enough either, especially when you discover that the sleeping bag you bought for your kids truly IS a kid's sleeping bag.

The bag fit my 11-year-old daughter perfectly, but for a 44-year-old grown man, it wasn't even a suitable blanket. I could wrap this thing around my shoulders and it barely made it past my arms. Even wearing two t-shirts, two long-sleeve shirts, and a pullover fleece, I was still cold.

I found that if I stuck my legs in the sleeping bag, and put the sleeping bag under one arm, I could keep the other side on my other arm. Then I pulled my brother's windbreaker over me to keep me warm enough. It wasn't much, but it was enough that I could catch some sleep and not die from exhaustion.

I could have slept like this all night, except the ground was hard, and my hip started to hurt after about an hour, and I had to roll over. Then I had to readjust the sleeping bag and pillow (which was otherwise too small), and then pull the jacket back over me.

The whole process took five minutes, and I had to do it every hour.

This went on for about 10 hours, until I couldn't take it anymore, and I made my brother get up so we could go find something warmer and more comfortable, like underneath an iceberg.

But now, nearly a week later, as my hips slowly heal, the pains of sleeping on the cold ground are fading, and I think I may not hate camping as much as I did on Saturday morning. I may even be willing to give it another try early next spring.

I just need to talk my wife into letting me take our mattress. And the TV.

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