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Pitching A Fit, or Pitching A Tent

Tent Image from here.

You can get a pretty good sense about a person by finding out where they fall on the camping spectrum. There are those that keep a tent and sleeping bag in their car trunks, ever ready to pitch camp for the night, and those that abhor even the thought of making a temporary fort in the backyard with a sheet tied to tree limbs. A childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood peppered with camping experiences has left me pretty much dead center when it comes to the school of sleeping outside. Tales of ecstasy and agony alike informed my opinion, and when summer falls, I recall those experiences with both dismay and delight.

My childhood was a humble one. Summers weren’t spent at riding camp or on tennis courts, but in the woods, at the beach, or otherwise outdoors at whatever public, free locale we happened to be living near. Camping, therefore, was an inexpensive, accessible activity that my mother’s modest budget could accommodate. When I was around age 6-7, she, my brother, myself, and a church group headed to Crabtree Falls, Virginia to take in the falls, set up camp, and enjoy the scenery. Or that was the plan, at least. Instead, I got the stomach flu (as did a good number of our fellow sporting life parishioners) and my brother got a fishing lure caught in his hand. Good times.

Years later, over summer break in hot, hot eastern North Carolina, mom decided camping was just what we needed to find our collective solace. Our tent pitched at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park in Seven Springs, NC, my brother and I tried to unwind. Instead, mom thought it would be a good idea for us to dig a small swimming hole. With a shovel, he and I took turns digging a hole then lined it with a plastic shower curtain liner we’d brought along for rain cover, and schlepped bucket after bucket of water up from the Neuse River itself. Our bodies weary, we retreated to our tents that evening seeking a rejuvenating sleep but were instead kept up all night by marauding raccoons.

What turned the tide for me, though, and brought camping into the like (and not loathe) arena, was an epic road trip with my friend Bonner in 2003. She was leaving Asheville, headed to graduate school in the San Francisco Bay area. In exchange for driving cross-country with her, she’d offered to purchase my return flight home (she didn’t tell me we’d be in a stick shift older model Honda, with no AC, in August, until I’d already agreed). Driving thru scorching sun in the middle of a nationwide heat wave offered its fare share of challenges, greatest among them being the car’s transmission dying just as we were about to traverse Idaho’s southern desert-like climate.

Our saving grace, however, were the camping grounds we patronized. We’d drive all day, as far as we desired. Calling it a day, we’d see where we were, open up the hefty copy of “Woodall’s Camping Grounds Guide to North America” we’d brought along, find a spot, and pitch our tent. From Sioux City, Iowa to the beaches of Northern California, we covered the country’s campgrounds. Along the way, we took in the Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, the Columbia River Gorge, northern California’s coastal Hwy. 101, and the Golden Gate Bridge itself. It was epic, to be sure.

Our adventure was packed with crisis and confusion and laughter and sweat and tears of abundant happiness. My father is convinced there’s an epic, award-winning novel and film in there. I’m convinced the reason I continue to take pleasure in putting down the stakes, raising the roof, rolling out the sleeping bag, and delighting in the pleasures of sleeping under the stars is embedded in that trip. Camping season is in full swing. Whether you decide tents to be friend or foe is up to both circumstance and perspective. Either way, you’re destined to have memories to consider and tales to tell for years to come.

*This piece was originally penned for my July column in Verve. Sadly, I learned over the weekend that Verve ended publication with last month’s issue. I truly loved writing essays and memoir style pieces during my 2 1/2 year tenure with the magazine, and am hoping to keep that spirit alive here with similar posts. 

3 Responses to Pitching A Fit, or Pitching A Tent

  • Cedar says:

    I loved this post, and like you, I grew up camping with mixed feelings as I came into adulthood, and especially into parenthood. This year we planned our first camping trip in X amount of years, which ended up getting cancelled after finding out I was pregnant (and a rocky first trimester, not suited for more than 20 feet from a toilet!). Next year will be the year!

  • Anna says:

    We got back last week from a camping trip in South Dakota and to Yellowstone. As we set up our tent in the Badlands, a huge storm blew in and knocked it down, bending the poles beyond repair. Aside from the challenges of getting a one year old to sleep in a tent, the rest of our trip was great (we were, luckily, able to get a better tent). Most camping I’ve done has at least a few stories of disaster but, fortunately, more stories of enjoyment and adventure.

  • I’ve camped my entire life but most of involved cars or our VW pop up camper. In my twenties and thirties I discovered the joys of backpacking and long trips camping out of my kayak. The ultimate trip happened last year: 16 days on a private trip rafting 225 miles through the Grand Canyon. We brought a tent, but never set it up, preferring instead to sleep out under the stars. Magnificent! I LOVE camping!

    PS: So sad to hear Verve is done. I loved that publication a whole lot.