Camping for the first time at 43

Photo by Paul Chambers on Unsplash

I did it. Finally. I went camping for the first time at 43. It was car camping, but close enough. After avoiding it throughout life, I can call it done.

I’ve had a brief delusion thinking my “outdoor girl” persona could survive. A short-lived stint in Idaho. Running outside in the winter in Chicago. But the only thing that has stuck is an odd fondness for puffy coats.

Camping this past weekend was a last-minute move on the part of Boyfriend. I thank him. Given ample time, I would have worried myself into a tizzy about what to pack, food to stay alive and anything else my mind could conjure.

Boyfriend was packed and ready to go when I arrived at his house. At that point, I was utterly unaware of what all that entailed.

Soon we pulled up to the little brown boxes that serve as the entrance to Cedar Hill State Park. I’m flipping through Entertainment Weekly as we pull in. “We’re hoping to get a camping spot for the night,” Boyfriend says. He’s in the driver’s seat because he doesn’t like my driving. I view that as a perk.

But already I’m thrown. I didn’t think we’d need to talk to anyone. I just thought we’d show up and get started.

“I’m guessing you don’t have a reservation?” the lady asks. To me and my unknowing ways, I stifle a giggle. For some reason, my mind thinks that’s akin to making a reservation for a motel on a road trip. I enjoy the last few minutes of air conditioning.

Maybe now is the time I should tell you Boyfriend is an experienced outdoor boy. He can go hiking for weeks at a time, staying alive with the contents of his backpack. “Where would I store my under-eye cream?” I want to know. When I’m informed it wouldn’t be invited on the trip, I tune out.

And the food. It’s like the stuff we ate when I went to Space Camp. Astronaut food. Only that was for fun. And we still got a meal. For campers, it’s the real deal. Boil water, pour into package and eat. He tells me it tastes good. I know I’d be constipated for a week.

As we start unloading the car, already I’m not holding up. I was told to bring a swimsuit, towels and soap. I showed up with towels. My primary use was being the “car runner,” which entailed taking random items back and forth between the car and the picnic table. I watched as our campsite unfolded with a mix of awe and fear, and a top layer of uselessness. The few things I attempted, such as assembling the chairs, still required hints and help.

When Boyfriend pulled out the wireless speaker to listen to music, and two bottles of wine, I started to realize my idea of camping and his reality are quite different. The preparation of dinner made me feel like I was at Benihana. He filled this cylinder thing — which he says is called a chimney, but I don’t think that’s the right name — with coals and let it burn. It looked dangerous but ended up cooking a delicious steak.

A few glasses of wine in, I start to confess my true fears about the trip and camping in general. “It’s not so bad, is it?” Boyfriend asks. I’m amazed at the sheer effort and preparation it requires. I’m immensely appreciative but it sure seems like a lot of work.

I realize we’re glamping — not camping. “This is better than a hotel!”

Well, except for the sleeping part. I’m not a good sleeper. If woken, sometimes I’m unable to get back to sleep. Camping, I hear cars driving off in the middle of the night, which I find odd.

But the most impressive feat of camping was the coffee in the morning. Water got hot with a Jet Boil. Fresh-ground beans got brewed in a press. Both almond milk and half-and-half were offered up to add to my coffee.

“Are you going to propose?” I ask. He laughed. Grr.

Drinking my coffee, I check my tracker. It says my sleep was weak: four hours and five minutes. Ouch.

So far in life, I avoided camping, even as an employee for the Boy Scouts. No longer. I’m ready to go again, assuming Boyfriend does the packing. But not until I catch up on my sleep. And add a sound machine app to my iPad.

"Camping for the first time at 43" originally appeared in the Katy Trail Weekly.


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