Camping. An appealing pastime. In theory. I’d never actually set up a tent and spent the night in the woods. But today I was going to try it, because if Cheryl Strayed could do it while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail while enormously unprepared, then goddammit, so can I.
I rifle through our smelly garage as I search for my parents’ old backpacking equipment. I find an old pop-up propane stove, some beat-up, tan hiking boots, a backpack with only a few small tears in the canvas, and about 15 other objects that look mildly useful. Hey, you never know when a taser-flashlight combo could come in handy. Thank God my parentals kept their gear from that outdoors-y phase they went through during their mid-life crises.
I start to get excited, thinking about The Wild. Both the great outdoors and the seriously underrated Pixar movie. The graphics are awful but 2006 was a dark year for us all. Low rise jeans were at their peak for one thing. I plop down and start perusing The Dummies Guide To Camping. I’m about 20 minutes into the very outdated guide book when it starts talking about camping fees. No one has informed me that I’ll have to pay for this voluntary form of torture. I hate camping. Dammit, I’ve never actually camped anywhere. I hate the bureaucracy of camping. There.
I decide that I’m done with the guidebook and rifle through the pantry, looking for something that requires minimal culinary skills. I may have watched every single Chopped spin-off show, but my cooking skills haven’t advanced much passed toast-making. I bet I could still dominate if I competed in Chopped Lunch Ladies.
After packing canned pasta, mixed nuts, and my family’s bottomless trail mix container into my newly found backpack, I decide that that’s enough preparation and jam my wool sock enclosed feet into the battered boots. I really hope that my new pedicure will make it through the overnight and my feet won’t end up looking like a professional ballerina’s.
I grab my keys from the dish by the front door, leave a note for the olds, and head out, feeling like a badass nature woman.
I get to the campground an hour later, and a woman jumps out of her trailer and greets me as the park host. She gives me a form to fill out and an envelope to put the payment in and talks about water spigots and shower usage. Geez, everything is so structured. I head over to my assigned dirt plot and start unloading my gear from the car. And by gear, I don’t mean a sleeping bag and pad and pillow like anyone who had gotten more than 20 minutes into a guide book would have brought. Or anyone with common sense for that matter. By gear, I mean a six person tent, an assortment of various hunting and skinning knives, and nine cans of Chef Boyardee premium ravioli.
Since the nine cans weren’t accompanied by a can opener, I try to pry them open with the bottle opener on my keychain. I get one lid part-way off and then usher the raviolis out, like a policeman directing traffic, onto an upturned frisbee lid. I may have anticipated participating in a pick-up ultimate frisbee game with my fellow campground-mates, but I had not prepared for eating food off plates. I noticed a squirrel in a nearby tree and think about putting my hunting knives to use.
The squirrel has a grey stripe in his tail, making him look like an old man. I decide to name him Randy. A squirrel farther up the same tree has a bushy tail twice as wide as his body. “I dub thee Sir Acorns Fluffbutt III,” I say to the little guy as I hold up my fork in the traditional knighting posture. “May your acorn supply be plentiful this year, and the mating season successful.” I’m so lonely I have resorted to talking to squirrels. Wonderful.
Why hadn't I gone camping with one of my more experienced friends? Oh right, because I'm impulsive and I had been listening to the early 2000’s hit song “Independent” on repeat. In my defense, it's a really catchy song.
The ravioli looks even less appetizing on the upturned disk than it does on the packaging. I walk back to the Ruby Suby (my red Subaru Outback) and open the trunk to get the guidebook. Maybe there will be a page on foraging for fresh spices to make canned pasta more appealing. After an extensive search, I realize the book isn’t in the trunk. Or the back seat. I vaguely remember dramatically tossing it aside after the chapter on camping fees. Curse my theatrical nature. And the drama class for beginners I took last semester.
I haul the unreasonably large tent out of the trunk instead and dump the poles out onto the dirt. S***. My parents seem to have broken one of the poles and used painter’s tape to tape it back together. I shake the worthless pole up at the sky and inwardly scream profanities at the Gods of Outdoor Recreation. Well, it seems like my camping efforts have been thwarted because my parents didn’t rely on the versatility of duct tape. I pick up the tent sack and toss it into my trusted Suby. “Not today old girl,” I say to the car, “not today.”
I gather up the rest of my food and contemplate my attempted trip. The whole two hours of it. It was glorious while it lasted. Besides the gross food, insufficient gear, and seriously considering eating my new woodland pals the squirrels. Small hiccups in the grand scheme of camping.
I might as well drive home now, while it’s still partially light out. But first, as a parting gift and token of appreciation to my rodent friends, I dump the frisbee ravioli by the tree I saw them in. Now it’s ground ravioli. “Bon appetit,” I whisper in the general direction of the trees. I drive off into the sunset as John Denver’s “Country Roads” plays through my car’s stereo.