For the last few months my camping group has been trying to plan a trip before the season is over. After a few emails back and forth, we decided on this past weekend, October 7- 9. As the date got closer, I was hesitant and excited about going camping. I haven't been able to shake this feeling of exhaustion. Swirling thoughts and grief have made for sleepless nights this past month. Quite frankly the idea of packing and sleeping in the elements was the last thing I wanted to do. I have only wanted to sleep, now that my body is finally ready. Before I left work on Friday, I expressed this reluctance in camping to my boss and he told me not to paint myself into a corner, it will be fun. I knew he was right. Spending time outdoors would be a good thing for me now, probably just what I needed. It is always a mental break. Yet, in my mind I knew I was still thinking about a warm bed and scheduling myself for a massage.
The plan was for us to meet at the Megabus stop to pick up our friend and it would also be where I would leave my car for the weekend. Our friend’s bus was running late from New York, giving us time to finish shopping for the items we were responsible for on the camping list. Last year we stopped at this same Giant and the aisle sign had only one thing listed. It was bacon. We still get such a kick out of that. The idea that the aisle could only have bacon and nothing else is comical. Believe it or not, bacon is a very serious thing to this group of campers. Years ago on a camping trip, we were responsible for getting bacon and we learned our lesson the hard way. Trying to save some money, we picked up a low quality brand or cut of bacon and subsequently, we were harassed for our poor choice. We got read the riot act when it cooked poorly and we have it now and forever ingrained in our heads to get the thick cut only. I swear our knees buckle when we stand in front of the bacon, carefully selecting the right kind. We grabbed the rest of our items and made it in time for the arrival of our friend’s bus.
It is tradition that we are the last ones to get to the camping site. When we got there, the rest of the group had their tents and chairs set up and were sitting at the table eating dinner. Friday night is always a sandwich dinner or what we like to call Dagwood dinner because of the massive size of the stacked meal. We greeted everyone, and the choice was to eat first or put up the tent. We opted for eating. It was already dark, so we figured there was no rush to catch the light. Once we finished, we realized we had gotten way too comfortable and we still had a tent to put up. Even though we are seasoned campers, it is not ideal to assemble a tent in dark. The car was moved in order to give us light from the headlamps. Fortunately for us, this oversized tent is one of the easiest tents to assemble, which funny enough doesn’t even belong to us. We are the current caretakers because the owner, who joined us camping last year, has recently joined the Peace Corps and is now across the globe in Swaziland, Africa.
The next step was to move our stuff into the tent and blow up the air mattresses. We took them into the bathroom to plug in the air pump. Things seemed to be going way too slow with mine and we ended up switching to my friend’s. Of course we had no problem; the air mattress blew up instantly. A bit frustrated, we tried mine again but used the hole that is only for deflating. The air mattress blew up in a second. In the meantime, the inflatable is extremely awkward to hold and the entire bathroom floor was now on my bed for the weekend. Now that we finished all the preparation, we headed back over to the main site for seconds on the sandwiches and talked. One by one, the group headed to their tents to turn in and our half returned to our site and after a little more conversation, eventually did the same.
Saturday, I woke up to the sound of quiet rain and children in the distance. It was a soft pitter-patter on the side of the tent and above on the tree top canopy. I could have been easily lulled back to sleep. I felt comfortable in my sleeping bag and wasn’t in a rush to get up. I noticed that my tent mates were either rustling awake themselves or were outside preparing for the day. In the distance, I could also hear the other members of the group at their site laughing and talking. I didn’t do much to make myself presentable except put my sweatshirt back on, pull up my socks (that weren't long enough) and put on my shoes. For us, coffee is the first priority. It must be made first before anything else can take place. The grey sky ahead made the atmosphere calming as we bantered, sipping our coffee while breakfast was being prepared. The meal that I am calling breakfast is not your ordinary meal at a campsite, or at least not from what I have seen. This group of campers goes above and beyond on almost everything. The joke is that we eat better camping than we do at home. Breakfast was scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, freshly cut sautéed red potatoes with chopped onions and pancakes. It is a sight to behold and we are always appreciative and in wonder of their camp cooking capabilities.
While we were eating our breakfast, we noticed a group of people unpacking and setting up one site over that was a good distance away. What caught our attention was the silence breaking noise of the kids and the fact that they were putting 4 tents on the pad and they had more than 2 cars. Most parks have rules for the number of cars and tents per pad allowed. Not that we were going to be whistle blowers, but it was hard not to notice. Later we found out that the 4 women and 5 boys camping next to our site were mothers with sons all around the same age. Apparently, the mothers left their husbands home because they disliked camping.
Our camp duty was to wash the dishes from the morning feast. We made quick work of it at the outdoor sinks and returned to our still warm seats. Normally we are on the move immediately after breakfast, hiking or enduring some physical activity, but the rain made it a laidback day. Instead, this time was used to catch up and talk, consume the drink kindly exported from New York and pick up firewood at the camp store. Hours had passed and some of us decided to go for a walk, rain or not. Only part of the trail we took was hiked because we were starting to feel our gluttonous actions catching up to us. In the end, it was fine by us. There had already been lots of yawns and talks about naps. Even though this was not at all how we normally roll when we camp, we clearly needed the downtime if nothing else. The fresh air and rain slowed our heart rates to a crawl.
By the time we returned from our halfhearted hike, lunch/dinner was at the end of its preparation. It didn’t feel like we had been gone long enough for them to be able to do any of this. Nonetheless, we sat back down and made room for our next and final meal of the day. The sky was getting darker as we finished eating. The rain had stopped long enough for a fire to be built for the night. For us, this is one of the parts about camping we like the most. Sitting around the fire and roasting marshmallows is the best stress reliever. I don’t know if it is the crackling sound or the changing colors or simply the warmth it provides that eases your nerves. After the table was cleared and the food was stored back in the cars, we saddled around the fire ring in our chairs. The fire lasted for hours as we talked and laughed and listened to music into the late hours.
Tonight it was easier for me to go to sleep. The night before I felt like I was up for hours before my mind wound down. The wind in the trees created a white noise that gave me permission to quickly drift away. Morning was soon here and it was the same as the day before. Coffee was up first but this time leftovers were reheated for our meal. Time moved along and we found ourselves at the moment when we needed to start breaking camp. Check out was later than we remembered but we needed to get our friend to the bus stop way before that. Our pace heated up as the stakes, poles and tent made their way back into the small bag it traveled in. Somehow the place we called home for the last two nights was a neatly tucked memory. Goodbyes were exchanged as quickly as our hellos and we left the solitude for the world waiting outside the park entrance. My mental break was over. It was back to being a regular Sunday and the beat goes on.