I know three people who have never gone camping in their entire lives, so this is for them. Maybe you’ve never been camping before either, in which case this is for you, in case you wanted to know what’s up with it.
When my husband and I were dating, he always talked about the two of us going camping together, which was a possibility I blew off with vague affirmations. “Oh yeah, sure, sometime...” It wasn’t that I was opposed to camping, but based on my experiences, it was a major hassle. Aside from a few overnights we’d take while I was in summer camp, I went on one serious camping trip in my youth, through the McGaw YMCA. I was about 16 or so, and our group drove up to Canada, put in at the Wenebegon River, and camped for two weeks. The trip was lots of fun and I have some wonderful memories from it (like making pancakes one morning with wild blueberries on a tinyisland we stayed on) but I’ll also never forget how onerous it could be at times. Pooping in a hole in the ground and using leaves as toilet paper wasn’t even that bad, for instance--having to canoe from said blueberry island in order to take a poop on another island because the island we were staying on was too small to safely poop on (and falling out of the canoe on the way back) was an entirely different thing. Decontaminating water for giardia, unpacking and repacking the canoes each time we had to portage across a spot we couldn’t paddle: these were all parts of camping I wasn’t terribly anxious to revisit.
“Oh no, it’s not like that,” Steve said, when I confessed my worries, and I didn’t quite believe him until he actually took me up to Governor Dodge State Park the summer before we got married. He comes from a camping family, but the type where his parents owned a pop-up trailer, so they actually technically slept indoors when they camped, and had a stove, and used a shower.
At Governor Dodge State Park, I was happy to realize that there actually are toilets and showers (although the showers aren’t really my favorite part. They’re a level of public showering that’s probably one or two steps more public than at your average mid-priced gym). No hole-digging required. Heading to and from the bathrooms is kind of pleasant because, like hiking, it’s one of those activities where human beings say hello to each other, as opposed to avoiding each others’ gaze (make sure you bring a flashlight, or even better yet, a hands-free one, if you need to make nighttime bathroom runs.)
If you just go up for one weekend, which we do, it’s kind of like you’re playing house outside. Our first time up, we didn’t have a tent, so we actually slept in the back of our car. Since then we’ve purchased an air mattress, which I make up like a bed, so we’re not even really doing the sleeping bag routine: it’s like sleeping on a regular bed, only much closer to the outside (as for wildlife, it’s nothing worth being nervous about. I see chipmunks, one time on a hike I startled a snake, and we heard some coyotes howling last weekend although they weren’t nearby and I don’t believe coyotes are interested in entering human territory.)
There is always the old fear of “What if I get murdered in my sleep?” but I soothe myself by thinking that a.) You need to check in and pay in order to camp at the Park, which I like to think provides some level of security b.) Dodgeville Wisc. is a small town out in the country, but it’s not scary rural. It’s not Scream middle-of-nowhere. In fact, before this year we didn’t know exactly the best way to make coffee while camping, so Steve would just drive off and get some for us from the gas station. c.) You can get murdered anywhere, anytime, just about.
Speaking of not being in the middle of nowhere, there is a Wal-Mart near the campsite. Say what you want about Wal-Mart, but I love this particular Wal-Mart. I get excited when I enter it just because I get very titillated when I’m near any shopping center where the possibilities are endless. I love how at WalMart you can get good produce, a huge hunk of Muenster cheese, something called Snoballimus, camping equipment, DVDs, a child’s bicycle, shoes, a rifle. So when we camp, we bring up some odds and ends from home, usually foods that we need to use anyway, but we always stop at the WalMart and load up our cooler with basics (cereal, milk) and ingredients for at least one al fresco feast. This year we did Polish sausage and corn and peppers on the fire, along with baked cinnamon apples. I find I like the routine of making s’mores more comforting than s’mores themselves, and in the end you just feel sick and then have all this chocolate and graham crackers and marshmallows that you have to figure out what to do with.
What do we do when we camp other than sleep and eat? Well, we drink beer (New Glarus, to be specific). But also, we walk (you could say “hike” but I think “hike” has unpleasant connotations, so let’s just say walk). We take photos. We swim, if the beach is open. And we read a lot.
Also, we talk. This weekend I remembered how little time my husband and I spend together that’s not compromised in some way by company or computers or the TV. I think it’s good for the ol’ eyeballs to relax for a few days without looking at a screen or computer, but off in the distance at some trees or at the fire (the fire kind of becomes the de facto TV when you’re camping. It’s strangely hypnotic and we both obsess over it, whether it has enough fuel or air. I kinda love coming home and having my clothes and hair smell like campfire.) Also, ladies, I think it’s good to go a few days without wearing any makeup.
I know we’re not hardcore campers, obviously. We probably play at camping more than anything else, but I like to think of camping as our corporate retreat, only with way fewer dumb team-building exercises. Also, on the way up, we stop at Ian’s Pizza in Madison. There they have macaroni-and-cheese pizza, which is a good way to get me to do anything.