We’re already swiftly approaching the middle of November and it looks like we might finally be getting a nice little stretch of that delicious fall weather we always look forward to here in Mobile. I suppose some folks call it “football weather” or “pumpkin spice weather,” but I call it “camping weather.”
Come October, we usually dig up a few hoodies from the back of our closets, stuff a tent in the trunk and drive six to eight hours north into the Southern Appalachians, where we’re pretty much guaranteed a few crisp evenings in front of the fire.
October is less trustworthy here at home, but by November we can usually find a perfect weekend or two to shut down the Xbox and laptop and spend some quiet time just being together. I always feel like I get to know my children more in a weekend of camping than I do in months of hectic days full of homework and practice and endless beeping devices.
Saying that kind of makes me feel like I’m in some politician’s cheesy commercial about family togetherness, but it really is true. My son shows me (and himself!) what he’s made of more on the hiking trails than just about anywhere else, when he pushes himself past his aversion to strenuous exercise and savors the victory (and the view) after a tough climb, or when he shows off his natural scientific curiosity by asking a hundred questions about every plant and animal he encounters.
Without the constant distraction of electronic devices, I also enjoy meaningful conversations with his increasingly independent older sister. Early adolescence can be such a weird time for moms and daughters, but seeing the soft look on my (sometimes) surly tween’s face when she comes across a family of bunnies in the woods, or her sly little grin when she catches the only fish of the day, assures me that I still understand this delightful young lady.
I treasure those sorts of moments, although I realize camping isn’t for everyone. My guess would be about a third of you are nodding your head in understanding, another third are pretty much indifferent and the rest are probably rolling your eyes if you haven’t already stopped reading.
Through the years I must have heard dozens of comedians joke about the perceived insanity involved in such “outdoorsy” pursuits, often expressing their bewilderment over people voluntarily abandoning the comforts of home to hang out in the woods and live like folks did before modern technology improved our lives.
I hear it from some of my friends as well, and it seems like every time I start excitedly talking about an upcoming $100 weekend getaway, at least one of my girlfriends will shake her head and say something like, “So your idea of a fun and relaxing vacation involves leaving behind your memory foam mattress, strapping a bunch of crap on your back, climbing steep hills, negotiating uneven trails alongside open death-cliffs, peeing in the forest and sleeping on the hard ground amongst the snakes, bugs and a variety of mammals that might possibly eat you?”
Me: Yeah … well … your idea of a fun and relaxing getaway is paying $5,000 to drive nine hours to stand in line waiting for a crowded bus full of sweaty people to take you to a commercial wasteland full of long lines in the hot sun, $20 cheeseburgers and enormous crowds full of over-stimulated children and exhausted and alcohol-deprived dads who have had-it-up-to-here with this miserable, money-sucking mousetrap from hell.
Just kidding. I love Disney World too, but “relaxing” is one of the last words I’d use for such an adventure. Just planning a short and efficient getaway that maximizes your time and money is like strategizing for a large and complex military invasion.
We all have our own tastes and preferences, and for me there’s nothing more relaxing than camping and hiking in the mountains or woods. I love the exercise, the stargazing, the peace and quiet, and the wildlife and plants. And OK, let’s just be honest here. During our longer and more exhausting hikes, I love packing lots of lembas bread and pretending I’m on a very important and very dangerous journey to Mordor. Never gets old.
I won’t lie, though; sometimes “roughing it” gets a little, well, rough. Occasionally there are times when things go wrong and nothing turns out like you planned. For example, there was the time Scott and I were enjoying a romantic weekend at a campsite atop Lookout Mountain when we were awakened by a tornado siren and driving rain and wind that threw our small tent off a cliff the moment we evacuated and ran for the car.
Or the time we spent too much time picnicking and taking pictures during a romantic hike in a canyon, and accidentally found ourselves miles away from the trailhead when the sun went down and left us to negotiate an unfamiliar rocky descent with cheap headlamps.
Then there was the time we lost the car keys somewhere along a six-mile trail, and I had to stay with the kids while Scott retraced our steps. Or the time we locked the dog and the keys in the car, miles away from civilization.
The worst was probably the time we planned a weekend of camping with a feast for the grill each night. The night before we left we had already packed all the room-temperature stuff, with a separate bag in the fridge full of steaks and sausages to put in the cooler. Scott didn’t realize until the grill was hot the next night that he’d forgotten to grab the bag of meat, so we had to eat potato chips and mustard sandwiches all weekend.
Our camping trips are not always perfect, but we like to think of them as adventures. Get outdoors and make your own adventures, Mobile! The time is nigh. The ring must be destroyed!
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