Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Confessions of a Retired Queen of Camping

Every vacation my family took was a camping trip of some sort--first to Yosemite when I was small and as a teen, every summer to Bass Lake where we tent camped for two weeks. Glorious long days swimming, boating and water skiing and making lot of new friends. (Even had a couple of summer romances.)

After I married and we had our kids, tent camping was all we could afford. I was a champion fire starter and was a great outdoor cook. When my girls became Camp Fire Girls, of course we camped everywhere--at the beach (cooked a turkey in a deep pit in the sand and it actually turned out wonderful), and every nearby campground. When the girls became high-schoolers, we back-packed into a remote area. (I'm good at research, talked to some Boy Scout leaders to find out how.) We did great. Went on a couple of back-pack trips with other Camp Fire Girl groups. I was fearless. Slept on the ground under the stars and cooked gourmet meals.

Hubby's family reunion was planned on the East Coast, of course. We were poor as church mice so the only way to go was by tent camping across the country. I saved $500 for gas (before credit cards) and when we had to pay for incidentals like campsites. (I had a book though that showed all the free camping spots. I planned accordingly, two days at the freebies, one day at a paid site that had washing machines and dryers.)

I planned the menu with recipes for every day we'd be on the road and bought all the food (a lot of cans) and put everything for each meal in a sack marked accordingly, which day and which meal.. We drove a VW bus back then and hubby built a tiny utility trailer that we pulled along behind. This is where all our camping gear (tent, stove, pots and pans, sleeping bags, and food went.)

Our daughter was married, the other soon to be and they stayed home with the dog, cat and took care of the house. Going with us were two younger teens (boy and girl) and grammar school aged boy. The teens slept while we traveled when they weren't squabbling. The youngest loved watching out the window. No seat belts back then and he sat on the ice chest so he could see out the front window.

We barely made it up some of the highest mountains with our loaded trailer. And it wasn't long before the bus wouldn't start on its own--we all had to get out and push. Didn't take much though, a pop of the clutch and it started and we all jumped back in.

When we reached our daily destination, it took us one hour to set  up camp. In the morning, it took one hour to take everything down. It rained so often at night, hubby would ask, "What cloud shall we camp under tonight?" All five of us slept in the tent together--very close quarters.

If was already raining when we arrived somewhere, we sat up the tent and hooked it to the VW and cooked and ate inside it, and slept in the VW, also cramped.

We finally arrived at our destination, one day late. Most of the relatives had gone home. We still got to see a lot of hubby's family. He took the VW in to get it fixed. It worked well while were there, as soon as we took off it quit starting on his own. (We kept this VW bus for a long time and it continued to have this problem, but even kids could push it--or ladies in evening gowns--for a short distance and a pop of the clutch would get it started.)

Back on the road, we traveled a more southerly direction and actually did a bit of sightseeing. Camped and visited the Carlsbad Caverns. The wind came up in the night so fierce, people's tents toppled, some blew away, but not ours, hubby always made sure our stakes were hammered into the ground.

We survived thunder storms, close lightning strikes, hid under a bridge during a tornado, but we finally made it home.

After that, we bought a camper to put on our old truck--my tent camping days were over. The camper was a big improvement.

We traveled to Oregon in truck and camper with two kids, and to Yellowstone with the youngest.

My latest "camping trips" have been in my daughter and son-in-law's luxurious motor home, lots of fun, but nothing like the camping we used to do.

This past week our church had a family camping trip up in the mountains. I declined. The idea of sleeping on the ground in a tent, getting up in the night to go to an outhouse didn't appeal at all. They had a wonderful time and I'm glad. I've retired from camping and I mean it.

Marilyn (who still loves to travel, but wants to sleep in a nice bed in a hotel room.)


  1. Marilyn, I'm with you. When I see all the big RVs on the road, I tell my husband, "I'd rather spend all that gas money on hotels or the train."

    We've never done a lot of camping. My husband is such an urban boy! When my youngest was in 3rd grade, his class went on a zoo safari, bringing tents and camping out at the zoo. My husband waited too long to rent a tent and could only find a huge palace of a tent available. He couldn't manage to put it up, and other parents had to help him, to his humiliation. Joseph disregarded his orders to always zip the tent closed when leaving it, so they returned for sleep, only to find it occupied by peacocks that husband had to chase from the tent. A fiasco that left my husband sure he had failed as a father.

    Next year the class went to the zoo safari again. All the other parents called to ask my husband where he got the wonderful big tent. And Joseph made him a big hand-drawn "Certificate of the Order of Loyal Peacock Fathers."

  2. Linda, that's a great story! I found out that at the church camp out a bear was hanging around. No doubt I'd have run into him on my many trips to the outhouse. Another good reason to stay home or go to a hotel. No bears.

  3. I confess I think of camping as a hotel without room service (grin). But I love both of your stories, Marilyn and Linda.

    Thanks for sharing.


  4. A bear, Marilyn? I think you made the right decision. I never like to invade the territory of an animal bigger than I am with sharp teeth.

  5. Hi Marilyn;

    When I saw single, I used to have a small tent that I'd take up to a local lake in the summer. I'd only camp one or two nights, but I sure enjoyed that quiet peaceful time all by myself. Well, me and the other 300 people camping in the other sites, but it was still nice.

    Then I met my husband who taught me how to stay in 5 diamond resorts. I've given up camping too!

  6. I loved your camping stories, and your VW. I could write a book about similar camping stories, but I won't. There came a time when the spirit was willing, but the back no longer would play nice.

  7. I really did love to go camping--but that was when I was young and thought I could do anything.

  8. Wow! It really sounds interesting. I a, very glad that you shared this post. Thanks!

  9. I hate camping. My idea of roughing it is a motel room without HBO.

    Fun post. I've sent the link over to the Oak Tree Press blog for others to enjoy: http://otpblog.blogspot.com