Cynical Camping

It’s time for me to write about camping. Be warned, this will get ugly.

Black and White "Demented Forest" sign
The Campground…

I love this Buzzfeed article with all its clever camping hacks… It almost cons me into thinking that buying a $200 tent, reserving a space, stockpiling bug spray, and dragging my kids out into the great outdoors would do anything short of destroy their hopes and dreams. But I know… I know…

The First Camping Trip I sort of Remember…

It was when we still lived in Michigan, and we moved to Florida before my fifth birthday, so my memory is a bit foggy. Apparently we went on a gloriously beautiful camping trip one weekend, and it was so gorgeous that my parents decided we should go again. Camping is kind of like gambling – you win just enough to sucker you back in so that you can lose it all.

Trip #2? That was the camping trip in which my parents wound up leaving the tent behind, not caring whether anyone would steal it, for a week… Of course nobody did.

First of all, it rained almost the whole time. Cold, Michigan rain. We were camped near someone in a trailer, though, so we could smell them cooking steaks while we dined on soggy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. When the rain did stop, we ventured out long enough for my mother to get stung by wasps. Lots of wasps. Then it started raining again. The day my parents decided to (temporarily, because they didn’t want to get fined for dumping) leave the tent behind was the morning we woke up to a godawful smell, stood up, and slid across the tent, because our Boston Terrier had diarrhea sometime during the night.

They did bring back the tent, and my father set it up in the back yard and hosed it out. Then it was packed away for a few years, making the move with us to Florida, a reminder of why we should never camp again. On a clear and sunny Saturday, my parents held a garage sale, and the tent was on the list of things to sell. They decided to set the thing up, hoping to tempt someone to buy it.

As soon as they pitched it, the clouds of Mount Doom gathered as the Nazgul rushed in from Mordor, threatening our ultimate destruction. I think they only sold the tent for $5 because they worried that giving it away for free would make people too suspicious to take the thing. Once it left our possession, the storm dissipated. The only camping we did as a family after the diarrhea dog trip was camping at the Holiday Inn.

Why I quit the Girl Scouts

I enjoyed the first year of Brownies… sort of. Yeah, the songs were all grating, “sit-upons” (newspapers stuffed into vinyl and sewn together with yarn) were even more uncomfortable than just sitting on the ground, and putting masking tape all over an empty glass coke bottle and then rubbing brown shoe polish on it doesn’t create a pretty vase to put orange burlap flowers inside. There was a really cool Halloween party, where we were all blindfolded and made to touch stuff like olives while being told we were touching eyeballs, though. That was kind of fun.

After the first year, however, I only stayed because I wanted to become a Junior and go camping like my older sister. It sounded so glamorous. Older girls playing pranks on one another in the middle of the night, camaraderie, and the majestic beauty of nature… So much more intriguing than the trip we took, camping inside a high school cafeteria. So I put up with singing horrible songs, making macaroni necklaces, and weird looking shit out of yarn and popsicle sticks. And at last, the time came to be a “Junior” Girl Scout.

I don’t think I would have lasted a month if I had known what lie in store… But I patiently daydreamed my way through meetings about Cookie Sales and Calendar Sales and fundraising for some trip to Savannah, Georgia… (I think I’m psychic, because even then I knew I didn’t really want to go to Savannah…) I didn’t really have any friends in the troop. It was cliquish, and I was a nerdling.

Then, the trip. First of all, I forgot to pack underwear. Yeah, not good. Also, we had to have green pants, and the only green pants I owned were horrible polyester. Not the thin weave polyester that is soft and forgiving. No. That stiff, horrible stuff that nobody under the age of 65 (Do people lose all feeling when they hit that age or something?) would ever want to wear…

The “tents” weren’t really tents – they were little wooden platforms covered in tent-like material, with bunk beds. So we weren’t roughing it, and it could have been worse. Beyond that?

  • Pretty sure the community showers had no hot water. I could be remembering wrong, though.
  • Arts and crafts consisted of gluing alphabet macaroni onto little pieces of bark.
  • Hunter’s stew… Yuck.
  • We had to wake up before dawn every damn day to raise the goddamn flag. I know, I sound very UNpatriotic. PRE-DAWN, though.
  • The troop was cliquish, so it was three days of social isolation without any of the things I would normally use to occupy myself.
  • I do not enjoy sitting next to fire ant piles and watching someone try to show us how to start a fire without matches or lighters – by not being able to do the same themselves.
  • Just about the only thing worth while was the bonfire, because I love fires.
Dog  watching fire in fireplace
Of course, they make fireplaces for that.

I came home from that trip and quit Girl Scouts the next day. My older sister quit the following week. She says it didn’t occur to her that she could quit until I did.

Cumberland Island, AKA the Honeymoon from Hell

I had a nightmare a couple of years before I got married… I was standing at the alter, said my “I do” and then realized, immediately after, that I had made a horrible mistake. I was too embarrassed to admit it was a mistake, though, so I waited until the next day to get it annulled.

I did have a couple of good camping trips in between the Girl Scout fiasco and the Honeymoon from Hell. There was a co-ed church youth group camping trip in which I sat up all night sharing dirty jokes with some boy named Dee who reminded me of “Mouth” from the Goonies.

Scary Clown, black and white
This guy will take you camping…

There were also a couple of kind of fun nights camping with my boyfriend at the time. That before we broke up and he turned all crazy-stalker for a while, and before he admitted that he had fantasies about putting me in the trunk of his Buick LeSabre and driving to the woods… That never ends well for the person in the trunk.

But Cumberland Island pretty much keeps me from trying to camp again.

For purposes of this blog entry, I’m going to refer to the ex-husband as “Rick.” I also want to add – we’ve made our peace, we’re co-parenting, and while it ultimately didn’t work out between us, he’s not a bad guy. I have three great kids thanks to his DNA. That said, I’m going to be making fun of him now. Okay. So. On with it.

The first night of our honeymoon was spent at the apartment in Atlanta. Rick tried to make it romantic by putting roses all over the bed. He removed most of the thorns first, but if you’re ever trying to create a romantic scene for your significant other, a little tip: just use the petals. Because even without thorns, having a bunch of rose stems poking you in the back is not very sexy.

Then we went to Savannah. We spent a night in the Marriott, where the fire alarm went off every hour or so for the entire night. Then a second night in a really lovely B&B. We bought the tent and camping gear at the KMart in Savannah. It was what came after that should have been my signal to annul the marriage…

Rick was in the army before we met. He was still in the Individual Ready Reserve (they don’t do the whole drill on the weekends thing) but like me, was in school. He said afterward that he hadn’t intended the honeymoon to be an initiation ceremony. Too late, Rick. Too late.

We camped on Cumberland Island, in south Georgia, in late August. That was mistake number one, right there. There is nothing romantic about 100 degree temperatures, bugs, humidity, and roughing it.

Map of Cumberland Island
Map of Cumberland Island, Georgia

Cumberland Island is a wildlife refuge, which is kind of neat. While there are people who live there, and those people are allowed to own vehicles, nobody else is allowed to bring motor vehicles to the island. The only way to get to the island is by boat, which brings you to the west coast of the island in an area closest to “Sea Camp” on the map above. From there, you can borrow a wagon to haul your stuff to Sea Camp, the only campground that has facilities, and the most popular of the camp sites. We didn’t do that. Nope. Somebody wanted privacy. Somebody also thought that Stafford Beach wouldn’t be private enough, because there were other people staying there. Hickory Hill and Something-or-other-Paradise were not recommended, due to tick infestations. So that left Blockhead Bluff, which involved a twelve mile hike.

Now, I like hiking and taking long walks through the woods. What I don’t like? Carrying shit. Lots of shit. Tents, sleeping bags, gallon jugs of water, food, and shovels and such… To be fair, Rick did carry the two gallons of water, and the tent, and a lot more stuff than I carried. And, characteristically, I whined the whole twelve mile hike to Blockhead Bluff.

Here’s the thing… My blood is more attractive to mosquitoes than Bella’s is to Sparkly Cedric. Bugs LOVE me. When they find me and bite me, I have a tendency to itch uncontrollably. When a fire ant bites my toe, my whole foot will swell up. Also, while I’m not afraid of spiders, I am concerned about ticks. Because Lyme Disease.

We made it to Blockhead Bluff despite my whining. By the time we got there, I had consumed about four ounces of water, because I was trying to “conserve” water, and Rick had consumed the rest.

There was a water spigot there. It had a huge “WARNING: Do not drink without boiling” sign on it, which Rick said didn’t mean anything because he had consumed that water before with no ill effects when he visited in his army days, and therefore, it was perfectly safe. No campfires are allowed on Cumberland Island, and we didn’t have any means of boiling, or even filtering, the water.  Nothing says romance like a bout of dysentery.  

Other things that I observed on the trip:

  • Apparently, when faced with a choice of “digging a hole” or constipation, my body chooses constipation.
  • Applesauce is not the best way to stay hydrated, unless you have no water.
  • Tuna fish without mayonnaise or anything else is not very good.
  • Slim Jims and beef jerky get old pretty quick.
  • Just because we weren’t allowed to drive did not mean nobody was. Some of the residents had visitors, and spent the entire time we were there roaring up and down the dirt road by our campsite in their big old truck.
  • Spending an entire day on the beach in South Georgia without sunscreen just because your bug bites hurt and itch too much to use the stuff is not recommended.
  • Recreating the scene in From Here to Eternity will cause you to have sand in places you don’t want to think about.
  • Camping may be okay, but Backpacking was invented by Satan. If I can’t pull a car right up to the camp site and dump everything where I plan to set up, I don’t want any part of it.

We spent a night or two at Blockhead Bluff before hiking back to Stafford Beach. The only reason we made it back to Stafford Beach was because one of the obnoxious people who drove up and down the beach took pity on us and transported first our gear, then our bodies, down to the site. By then, I had stopped whining for the most part, because Rick himself looked as though he could drop dead any moment.

It might have been better had we asked for a ride all the way back to Sea Camp…

After we set up our tent in the dark, Rick asked me if I wanted to get up early enough to watch the sun rise. I wanted to get up early enough to hike back to the Sea Camp Dock and catch the first boat off the damned island.

I did wake up before dawn, with a feeling that maybe, finally, that shovel might come in handy. But Rick was gone, and I thought he had the shovel.

He was gone for a very long time. Long enough for me to believe that perhaps he’d been bitten by a rattlesnake and lay dying somewhere in the shrubbery, to later be eaten by wild hogs that roamed the island. This was before the era of smartphones or even ordinary cell phones…

He did finally show up. Without the shovel, which was in the tent the entire time. He had gone to watch the sun rise, uncaring of my bodily functions and need for real flushing toilets.

After that, we packed up quickly. I silently contemplated the mistake of our marriage, and how I should have known when he showed up two hours late for the wedding rehearsal, etc. I don’t think I even used the flushing toilets on the island, because the boat was about to take off, and I didn’t want to get stuck there for another hour.

He apologized for turning our honeymoon into an initiation ceremony, and we made our peace, but somewhere in the back of my brain I knew…


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