For Mona’s thirty-third birthday, we decided to celebrate by taking a weekend camping trip with friends. It had been years since either of us had been camping and we’d never gone together. We booked a campsite and gathered up the supplies, borrowed a tent and sleeping bags from Mona’s family. In the weeks leading up, we talked about how excited we were to finally have our first camping experience together!
It was only as we were packing up the car that we realized we had two very different ideas about what camping means.
When I was a kid, I went on an overnight camping trip every year as part of my summer camp. We hiked about five miles to the site where there would be no electricity or running water. The counselors would drive up separately with our sleeping bags and a cooler of food. We made “hobo packs” of frozen beef, potatoes, and carrots that baked in tin foil on an open flame. At night, we laid our sleeping bags on the bare ground and slept under the open stars. That’s what I meant by camping.
Mona had a very different childhood camping experience. She went camping at the state fair or farm show where her family had a small trailer pulled behind her father’s truck equipped with a toilet, shower, and kitchenette. They brought Astroturf to create a front lawn for their home away from home. They camped with other families who had extravagant, five-wheel, pop-out RV’s and ate fair food including that year’s new fried thing on a stick. While her parent’s slept inside the trailer, the kids would sleep in a tent on air mattresses beneath their sleeping bags. That’s what she meant by camping.
So back to our first camping trip together. We were going to a well-equipped campground that would include running water with showers, electrical outlets at the main sites, and food available for purchase. We loaded up the car with our backpacks, tent, lanterns, water, cooler, and a few extra things like an outdoor rug and folding chairs. I even splurged on a camp stove in case we wanted to heat up some dried meals (since we both have food allergies, there was a chance we wouldn’t be able to eat at the main site).
I was feeling a little overwhelmed by how full the car was. It just didn’t feel like camping with all this stuff. Then Mona had one more thing to add. I turned around. She was holding an air mattress.
“Why do you have that?” I asked.
“To sleep on.”
“But we’re going camping.”
“I know,” she said with increasing confusion, her brow furrowed. “That’s why I have it.”
It was then we realized how very different our concepts of camping were. I viewed it as living in nature for a few days with only the most basic things needed to not die. Mona viewed it as living in nature with at least a modicum of human comfort. It was the first camping test of our relationship and we hadn’t even left the driveway.
As far as I was concerned, we were already glamping. We had a tent and the campgrounds had electricity, running water, showers, and even food available if we didn’t want to break out the new butane stove. We already had so many of the comfortable niceties of civilization that we were hardly going to be in nature at all. Couldn’t we at least sleep on the ground?
Mona relented. At the time I thought she appreciated my passion for roughing it. But upon reflection, I think she decided that if her wife was going to insist on being stupid then she would just let me be stupid.
We left late and it was dark when we arrived at the campground. There were no lights and our map was difficult to read as we rumbled over the gravel roads, occasionally tossed around by a rut hidden by the darkness. Eventually, we found an empty spot by a stone fire ring.
Now came the second camping test of our relationship. Setting up a tent after dark. Fortunately, Mona has excellent tent skills. We turned on the bright lights of the car headlights and she took the lead by laying out poles, hooking loops to the rainfly, and hammering in stakes. I followed directions and did exactly as I was told (incredibly impressed, as always, by my wife who always has an incredibly knack for putting things together whether it’s a tent or repairing a kitchen faucet). Within 15 minutes, we had survived the second camping test of our relationship and snuggled into our sleeping bags to read books by lantern light.
Over the next two days, we explored our beautiful natural surroundings. At night, we gathered with friends around a large bonfire, drank wine, drummed, and rejoiced in the wonder of the creation and our bonds with each other.
There was only one downside. That’s right. We didn’t bring the air mattress. Mona knew I was being stupid but she let me be stupid because a decade of nostalgia had made me forget just how awful sleeping on the ground is. No matter how much we swept the site, there was always an acorn digging into a pressure point of my back. When I rolled onto my side, my shoulder and hip bruised pressing into the packed dirt. After two nights of sleeping with nothing between me and the ground but a sleeping bag and the tarp floor of a tent, I realized that my wife was right. Sleeping on the ground is awful.
We have since struck up a compromise. We’re going to continue to camp without the air mattress. Instead we’re going to purchase some excellent pads to put beneath our sleeping bags because as much as I enjoy being close to nature, my muscles and bones can still appreciate a little bit of the comfort of civilization.
Together, we survived our first camping trip! And we’re already planning to celebrate Mona’s thirty-fourth birthday with another trip to the same campground.