Fat raindrops pattered on the thin tarp we’d hung low over the picnic table. Pewter clouds scudded above and notes of distant thunder rumbled through the otherwise silent campsite. Our knees touched as I leaned to reach a Yeti mug filled with bourbon and sour mix made from fresh limes. I winked at Helen.
We had hurriedly grabbed a bag of salty potato chips and a container of sour cream from the car before the rain began in earnest. And now, in our folding chairs with flip flops dangling from our toes, we enjoyed happy hour after an afternoon swim. We both absently scratched the welts on our bare legs from mosquito attacks on the half-mile uphill trail from Lake Keowee and sipped our drinks.
The setting was as familiar as our living room, even though we’d never been to this campground in the Blue Ridge foothills before. Our trusty REI tent was pitched a few feet away and nylon hammocks strung invitingly between trees. The Smokey Joe charcoal grill sat ready to sear a pair of thick ribeyes. This was our version of summer camp replete with freedom and youth. And possibility.
It was in the first year of our marriage that we learned to camp in earnest. Friends and neighbors in Denver lent us their gear and pointed to spots on a map with names like “Indian Peaks,” “Cache La Poudre” and “Great Sand Dunes National Monument.” At first we fumbled in operating Coleman stoves and rerolling out strange ThermaRest pads. But it was pure magic to fall asleep to the hooting of owls and in the morning drink coffee with the sun glinting off snowbanks on the slopes of the Rockies.
Since then we’ve pitched our tent in the deserts at Joshua Tree and in Moab, Utah, on beaches along the coast of California and the sands of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, amidst the rock formations of Bryce Canyon, next to the cool river that runs through Zion, in the mangrove forests at Desoto on the Gulf Coast of Florida and countless places throughout north Georgia.
Every so often we crave liberation from the tyranny of bright glass screens. The lack of electric outlets and phone signals makes way for conversation and long reads. There is room for leisurely hikes and the satisfaction of building a fire. There is connection, with each other and with something eternal.
Now, mind you, we do it in our own style and comfort. The car is parked close by and the cooler is replenished with fresh ice each day. Bacon pops on the skillet in the morning and dusk finds us uncorking a bottle of sauvignon blanc. And if it is early summer, like it was this trip, we are treated to exquisite pesto that Helen makes from the basil plant on our front steps.
But yet when we rave about our trips the stories are mostly met with wrinkled noses and the familiar litany of comments: “You mean you sleep on the ground? What about all the bugs? No thanks, I want a hotel.” My father, God rest his soul, would actively make fun of us for spending precious vacation time acting like a couple of rednecks. Well, their loss.
And yes we’ve seen bears. In fact, one clawed a long tear on our first tent. No, we weren’t in it at the time. But once we returned to our campsite from an evening stroll to find a skunk rummaging through the trash bag and we were so freaked out we threw away the plastic wine glasses that it had toppled for fear of catching the black plague. We’ve tweezed ticks from our backs in a panic. And on a memorable night near Kitty Hawk had our shelter swamped from a thunderstorm so severe we took refuge in the car and watched lightening arc between clouds in the dark until sunrise.
But we’ve also watched seals swim offshore from our sleeping bags. We’ve kayaked next to manatees and often startled deer while hiking and once a big horn sheep. We’ve seen bald eagles, pileated woodpeckers and a scarlet tanager.
When you find something you love to do, don’t compromise or give in to someone else’s version of what you should be doing. Because, believe me, they will try to shame you. They’ll try to point out how it isn’t cool. How you are wasting your time and money. That somehow you don’t fit in because of your passion.
Instead, embrace your passion. Track down that PEZ dispenser depicting Lyndon Johnson to complete your collection. Visit every Major League ballpark. Start a Risk tournament. You won’t regret it for a minute.
I have a variety of interests and enjoy sharing my reflections on them here.