Forty years in the desert was enough

If Rachel and I ever split up, you just know that the next person she gets involved with will like to camp. Why, why, why, she’ll ask her new love, as they lie next to each other on their Thermarests, gazing out of the mesh door of their tent, which will be pitched in the belly of some provincial park or other, Why, why, why did I spend all those years with someone who never appreciated all this?

Here’s a (not-so) secret: I don’t really like camping. I’ll put up with it for a few days, here and there, for the greater good, but I never really got the point of it. I mean, I like nature and all, but I don’t really feel the need to sleep in the middle of it. Or cook, for that matter: I have a perfectly functioning stove right in my house, along with a bed. And oh, this crazy little thing called a toilet.

A lot of my camping aversion has to do with sleep. As in, I can’t — at least, not lying in a tapered, zippered, sleeping bag, with only an inch of foam and between me and the hard, hard ground, my folded fleece acting as a pillow, the whine of a thousand bloodthirsty mosquitoes droning in my ears. Sleep, as anyone who reads this blog regularly will know, is important to me, perhaps because it does not come easily to me at the best of times. And I am loath to squander it for the purported benefits of “getting away from it all” in the wilderness. One of the last times Rachel and I camped, I was five months’ pregnant with Rowan, which gave me the leverage to insist that we purchase an air mattress (along with a nifty little pump that you can plug into your car’s cigarette lighter). And now, when we camp, we camp on a mattress, outfitted with sheets, duvet, and pillows. Two of them, for me. Because I need two pillows to sleep. (Actually, in a perfect world, I also like a third pillow, just hold on to, but I’m willing to sacrifice this perk for the sake of “outdoorsiness” and keeping things simple.)

I also like earplugs, and an eye mask, to filter out the sunrise. And then I like to drink tea, with milk in it, as soon as possible after waking up. I’m becoming one of those people who contemplates traveling with my own pillows. In other words, I’m getting older, and it’s clear I’m not mellowing with age in the sleep department.

Here’s another thing: I feel ugly when I camp. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but it’s the truth. I have hair that really does require a certain amount of product to look halfway decent, hair that, when faced with humidity and lake water and left to dry of its own accord, frizzes out into an unattractive pyramid. And I don’t tan, either. Camping, sans product and styling aids, I begin to resemble a yeti. There’s Rachel, of the fine, straight, blonde hair, getting progressively cuter and browner and silkier with each passing hour, while I grow into a Brillo-headed, mosquito-bitten, grouchy little mess. Oh, and did I mention I am prone to heat rashes? And that Rachel could sleep on a pile of rocks?

Aesthetic issues aside, sometimes I find camping just a wee bit boring. I’m a little bit of a productivity junkie; I like to keep busy. And faced with a day of hanging around the site, I can get a bit antsy. My best trips are the ones that keep me busy and that thoroughly tire me out by the end of the day: canoeing or cycling to the next destination. Or, trips where camping is a means to an end: the tent the equivalent of a hotel room while we hang out at a music festival or stop for the night on a road trip.

And now that we have children to add to the mix, camping takes on a whole new tenor. We’re planning our first session of roughing it in the bush (as opposed to in a field with other festival-goers) with the kids this summer — Rachel wanted to head to Pukasaw, a national park four hours north of here; I talked her down to the Sleeping Giant, a breezy hour’s drive, with a little town nearby for diversions. I figure, in the event that I don’t sleep well and then am woken at five by chipmunks and a toddler, I may not have the energy to keep a watchful eye as the children stray towards open water, open fires, bears, the woods. I may need to take a little walk down the street to a coffee shop, or, at worst, make it home in short notice. At least for the first time we head out.

When Rachel and I first met, the throes of new love did a lot to temper my misgivings about camping, and Rachel’s misgivings about my misgivings about camping. We thought of each other’s quirks as simple — but adorable! — errors in judgment, each imagining that the other would come around if we could only convince her of the rightness, the moral superiority, of our positions. She would make me love camping; I would make her see the charm of a B&B.

We joked that it was a religious difference: Jews don’t camp (notwithstanding my weeklong canoe trip as a CIT at Camp Hatikvah in 1986); Gentiles do. It’s a biblical relic, really: Wasn’t wandering in the desert for 40 years enough for my people?

In the years since we met, we’ve learned the futility of trying to convince each other of our rightness and have settled for putting up with each other’s foibles as gracefully as possible. We’ve done a half-dozen or so camping trips, some involving cars, some canoes, and at least one that involved bicycles and a taped ankle. We’ve slept in one-person tents and, most recently, a behemoth that divides into two rooms with us on one side and a baby in a Pack-and-Play on the other. We’ve camped at music festivals and provincial parks, on the gorgeous beaches of Pancake Bay on the shore of Lake Superior.

And we have also bailed from the tent on a number of occasions for the relative comforts of bed and breakfasts, cheesy motel rooms, and the Best Western hotel chain. On at least one occasion, she did the bailing. Because sometimes, in the pouring rain, or when the horses in the pasture next door give you strange looks, or when you have tonsillitis, nothing quite beckons like a room. With walls. That you can stand up in. And a hot shower. And beer, brought up by room service, while you watch cheesy cable TV. And tea, with milk, first thing, the next morning.

Now, that’s roughing it.