I'm crawling around on the small balcony of our Airbnb in Seattle to pack up the tent and rain fly we had laid out to dry overnight. All of a sudden, my boyfriend comes into the room looking like someone just blew off Main Street. "We're really in deep doodoo," he says as his face provides the appropriate caption. "The tent poles aren't in the car."
I listen to his words trickle through my head like the water in a broken toilet flush. The tent poles… Not… In the car?
Slowly, my mind wanders back to yesterday morning, when we packed up our gear during the heavy rain in an Oregon campgrounds. 375 miles and eight hours of driving from here. I also see the tent poles in my mind's eye. Lying on a picnic table.
"I thought you had...", I begin, but immediately nip the sentence in the bud as I recognize the futility of my
remarks. It doesn't matter a hoot who did what, because apparently we don't have the poles. While my boyfriend goes back to the car to pretend there's still some sort of hope, I crumple the now
completely useless tent fly and throw it against the wall.
"Aaaargh, I hate camping!" I exclaim.
Camping—tent camping in particular—is love and hate. Sunset and heavy rain. Freedom and Whatthefuck. Come along to the most beautiful and most horrible moments of camping and laugh with us—because sooner or later that is what we always do ourselves.
After not driving a 750-mile detour just to find out that someone may have already stolen the crappy tent poles from the picnic table, we spent the morning not at Mount Rainier National Park but instead, at the famous outdoor store REI. To buy a new tent. Complete with poles. Now we have a Half-Dome. And it really looks like a little dome where someone grows test vegetables for an emigration mission to Mars.
The setup is easy, even if my boyfriend likes to formulate a scientific treatise out of it ("Sarah, the tent fabric is just a bit off on the left side!").
What a tent does is pretty simple: it keeps out rain and wind. Period. It doesn't have a heater to keep out the cold. Thirty degrees outside, thirty degrees inside.
While we were in the Rocky Mountains, I also discovered one more thing the tent doesn't keep out: Bears. I lie awake half the night because I imagine I hear a hungry, grunting bear approaching and shredding the entire tent fabric with one swipe of its huge claws. The next morning, of course, there are no bears. Only moose.
What's really annoying about camping is when you have to pack up your wet gear and stuff it, water and all, into your car or backpack. It's like picking up dropped sauerkraut after someone walked right through it.
But it is also crazy awesome to unzip the tent in the morning and be able to not only see the sunrise, but to feel it as well. Experience the fresh air of the forest, listen to the sound of the stream. Have your "house" with you at all times. Spending little money or sometimes no money at all for an overnight stay. To be one with nature: without walls, windows, bells, or whistles.
Camp food can really make the day a romantic interlude—or mess it up completely. From a crackling campfire to a pasta mess of wallpaper-paste.
It's especially tough when you're backpacking. Hiking in the wilderness with 35-pound backpacks. You probably already guessed it: that’s where every ounce counts. And you can't reduce weight much more than ultralight, freeze-dried shit that swells on contact with water. And if you have a lot of positive imagination, it turns into something that may pass for seasoned cardboard. Google rating: one star, "the food was somewhat south of delicious."
Things go better if you go car camping. Then you can bring a propane stove, briquettes, or even a Dutch Oven and really whip up something quite good.
A Dutch Oven - huh? What is that? No, you don't bake Dutch cheese in it (although wouldn't that be a blast?!). It's also not an oven in the classic sense, but a rather heavy, cast-iron pot with a lid. If need be, you could use the pot to punch bears in the face, unless the bear hasn't already eaten you while you are trying to lift the heavy oven. You put the Dutch Oven on campfire embers, where it takes the heat evenly.
We usually cook with propane or a propane mixture. The idea of a Dutch Oven, which is still new to me, is an idea I got from Anja, who writes for the German magazine and blog, Die Frau am Grill. "Cooking with a Dutch Oven is incredibly delicious," she explains. "The flavor is quite unique. If you've never tried it, you really need to!"
Maybe not the thing to use on our next ultralight backpacking trip, but definitely at our next campfire
while car camping. Have you ever used a Dutch Oven?
By the way: I'll never forget how my boyfriend accidentally drove over a huge bump at high speed, putting us literally airborne, whereupon a murderous odor of gas spread through the car after we landed—hard—and I panicked and jumped out the door when we stopped to check for damage, thinking that everything was about to blow up like a car crash in a Bruce Willis movie. All was well. But gas cartridges don't like shocks.
No matter how good the tent, or the food is, if the weather sucks, camping can also suck. I figure this out as we sit in the sleet during a June visit to Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.
"Are you going to the bathroom again?" my boyfriend asks in surprise.
I nod evasively. The outhouse at the entrance to the campground isn't heated either, but at least I can stand upright in someplace that is dry. Inside the tent I can only sit or lie down while the air outside the Half-Dome drizzles rain mixed with snowflakes.
In the afternoon I spend twenty minutes looking at a sparse selection of three postcards while standing in the warm visitor’s center. I consider burning down the tent. At least then the temperature would be comfortable—for a few minutes.
Then again, there are moments when words fail to capture the feeling of freedom, happiness, and
contentment you get while camping. Like the afternoon we camp in a secluded rocky valley, 35 miles from the nearest town, no cell phone reception, and feeling the vibes of indigenous
people who carved messages and art into the stone walls here thousands of years ago. Or the evening we sit by Lake
Powell in 70 plus degree weather with custard, cocoa, and the Milky Way glowing white in the dark blue night sky directly above us. Or the morning I sprint out of
the tent at the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado and run up a huge dune to greet the rays of the rising sun.
You can rarely tell from a single experience whether you're up for camping. Probably you can never be sure on any given occasion. Because there is always love and hate. But one thing you can always be sure of: there will be no boredom.
Find more of our camping adventures here: