By Josie Braaten
Casual Observations 

Legitimate Camping Experience


My parents have always loved to camp, so naturally, we did a lot of camping when my siblings and I were younger. At first I was the biggest weenie. I had a fear of wind, lightening, the dark, out houses, pretty much everything that makes the camping experience authentic. To be honest, I didn’t exactly relish those early family trips. As I got older though, those things became less scary and repulsive until one summer I realized that I actually couldn’t wait for my parents to haul out our mammoth blue tent and whisk us off somewhere nature-y. Because of all this camping in my particularly impressionable years of youth, I eventually came to think of myself as someone who was all outdoorsy and stuff, an “experienced camper.”

This spring, then, when a friend asked if I wanted to go camping with her, I immediately said yes. She had never gone before though, so with all my “wildness experience,” it was naturally assumed that I would assume the role of Camping Captain on our trip. This was fine with me, and I started the trip confident in my abilities to keep us alive in the semi-wilderness of Wisconsin for a week.

Over the course of our days trekking through the mid-west in my friend’s 1990’s gold minivan though, I came to a humbling and slightly depressing realization. Instead of the seasoned outdoorswoman of my imagination, my camping skills were those of an enthusiastic amateur. I was baffled. Why was this simple, relatively tame camping trip so hard for me? I was experienced right?

But then it dawned on me one evening as I attempted to use the elusive “log cabin method” to start a cook fire for our dinner at 8:30 p.m. in the pouring rain. The only people I had ever legitimately gone camping with were my parents. People who just toted me along on their expeditions and were required to keep me fed, sheltered, and safe from wild animals and heatstroke because of parental duty. Occasionally they demanded that I collect firewood or roll up my sleeping bag, but actually doing all the labor necessary to make a camping trip a pleasant success, they did themselves. Of course I absorbed a bit through osmosis, but I preferred to wander in circles around the campsite with my dog, lost in an imaginary world instead of learning “the fine art of camping.” Consequently, I had virtually no idea how to execute basic wilderness basics or really even go about the process of organizing a successful trip.

On this trip though, I couldn’t simply be another camping accessory, I had to pull my weight and actually do the camping-y things. We gave it a 110 percent effort, but it was a rugged week. There were endless tent constructing mishaps, dinners at 9 p.m. because we couldn’t get our fires started, massive mosquitoes, grilled soy burgers that resembled expired cardboard, almost continuous rain, and of course, a legitimate tornado watch on our very last night on the shores of Lake Michigan.

By the end of our journey, almost every single thing in the van was wet to varying degrees, there was an ant infestation in the trunk, we had eaten PB&Js for five days straight, and were so delirious from lack of sleep that we were considering stopping by a roadside animal shelter to adopt a dog. But, we were still alive, in relatively good health, and most importantly, weren’t planning on burning the tent and swearing off camping forever.

Though it wasn’t even close to a “perfect” camping trip we made some VERY colorful memories, had a fabulous time despite all the literal and figurative potholes we encountered, and both got some legitimate camping experience. Nothing forces a person to learn to care for oneself like the alternative of slowly starving to death in some mid-western Walmart parking lot. So through having literally no choice but to dig my hands into the nitty-gritty tasks of camping, I finally began to learn, and took the first step toward becoming an actual veteran camper-woman.

Josie Braaten is the Courier's editorial intern. She is a sophmore at Minnesota State University, Mankato.


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