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  • Kristan Higgins

The not-so-great outdoors

Updated: May 6, 2022

Oh, sure, I love the great outdoors as much as anyone! As long as I can go back to a comfy room with hot water and plumbing and a mattress, that is.

Maybe I’m scarred by my childhood memories of camping, five of us in one canvas tent, the rain dripping on my head at night, our sleeping bags fetid and moldy. There was my mother hunched over a smoky fire not quite hot enough to cook our hamburgers all the way through. There was my father, insisting that we were having the best time ever.

Mom still has nightmares about this item.

Maybe it was the portable toilet seat/garbage bag my father gave to Mom as a birthday present (his next gift came in a small velvet box, I can assure you). Maybe it’s because I’m a blood bank where mosquitoes are concerned. Maybe it’s because my sister, then four, fell out of our pop-up camper while asleep, and when I heard the pathetic mewls and scratching in the leaves, I thought it was a wolf and started crying myself.

Whatever the case, I vowed never to go camping as an adult, a promise I broke only once. There was a young man involved—not McIrish, who knows better than to offer this as ‘fun,’ but another young man, who preceded McIrish and was subsequently not in the running to be my husband.

But at the time, I wanted to be seen as one of those “I’m up for anything!” types (a lie), and so when this young man proposed camping, I said, “Sure!” and tried not to let the dismay show on my face.

I did my part, readers. I marinated chicken and made potato salad. I brought a Stephen King book to read aloud around the campfire. I made brownies or something, and bought eggs and bread for breakfast. He brought a frisbee and the tent.

Once we’d set up, we found that we had very little to do. We tossed the frisbee a few times until it sailed off the mountaintop where we camped. We ate at five, since we were bored, and it was then I realized I’d forgotten utensils. “Let’s eat with our hands,” said Young Man, and so we did. Being sticky is the worst feeling there is for me. I’d rather have stitches in my head than sticky hands. But I soldiered through, counting the hours until I could return to my apartment.

When the mosquitoes had drained me of a couple pints of blood, we retired to the tent. I attempted to read a story by Mr. King, but the flashlight batteries died. We decided to go to sleep, and sleep we did…for maybe ten minutes until a raccoon tried to get inside with us. You think they’re cute? They’re not cute when they’re an inch from your face, my friends. And looking for food. Young Man was not the type to get out of the tent and scare it away, so we huddled in terror as it scritch-scratched on our tent, me reconsidering so many decisions.

Many, many hours later, when dawn broke, I got out of the tent, damp, exhausted, aching from sleeping on acorns and rocks, smelling of smoke and barbeque sauce. Shower? Yes, please! This campsite had showers with running water and everything.

Or so they said. Into the urine-smelling “ladies room” I went. Toilets were essentially props over sewage holes. The showers were prison-style, rows of broken faucets in a cement wall, all sorts of algae and mold growing in great abundance.

I passed on the shower. Young Man was still asleep, so I packed the car with everything else—the cooler, my sleeping bag, the backpacks. When I started breaking down the tent, Young Man awoke. “Time to go!” I announced in a steely tone, and while he wanted to stay another night, I like to think he was rightfully afraid of that look in my eyes.

Today, I tell McIrish that I’d be willing to “camp” for 12 hours only, in either the North Pole or the South Pole, and only to see the stars and Northern Lights. I’ll take my chances with polar bears and freezing to death, but I must be able to have coffee and a hearty breakfast afterward, followed by a drive to a hotel. Otherwise, don’t even think about it.

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