Into the Woods
Updated: Oct 7, 2020
I have always hated camping. Like always and forever. It has been tried so many times to see if “this time” it will be better.
As a child, I remember one weekend of camping and it might possibly be that we were in a camper...so, not really camping. Hated it.
In high school, I went tent camping two times. One with my friends in youth group and one with a boy. Always the boy--they can be convincing. Hated it.
College--zero camping. Except for that time I WILLINGLY went into the Catskills for an entire summer to be a camp counselor in a very rustic cabin full of children and spiders. Hated it.
Fast forward to my move across the country. Teaching jobs were slim pickings in Ohio and Pennsylvania. So I went out west. Scott and I had just called off our wedding, packed the UHaul, and took off to Colorado. I knew nothing about Colorado except that it was sunny nearly all the damn time and that was more than enough for me. After living in gray land (Aka Pittsburgh) most of my life, sunshine sounded like a good choice.
I accepted a job at an Outward Bound Expeditionary Learning school. Expeditionary learning was my jam. I loved the inquiry, the connection between subjects while learning about one topic. The question asking. The freedom to dive deep with your students into pieces of that world you were studying. When I accepted the job, I think I decided to ignore the Outward Bound aspect.
I will never forget my first few weeks in Colorado. As I met the other teachers and parents at the school, they quickly informed me of the attire needed to acclimate to Colorado weather.
At this point in life, my fashion sense was pretty weak, which is a sad situation as a perfect size 8. Regardless, it was not good, at all as my late husband used to point out to me when we were looking through old pictures. So, embracing this REI layered look was pretty easy. Buy some pants that can unzip to shorts, a pair of Chacos, a fleece, and a vest. That was pretty much the uniform of the world I was living in and so happily joined right in.
Just because my clothing matched the job and the culture of the state I was living, I still HATED camping and the woods and anything without the creature comforts I was used to in a house. About a month or so into school, our first trip was planned with my 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders. We were going to the Sand Dunes. “Wtf is that?” was my first thought, but now at 41, I look back and think silly girl --you were being paid to see some amazing wonders of the world.
The bus pulls up and we all get off. We hike up to our campsite and I distinctly remember my students standing there and staring at me. My 23 year old brain was like, what do you need from me already? Oh...you are looking at ME to help and teach you how to put up your tents. For fuck sake. It is too bad social media wasn’t around at this time because that would have made a hilarious post. These little people were looking at me, the woman who hates camping and slept in a tent one time to make a boy happy, to not only put up their tents, but TEACH them HOW to do it.
Thankfully, some of the parent chaperone’s took pity on me and showed both me and my students how to set up the tents.
As time went on in Colorado, Scott (not the camper either) encountered some interesting situations himself. I am laughing as I type because this is such a typical Scott Baumgardner situation. Because we were good Christians, ready to save all of the people in Colorado who didn’t have a relationship with Jesus, we spent every weekend on the hunt for a church (church shopping as it was/is called). Many churches we visited were in shopping malls and school cafeterias. During a Sunday church shop, it is possible that someone (usually another couple) will befriend you. In our first weeks we went to a school cafeteria to attend church in Parker, Colorado. A young couple decided to “be our friends.” The guy was an avid hiker and had this outdoor shit on lock. He asked Scott to do a pretty intense overnight backpacking trip and of course Scott was like, hell yes! But also in true Scott fashion, he was extremely underprepared. He didn’t hit up REI like I did, but instead said f’ it, I’m good. He wore his regular clothes and a pair of Pumas. I think they started out at 4 AM and I wish I remembered the rest of the story because I know it was good, but the details escape me. What I do remember for certain are two things Scott told and/or showed me the next day when he got home: One, his feet were a bloody mess and the blisters were out of control. And two, he should have packed some food, but he was excited because (enter name of dude) brought him a king sized Snickers. He said, I never felt like I earned the right to eat a king sized Snickers as much as I did on this hike.
We tried again with other couples because we were told, "Adult camping is TOTALLY different. You can have beers around the campfire.” This had been told to us multiple times over the years--drinks around the campfire somehow make up for the bugs, walks to the bathroom/peeing in the woods, and the hard ass ground you sleep on. Scott and I learned that IT DOES NOT make a difference. Camping sucks. One of us always slept in the car and the feeling of being dirty did not suit us. We decided that for all future Colorado adventures, we will hike and explore the shit out of an area as long as there was a hotel to shower and sleep in at the end of the day.
Idiots that we are, we tried AGAIN many years later in Pittsburgh with both of our kids. Scott’s friend convinced us/him that this will be much better. Adults drinking, kids playing, and we were staying in a camper at a camp so maybe it will be fine. NOPE. Scott slept in our van. I didn’t sleep at all. The bathrooms and showers were terrifying and quite the walk. We both looked at each other the next morning and said, “Let’s go home.” We skipped out on the rest of that trip and drove the three hours back to our beds. The moral of the story is, there isn’t enough alcohol in the world to make any form of camping work for us.
Fast forward to “In the time of COVID” when camping is the ONLY freaking thing there is to do. I have stayed in three cabins this summer. The first was bougie as all get out. I knew this because I planned the trip for my boyfriend’s birthday and no way in hell was I going to rough it in the woods. It worked for me. I was good with this sort of being in the woods. The second was a cabin with my family---less bougie, but still perfectly lovely. That worked too.
Currently, I am in a gorgeous cabin alone. I needed to get away from all the things. This seemed like a good compromise of camping--or glamping. There isn’t water, bathrooms, or electricity. It seems like a good place to write my book--clear my head--be like Cheryl Strayed (but not at all because I have a memory foam bed with lavender in it to sleep on).
I wake up from my wine induced nap (clearly a lot of writing is happening) to find it to be pitch black outside and needing to pee. I could drive my car up to the outhouse, but thought, I feel like I could easily drive it into the pond on accident because it is so damn dark. This was my actual thought process: “come on Amy--you can do this.” So I walk along the creek, climb up the hill and follow my tiny lantern to the outhouse. As I considered the Park Predators and Crime Junkie stories I listen to on the daily, I thought, “well fuck this might be not as good of an idea as I thought.” Then I looked up and saw the stars. This isn’t the same night sky I look at on my deck at home. I reminded myself that I was being ridiculous and that I needed to stay present, enjoy the moment, look at the fucking stars.
That is until I was about to walk back to my cabin and I hear weird animal noises and thought “Well shit, I am not walking towards those.” I turned the other direction and thought, "this will work too, it is like a circle." I told myself over and over, “you are fine---think of this as a reality show like Survivor. Think of it as some sort of trust walk you need to do to be able to trust yourself again.” There was a lot of self talk on this journey to and from the outhouse. I kept walking and walking and really not being able to see more than my feet in front of me with the light. After walking what felt like too long, I looked back and saw my tiny house. I passed it. Clearly, the different way back wasn’t going to work. So like jumping in a cold pool for swim practice, I just did it; I turned my ass around and walked with intention. Purposeful. Disregarding any and all animal sounds. The whole way back, I self talked the shit out of the dark path down to the stream and eventually my cabin.
As I write this, I realize the irony that I have to pee again. Like now. At 11:40 PM. Never again will I take for granted the bathroom ATTACHED to my bedroom. (Edited to add: We all know there is no way in hell I walked up there a second time in the dark. I dug down deep to some younger version of myself drinking in a field somewhere and popped a squat.)
But if I am honest, I will probably camp again. I will go into the woods willingly and be uncomfortable. It was in this uncomfortableness that I was able to write honestly, come to truths I had been looking for, quiet my mind, create art, and read entire books. It was there that I found my breath again. My steady ground below my feet. The wherewithal to keep going forward.