For years, whenever a three day weekend approached, friends here in the Bay Area invited us to go to one of the fabulous camping spots within a few hours’ drive of Oakland. Normally they hear our family mantra in response: “Khos Don’t Camp.” (Family Camp doesn’t count because there are beds – hard beds, but still beds – and a Mess Hall.)
We used to camp. I mean, before kids. My husband and I met in Arizona where it was an easy drive up to the Grand Canyon for the weekend between classes at our grad school. We’re sturdy hikers, and we’re good at carrying things. What eludes us is logistics: setting up the tent, figuring out what food to take, having correct change for coin operated bathroom showers. Luckily we were likethis with the president of the campus Outdoor Club, so we just asked him what to pack and where to park and how to cook, followed his directions like lemmings, and then we were fine.
But on our own, we’re easily confused. We like hotel rooms; there are no tarps or pegs involved. We’re fond of pillow top mattresses. And in a hotel, when you have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, it’s five feet across the carpet rather than 80 yards in the dark with a flashlight to an outhouse. (Yes, I know that you know that we know there are more, ahem, primitive solutions involving a tree six feet from the tent. Let’s preserve everyone’s dignity here.)
Still, a handful of times, the “Khos Don’t Camp” response was simply ignored by our more experienced camper friends and we found ourselves forced outside into the wilderness, wearing fleece and roasting weenies and taking slow hikes that we called “walks” so as not to set off an insurrection by our kids. We were let in on the big secret of group family car camping: it mostly consists of sitting in camp chairs around a fire and teasing each other, while drinking cold beer.
And we always loved it. The girls always loved it. It was cheap, wholesome, and fun.
Each time we’ve camped, in fact, we’re so inspired that we follow it up with a trip to the REI store for some new piece of camping equipment to the pile in the storage area. Then a year or three passes, and the inspirational new camping equipment gathers another thick layer of dust. “Khos Don’t Camp” just trips off the tongue more easily than “Hey, let’s book a camp site now for next July!” which is what you have to do if you want one of the California State Park sites that isn’t an additional 80 yards from the outhouse.
The latest people to ignore our creed were our friends Dawn and Patrick and their two daughters, who sherpa’d us up north of San Francisco to the Anderson Valley for Labor Day weekend last year. Hendy Woods State Park comprises two ancient redwood forests alongside the Navarro River (not named after Dave, I asked.) Dawn packed enough food to get us through to 2016, probably right after she assigned us to bring dinner fixins’ for Saturday night, and we responded by asking, “Isn’t there a restaurant in Boontville where we could get burgers?” We ended up cooking s’mores for both dinner AND breakfast. The girls jumped off a big rock into the river, and scaled felled redwood tree trunks like they were jungle gyms.
It was wonderful. It was relaxing. We wanted to go to REI again.
By now we’ve accumulated really clever 3-in-1 foldable cooking utensils and cutlery and lanterns, and even a Camping Box to store it all in. However, Hendy Woods drove home the message that our next priority purchase is an air mattress because we are old, and the one-inch thick foam camping mats that may have been fine on our 20-and 30-something year old backs on the floor of the Grand Canyon now make it feel like we’re sleeping on a bed of Legos. Every time we turned over in our sleep at the Hendy Woods campsite, it was a new adventure in agony. On the second night my husband, who rarely drinks, settled in with two entire beers and a grim determination to get buzzed enough to sleep through the night. It didn’t work, but man, was he funny at the campfire that evening.
In fact that’s probably why Dawn and Patrick invited us to come along with them again last weekend, to Big Basin State Park near Santa Cruz. We’re still sans air mattress but they assured us we had a tent cabin with actual beds. When we got there, I realized they were “beds” but still: better than a foam pad.
As usual Dawn had food enough to serve the entire campsite for a full week. Meanwhile I’d left both the Saturday night appetizers AND the Sunday lunch fixings resting peacefully at home in our refrigerator. Also, the bottle opener, and bug spray. As usual, we relied on their cook stove, their kettle, their handy-dandy s’more roasting sticks that folded in half for easy storage.
But at one point, Dawn needed a paper towel. And I had them in my Camping Box, and she didn’t.
I didn’t want to gloat, but I think we just earned our “Khos Can Camp” merit badge.
The kind of camper with which I am much more familiar.