Camping experiences are those uncomfortable, unpleasant, aggravating and frustrating events to laugh about later. My husband was experienced in this activity as he had camped with his parents in the Black Forest of Germany. My experience was going to Camp Namanu as a Camp Fire Girl. We stayed in cabins and all meals were prepared for us. I did not even learn how to start a campfire, although the boys at school called us Bon Fire Babies.

On one camping trip my husband brought his U. S. Air Force-issue tent along. This item was intended for cold weather; the door was a tube to crawl through. Since I was pregnant at the time, I was clumsy entering and exiting our dwelling. This gave a new meaning to the command “fall in.” What is it about air mattresses that causes them to always release their air in the night? Rocks under the mattress do not seem to “rock” one to sleep or enhance one’s rest.

However, on that trip others in the party caught fish from the lake, cooked it on the open fire and we devoured the results with delight.

Some years later, as a family of four living in Houston, we decided to camp our way to Oregon in the summer to visit our family in Portland. My husband had encouraged me with the words, “Camping is a cinch. You just open cans for the meals.” So we started out heavily loaded with gear and plenty of canned food. In fact, there was hardly room for my legs in the passenger side of the car. Since we got a late start, we did not get very far and spent the first night in a motel. Realizing we had brought too much stuff, we sent a box back home from the town.

Equipped with KOA campground locations, we stopped at one near Carlsbad Caverns, N.M. We had the tent set up and we were ready to eat our supper when a terrific dust storm blew up. Hurriedly gathering up everything, we ate our meal inside the tent. Now all of our new equipment was covered with dust. I said, “That is exactly what I thought camping would be like.” We seemed to be always the last people to leave a campground and then the last to arrive at the next one. One of the problems was that our little girls refused to eat the canned stew. (Can you blame them?) At the Grand Canyon , Ariz., campground I went to do the family laundry at the laundromat and this process took a long time. At the camp the elder daughter was jumping around, fell against a rock and suffered some injuries.

On to Estes Park, Colo.: This KOA campground was simply a cow pasture and there was no table. Being my stubborn, inexperienced self, I said, “I just cannot camp without a table.” Seeing one up on the hill, my husband and the one-armed man who was in charge carried the heavy table down the hill. We set up our cooking stove and were going to cook the corn-on-the-cob. Do you think that the water ever boiled? Not a chance! The altitude was too high. Raw corn is probably more nourishing than cooked anyway.

Now what about the Redwoods in California? We pitched our tent among those majestic giant masterpieces of nature. Yes, it was a nourishment to the soul to be there. However, the food for our bodies suffered a small disappointment. In attempting to wash the beautiful ripe cherries at the one water faucet, I spilled them all into the trough on the ground. Since it was where people brushed their teeth, it was too unhygienic to try to recover the cherries.

I must confess that we sandwiched a few motels into our brave camping efforts. It was great to scrub off some encrusted dirt, which the KOA showers could not completely achieve, and to enjoy a good night’s sleep.

We met up with my parents at Yosemite National Park in California. They came with their cozy trailer. Our little girls slept in the trailer with their grandparents while my husband and I slept in a tent. At night a bear raided a nearby tent, but fortunately its appetite was not for humans.

All the inconveniences of camping were far overshadowed by the experiences of seeing wonderful sights and being in some awesome places. At Carlsbad we walked through rooms decorated with stalactites and stalagmites. In the evening we witnessed thousands of bats flying out from the caves. At Tuzigoot (near Flagstaff, Ariz.) we climbed around the ancient cave dwellers’ homes. At the Grand Canyon we hiked down into the canyon for a few miles. Our 2-year old was on her dad’s back, but the 4-year old had to walk. We had to coax the latter back up the trail with the anticipation of ice cream at the top. In the morning we awoke very early in order to watch the sunrise on the canyon. All the people stood watching in silence as this awe-inspiring scene evolved. This event has been a treasure in my memory bank since that time.

Although I still enjoy picnics, the camping experiences I leave to my past, history which bring some hearty laughs.

Rosalie Justen is a member of the Jottings Writing Group of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.

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