Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Ability to Camp Might Be Genetic

I think M could be someone who sees it as a personal challenge to turn me into a camper. I told him how terrified I was that I thought I might've agreed to go camping last weekend.

He said, "I bet you don't like camping because you don't like the clothing. What if you could wear a cute outfit? They make pink fleece, you know."

People have said this kind of thing to me before. Listen, I love fleece. I love fabrics that wick, unlikely as that may sound. I have a pink Nalgene bottle. It's not the outfits. I'm just not a camper.

I do not come from camping people, despite the fact that I come from farming Irish and Viking ancestry. My ancestors trudged across the Midwestern prairie when they got to this country, presumably in an attempt to be just as cold as they were in their own countries. My grandparents grew up on farms. And still nothing about my family screams, let's rough it! Let's enjoy the great outdoors! I believe my father's idea of camping is staying at a Hyatt. And my mom is always impeccably dressed. Betty always has on lipstick, perfume, nice shoes. This is a woman who travels with a pumice stone. She always looks and smells amazing.

When I moved back from San Diego, Betty flew out and we spent a month driving cross-country back to DC. We took a slightly circuitous route, as we decided to enjoy the time we had together and to visit family and friends. We spent some time in Berkeley with dear family friends. The night before we were leaving they said, "You ARE going to Yosemite, aren't you?"

My mom and I looked at each other. "Yosemite? Oh, um, sure, we could go."

"You must, you absolutely must. Yosemite is incredible. There's a great lodge you can stay at."

They called and the lodge was full. But we just couldn't miss Yosemite. It was too spectacular. The only reservations we could get were for Camp Curry, which meant that we would stay in a big white tent on a platform, essentially. We would have beds. It would be like camping but not really. They reiterated that as long as we were there, we had to do it.

Now, Yosemite has bears. As we were entering and registering in the park, we were shown all these videos about bears, and what they can do to cars. The bears aren't malicious, but the park wants to make sure that you don't come face-to-face with them either. A bear can pull the door or roof off a car with seemingly the same amount of effort it takes me to pull a yellow sticky note off a page. These videos showed one bear after another sniffing around a car, and then, when something caught their interest, they just casually ripped the car apart to investigate.

Bears are curious, and they apparently have these amazing noses. And for this reason the park people don't want you to leave anything in your car that might entice them. Clothes and such can go in the trunk, out of sight. But you cannot leave food, lotion, anything that smells at all, in your car. A bear will seriously pull the roof off a car for a Snickers wrapper. So the park offers "bear lockers" - big, heavy, metal lockers without handles, so the bears have nothing to grip to pull them open.

Yosemite attracts a lot of hikers and campers. So as Betty and I parked at the end of the day, we watched these hearty camping-y and hiking-y people loading their gear into the bear lockers. They had serious provisions. They had big, heavy gear. They were wearing sturdy brown hiking boots and rugged socks and fleece in earth tones.

And then there were Lisa and Betty unloading the Civic. La la la la la. Traipsing over to the bear locker, with things like, oh, perfume. La la la. A box of See's chocolates. La la la. Scented lotion, shampoo, conditioner. Gum. Make-up. And my dictionary. I'd forgotten to pack it when we left San Diego, so I'd chucked it in the back seat. It had a shiny cover that might entice a bear, and the trunk was full. We were embarrassed. We tried to make quick trips to the lockers when then campers weren't looking.

You also can't have anything in your tent that smells. No food, no face lotion, no toothpaste. All that was to be put in the bear locker. The toothpaste was what got us. We could skip the face washing, but not the teeth brushing. We walked in the dark, clutching each other, from our tent to the bathrooms. But we couldn't get ourselves all the way from our tent to the bear locker to put the toothpaste back. It was too far in the pitch black.

I worried about the toothpaste. It was Tom's of Maine. Delicious and outdoorsy - just the kind of thing a bear could love! In the middle of the night, I woke up freezing, and I heard a noise, a low, repetitive growl. I didn't want to wake up Betty, who it turned out was also awake and fretting about the bear. A bear! A growling bear! In search of toothpaste! The bear kept growling but never made a move. The bear turned out to be, upon breath-held analysis, the man in the next tent, snoring his head off.

It was really cold in the bed in the platform tent. I had to pee. It was too dark to walk to the bathroom. And besides, there were bears. I finally fell back into a fitful sleep around five in the morning. And was awakened by Betty at six.

She was fully dressed. Her lips were pursed. She tossed her head and exclaimed, "That was the worst night of my entire life!"

My mom, this endlessly elegant woman, had a cup of urine delicately perched in each hand. "Come on. Let's dump these out in the bathroom, and then we're going to the lodge for breakfast."

As we walked out of the tent door she said, "This camping business is horrible."


  1. Hilarious! I am not a camper either. I don't really see the point of packing up your stuff to drag into the woods to do the same things you do at home, only in a less convenient location and with a whole bunch of hassle.

    I marvel at people who do camp. I think they must know something I don't. Then I think, "nah, probably not." But I could never explain the appeal.

  2. Lisa - no worries! A risque avatar, but hey, I'd love to have cleavage like that!


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