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The joys of camping in the real world

By Angela Reinhardt

Staff Writer

            It was the last night of our trip, that time of evening when campers let their fires die down to a smouldering bed of orange and ash-grey embers, dim their lights, and soften their voices. My children, now 13 and 15, poked the glowing coals in contented silence with sticks, then my husband dialed back the knob on our double-mantled lantern until the warm yellow light faded to black.

            It was quiet time.

            A canopy of stars and a waning gibbous moon provided dim illumination as the campground and its inhabitants  drifted to sleep.

            Like most family camping trips we woke early the next morning to the daunting task of packing our gear, which was covered in dew and dirt, and which is always exceedingly more difficult to fit back into the bags and containers they came from. (I’m beginning to believe tent makers are more sadistic than they are concerned with saving you space).

            But a pot of coffee and a light fog over the lake set a peaceful, reflective tone for the final hours of another fulfilling fall camping trip. A man on a paddleboard cut silently cut through the mist-covered water; neighboring campers toiled quietly at their sites to get packed before check-out time. A family nearby provided welcome entertainment as they prepared to maneuver a full-sized smoker, cornhole boards, and not one but two collapsible pavilions into their vehicles.

            I was raised tent camping in Georgia and in Florida, and to me it’s one of the most rewarding, impactful vacations you can take – especially with kids. Camping with a family takes a Herculean amount of work to get prepared, but once you’re set up and settled in at your site, time moves slower and actions seem more purposeful. I love watching my teenagers fully engaged, helping us cook meals outdoors, hunting for kindling and hauling wood, building and tending to the fire (they’re old enough now that axes are involved), reminiscing, and forgetting their phones exist.

            In addition to a general and overwhelming sense that we were doing something deeply beneficial and rejuvenating, this camping trip provided many other experiences/reflections, including:

            •Half of us saw a spectacular flaming meteor fall over the lake.                             

•If lantern brightness and longevity was a competition, our 1960s-era Colemans would dominate. They were brighter than their modern battery-powered counterparts at the other campsites, even at over 50 years old.

            •After hearing about the peach dump cake we were cooking in a cast iron pot, a neighboring camper talked at length about the simplicity of Mountain House brand freeze-dried meals. “You can get creme brulee and biscuits and gravy… and you just add water,” he told us enthusiastically. My kids think he’s a Mountain House salesperson who gives campers his “last few pieces of wood,” then launches into the pitch. 

            •Marshmallows and pinecones will never not be fun to watch burn.

            •Reminder: Test your air mattresses. 

            A few days after we got home, Mark “The Robot” Zuckerburg announced his creepy “Metaverse” concept, a kind of immersive virtual reality, a “set of interconnected digital spaces that lets you do things you can’t do in the physical world… characterized by…the feeling that you’re right there with another person.” 

            Call me old fashioned, but I have zero interest in attending events virtually. I want to exist in the real world (the realaverse?) where you do things like camp and “feel like you’re right there” because you are there, burning your own darn marshmallows and pinecones. As preoccupied as we think we all are with tech, I’ve seen so many times how camping has a positive, meaningful, and long-term impact on people – even if you only go once a year. So go ahead a book your site now (they fill up fast) and give the low-tech, wonderful world of camping a try.

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