12.1.2016 | printed in the Fall 2016 issue of VITAL magazine
It’s time to winterize the camper. And by “winterize,” I mean park it next to my Christmas decorations. I’m really not sure what else I’m supposed to “winterize” on my camper. This is the first year I’ve had to be concerned of such things, after purchasing a brand-new 1984 Skamper 136C this past summer. If you’re not familiar with this particular “Skamper” model, it’s basically a tent on wheels. I could tow it with a Dodge Neon, if I was so lucky to own one. If you’re not familiar with 1984, it’s the year the Apple Macintosh computer went on sale and Taylor Swift’s parents started dating. We’ve always been a family that seeks out adventure together, but this year we stepped it up a notch and scheduled 5 camping trips – all before the assured luxury of the ’84 Skamper. We’ll call her “Skamantha.” We concluded Skamantha was a necessary upgrade after attempting a camping trip last summer in a tent. Like ordering a cheeseburger with peanut butter on it, I was prrrrretty sure tent camping was a bad idea, but curiosity convinced me to give it a try anyway. After all, I have fond memories of tent camping with my parents when I was younger. Oh sure there was an occasional 5 inch downpour. And the time we began to set up the tent in 98 degree heat only to learn we were missing one of the poles. (You can’t really have an “almost” tent. It’s all or nothing. Either you are in a tent, or you are the filling to a canvas quesadilla.) I also recalled when we biked to the bathrooms in the middle of the night, with Dad insisting, “Your eyes will adjust to the dark.” Right before I SMACKED into the side of a random camper. (What if it was Skamantha in her early years? Ooh, I just got chills!) Despite those less-than-perfect moments, camping provided invaluable family bonding time I’ll cherish forever.
Thirty years later, I felt the time was right to pass on the “Johnson camping style” to my own children. Unfortunately, I quickly realized my fond childhood memories may have been largely influenced by the fact that...I was the child. Apparently for adults, campin’ ain’t easy! Buyer’s remorse for the ’84 Skamper purchase was beginning to creep in.
After a few days of unstructured camping life, my quality control began to suffer. How does one sanitize dishware without the convenience of an actual dishwasher? My family began to question the safety of reusing the same plate 8 meals in a row. “But dad, we saw a rabid squirrel eating off of those plates!” Me: “Good point, better rinse them off with this bucket of rainwater from last night.”
Campgrounds should have a big warning sign at the entrance: No Wi-Fi. And spotty (at best) cell coverage. How am I supposed to express my appreciation for the peaceful solitude of nature if I can’t immediately post my feelings on social media? How long can emails go unread before they start to decay? The Game Fish and Parks department needs to stop worrying about poachers and start building cell towers.
Everything takes longer when camping. I could have played 9 holes of golf in the time it took me to grill 5 hot dogs. I could have driven to the nearest golf course, played 9 holes, then purchased 5 hot dogs from the pro shop in the time it took me to grill 5 hot dogs. I think I invented new ways not to start a campfire. Maybe cold Pop Tarts for breakfast…
As the frustration mounted, I began to ponder: Am I bad at camping? Is that even a thing? The only qualification for camping is to NOT be indoors.
Thankfully, I slowly started to remember the greater point: eating bacon outdoors. But even beyond that, I realized my problems were not as catastrophic as I was imagining them to be. Amazingly, my family appeared to actually be enjoying themselves. We had nowhere else to go and nothing else to do, except to hang out together for a couple days. And everyone seemed fine with it. Dirty dishes. Dead cell phone battery. Late dinner. Each were quickly forgotten as we huddled around the campfire, conspiring tweaks to our next camping excursion. Although it wasn’t perfect, camping had provided that same timeless gift it did 30 years ago: bonding time with my family. Perhaps that $500 for Skamantha was a worthy splurge after all.
Other Stories in this collection:
Out of Left Field: Skamantha
by Scott Johnson, Data Systems Administrator, POET