Tomorrow afternoon, my husband, 12-year-old son and the family dog are going camping in San Gorgonio in the San Bernadino mountains. San Gorgonio is leafier, slightly cooler than the rest of the mountain range. My husband and son are smirking, realizing that I’m trying not to sound too smug, having dodged a bullet, in that our trip was originally conceived as a backpacking trip until I pointed out that Dusty, our big lug of canine would likely collapse during a 20-mile hike at high-altitude. So the Great American Hike has now been downgraded to a camping trip and I couldn’t be more relieved.
In truth, I hate backpacking. Its hardly its own reward with 35-pounds of schlep on your back that doesn’t even include a comfortable pillow or bottle of wine. My memory of the last time I packed was of knee pain not scenery and I laid awake most of the night wondering whether the howling winds would deposit a tree upon our tent. In short, it was miserable and then I felt guilty for not loving it as I was supposed to. My husband and son exchanged knowing glances while we were driving home, thinking I didn’t notice them.
I admire my husband, son and intrepid friends who love the backpacking experience, who feel so at home in the world that the idea of going where no man can easily go is liberating rather than intimidating. For me, the cracking of bushes and coyotes howling when no other humans are nearby makes me crave cell service and noisy neighbors. If this makes me an urbanite, than I’m at least an urbanite who appreciate nature, just not bad-ass hikes with the chance of being mauled by a bear or a mountain lion or crushed by a felled tree. And the freeze-dried backpacking fare that my husband and son think is so cool is truly disgusting and gives me renewed respect and sympathy for the NASA astronauts who have to eat it in space.
Camping on the other hand, is the perfect jolt from my habit-driven life. I can pack the s’more stuff, the Chardonnay, the sweet Maui onions which I will wrap in foil with butter and salt and throw into the fire to serve with the steaks we’ll grill. I might sit in a camp chair with my guitar even though I haven’t learned any new songs in 25 years. In the morning, I will percolate coffee, awake before the rest of my family, and I will be still and small in the Universe, and I won’t have the burden of my world on my back. If I’m lucky, I will sense the presence of God, something that happens to me when I least expect it, and in that way, camping is like heaven on Earth.