This was going to be a post about the lure of camping. About the sweet solitude and peace that occurs when people step outside their homes to connect with nature at its level. It was going to say how I had sought out the tent as a respite from the everyday world and encourage you to do the same.
But this isn’t that post.
Instead it’s a recollection about things that blast in the night, rain, the pressure of necessity and the fog, always the fog.
You see, my meteorological suspicion as I sat on that wooden helicopter pad spotting whales turned out to be correct. The banks of building gray clouds did indeed prophesize the arrival of a dense white-out of fog that very soon blanketed everything in sight.
I made it back to my tent just as the dampness dropped over the coast, wetting all.
No matter, I thought, this will just be a very early version of bedtime. I snuggled my toes deep into my down sleeping bag and propped a book on my stomach. Just the perfect time to relax with the sounds of the waves lapping on the shore below. I exhaled slowly and smiled.
The smile might have lasted for all of 15 minutes, just until I figured out that the blaring horn I’d been hearing was not the signal of the latest ferry alerting it was about to leave the harbor.
It was, to my great chagrin, the neighboring lighthouse’s fog horn that had kicked on as soon as the bank of clouds arrived. And, I suspected, would continue until the fog lifted – sometime the next day.
Like those air horns fans at sporting events blast, this fog horn was meant to get people’s attention, probably miles and miles offshore. Worse, I demised from the fluctuating volume that it seemed to be slowly rotating to catch every ship in the sea and somewhere between every third and fourth blast was directed precisely toward my tent.
I thought of how I had been eagerly anticipating this last night of peaceful camping. This wasn’t what I had expected. I began to count the seconds between the blasts.
One-thousand one. One-thousand two. … One-thousand nine. One-thousand 10. The fog horn blasted again. I would have 10 seconds between each tent-shivering explosion of sound. Any thoughts of solitude and peace this night quickly evaporated.
I lay there for several hours as the obnoxiously repetitive blasts split the air.
But then a funny thing happened. Sleep arrived despite the thundering horn. Maybe I was simply tired out from a day of whale spotting and hiking but soon the book dropped on my chest and I was gone.
Periodically my sleep was broken as the blasts seeped into my dreams but my head never left the pillow.
That is until about 2:30 a.m. I’m not sure if it was the sudden deluge or the pressure in my bladder that woke me but this time I couldn’t return to slumber. I lay there absolutely dreading the knowledge that at some point – and soon – I would need to wriggle out from my warm sack and brave the elements to take care of the necessities.
Two problems. My raincoat was in the car, which was locked in the parking lot at the top of the hill and, problem two, the outhouse was there too – right next to my car. It was an existential moment. Do I brave the raindrops pelting down from above to sprint in the dark to the outhouse OR do I try to ignore my bladder?
I knew the latter was impossible. I choose the sprint.
Dressed only in my pajamas, I dashed toward the top of the hill. The rocks and roots threatened to take me down but I ignored them, splashing through puddles and tall grass laden with rain. Reaching the summit, I grabbed the outhouse door and flung myself inside. How I hate outhouses and, much worse, I was now drenched.
The rain hadn’t let up minutes later when I opened the outhouse door and prepared my return sprint. But this time, the roots had their way, reaching out to grab my foot. I wrenched my knee, grunting in pain. I cursed all the way back to the tent, limping on my one good leg, my obscenities thrown to the wind where they competed with the fog horn for dominance.
If anything hadn’t been wet before, it was now as I settled into my tent. I grabbed a handful of tissues and mopped my hair. I slid out of my wet shoes and sodden clothes, replacing them with what I’d worn the day before and slid down into my sleeping bag still damp, my knee throbbing, and the air horn blasting away.
Obviously, sleep was not in the immediate cards. So, irritated, I began thinking about what I’d write for my blog the next day. Certainly not the post on the sweetness of a camping adventure. Holy cow, much more like a nightmare. But I had, survived, I thought disgustedly.
That was the thought that saved both me and this post because I began to question what it was that had so attracted me to camping in my “senior” years.
I hadn’t, after all, been much of a camper as a kid. Sure my family had the requisite pop-up camper that we used on exactly one trip. After that trip across the country, we ditched the camper and stayed in hotel rooms. So that wasn’t it.
Then in college in the 1970s I had discovered camping was something the cool people did and on several occasions I, too, tried to express my coolness, lounging around campfires and eating half-cold food. It didn’t take long for that to wear thin.
As a family, my husband, two boys and I had also tried the pop-up camping method. But after a week-long trip during which we discovered that the mold spores in the canvas sides were seriously aggravating my sons’ asthma, we sold the camper. Never to go tenting again.
So when, precisely, did I arrive at this infatuation with camping?
I suddenly realized that it wasn’t the peacefulness, the serenity and the proximity to nature that had captured me as a six-decade-old woman. Indeed, camping represented something quite different and my love for it had been born just a couple of years ago.
My first authentic camping trip occurred in the summer of 2014 when I tackled Alaska for three weeks alone. In the closing chapters of a 30-plus-year marriage, I was bruised and unsure of who I was. Alaska seemed like the solution and I spent three weeks sleeping in the back seat of a tiny rental car, too frightened to spend the night all alone in a tent. But the experience was exhilarating, exciting. I felt refreshed.
The next year I stretched further, heading to Iceland for a solitary camping trip. This time I actually slept beneath the stars in my newly purchased tent, spending my days traversing the island. The experience strengthened me and gave me more confidence.
Now here I was on an island in Canada, once again testing my mettle. And I had passed. I admit it wasn’t a 36-mile endurance race or some trial of that ilk, but it was reaffirming nonetheless.
So here’s my 3:30 a.m. epiphany on camping. It isn’t so much that camping gives me peace – although it certainly does – but that it gives me strength. It gives me the confidence to know that I am a capable being. It gives me the solitude that I need to understand who I am at 62 and learn to enjoy my own company.
And that’s the real allure for camping for me.
That’s enough, isn’t it?