Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | October 30, 2002

Learning to like, not love, camping

Not so long ago I wrote a column that, among other things, mentioned my dislike of camping. I believe I even quoted David Letterman’s assistant, Stephanie, who told The Late Show host, “I don’t camp for anyone.”

It turns out I will camp for my husband and kids. In fact, twice since that column appeared, I have pitched a tent in the great outdoors and survived to write about it.

The first trip was with my husband, John, to a 300-acre site north of Grass Valley that a friend’s family owns. Friends planned a last camping trip of the season near my husband’s birthday, so as a gift to him, I went for the first time.

John had described the trip to the camping site, but I was still surprised by how remote it was. To get there, we drove north of Grass Valley, took an abandoned logging road now maintained by the CDF for use in case of forest fires (let me tell you, you’ll never complain about potholes again after driving that forest service road), then turned onto our friend’s land, whereupon the road got even lumpier and bumpier.

We passed a 1920s-era ghost town of abandoned shacks used by miners or loggers, and still had quite a distance to go until we arrived late Friday afternoon at the large shipping container that marks the campground on our friend’s land.

Our trip was in late September, meaning the days were baking hot and the nights were bone-chilling cold.

While taking a walk Saturday afternoon, John and I came across bear tracks not far from where our tents were pitched, and one of the other campers came across a big pile of what he swore was bear scat. Those discoveries did not aid my sleep Saturday night.

Still, despite the toilet that consisted of a shovel with a roll of toilet paper thrust over its handle, the trip wasn’t horrible, but I still can name a multitude of ways I’d rather spend any given weekend.

My second camping trip was last weekend. Our son’s Boy Scout troop sponsored a family campout in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. You couldn’t ask for a more beautiful location. We pitched our tent along the Big Sur River, and the nearby rapids played beautiful and soothing background music for the entire campsite.

This place even had the bonus of running water and flush toilets nearby.

However, in late October, the weather is nippy by day and and frigid by night. I don’t think I was warm once during the entire 36 hours we spent there. On the bright side, my nonstop shivering probably burned quite a few calories.

We toured nearby Point Sur Lighthouse and were awed by the sweeping views of the coastline from the volcanic rock upon which the lighthouse is situated. It seemed the chilly wind gusts might sweep us from our perch 360 feet above the rocky coastline. I had to laugh when a tour guide told us we had picked a great day for our visit, because it was “warm with just mild breezes.”

My sleep on our first night, Friday night, was interrupted several times by what I presumed was a raccoon scratching on our tent and knocking over a metal trash can at the other end of the campsite. The next morning, our cooler near our tent was dotted with what looked, to my untrained eye, like raccoon tracks.

But raccoons I can deal with. The howling and barking that woke me was more troublesome. The next morning, a fellow camper confirmed my worried suspicions – we had been listening to a coyote.

Despite the nearby coyote and constant cold, it was a good trip. Why? Because our kids, Andrew and Katie, who had shared my opinion of camping rather than John’s, both had a great time.

They loved playing near the shallow river, skipping stones and watching for fish. They decided that food tastes better when it’s cooked and eaten outside. They had a blast chasing each other and the other kids around and through the enormous redwood trees. They loved sitting around the campfire cooking hot dogs and toasting marshmallows. Inexplicably, Katie even liked washing dishes out-of-doors.

After the car was loaded Sunday morning, both kids complained that it was time to leave. For them, the pleasures of camping overcame the frosty days and nights, wild critters and missing Game Six of the World Series. And, for once, I’m glad they don’t agree with me.

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