The first time our family went camping, it was at a park right along the edge of the St. Croix River, outlining Minnesota’s eastern border. I was probably something close to a sixth grader back then and my sister, as she’s always been, was three years younger. Somewhat on a whim, Dad, an adventurous Bangladeshi naval-officer-turned-pharmacist, decided camping would be an enjoyable and valuable summer experience; Mom agreed with a half-amused, half-intrigued “why not.”
As eager and as excited as the four of us were, “complete novices” doesn’t even begin to describe the state of our helplessness. Tent shopping took multiple days, we ended up grossly overpacking, and half of our time preparing was spent worrying about what to prepare for.
By the time we reached our campsite, a few hours’ drive away, the general attitude had become “let’s just go with it.”
Of all our summer camping trips since, that first one was the worst one. The reigning (pun intended) champ of miserable outdoor excursions. The king of crappy camping. For starters, the entire St. Croix area was consistently soggy—it rained before, during, and after our arrival. Pitching the tent required hours of muddy struggle; and after sleeping in it for only the first night, we gave up on the second and slept in the warmth of our minivan.
But moreover, the cesspit of sog barred activities we’d planned originally, things like soccer, badminton, barbecue, bonfire, s’mores, and more. We did get to go river fishing though. And the hiking, albeit muddy, was a breathtaking escape from the suburban pallor back home.
On the last night of our stay, we discovered a raccoon perched on a branch above our tent. It ignored our requests to “c’mon, move, and get down” and by the morning of our departure, both it and our designated trash bag, which had been fastened to a nearby post, were gone.
We’ve gone on camping trips every summer since then. And fortunately, we’ve gotten better at it with each one. I’ve developed an unbridled contempt for people who “camp” in campers and have acquired a particular taste for (slightly) burnt marshmallows. Badminton matches and barbecues have become camping trip staples, and the weather has never been too unfriendly.
Except for the time when a thunderstorm blew the roof of our tent off in the middle of the night.
But that’s another story.