#15: Camping

Posted by Megan on July 15th, 2011

Here in Minnesotawe get approximately 25 days of good weather all year. Our grueling winters are notorious for being painstakingly long. I’ve heard rumors that Jack Frost’s permanent residency is located just north of International Falls. Cities like Cold Springs, Frazee, Esko proudly proclaim our only claim to fame: being the coldest state in the United States. Well – aside from Alaska. I think we all agree that Alaskais the drunk uncle of America. Let’s just sign it over to Canadawhile we have a chance! I’d like to point out that Minnesota also has cities named Climax and Savage thus solidifying our second claim to fame. We’ll save that discussion for a future blog.

When summer arrives Minnesotans flock to the outdoors like ants to a melted slurpy.  Since we have to endure months of winter-induced house arrest, the summer weather seems like heaven with mosquitoes. Winter makes the heart grow fonder! When the temperature hits 40 degrees you’ll start seeing shorts and sandals, by 55 degrees men start ditching their shirts. This is not an exaggeration. In April this year I arrived for a long run appropriately dressed for the weather conditions: tights, an ear warmer, mittens and a light jacket. When my running partner David showed up in shorts I though he was by far the most ambitious runner I’d ever met until later when we were greeted by a group of shirtless men running the opposite direction. I always find it quite humorous to see shirtless runners baring their blaringly white chests along with stocking hats and gloves. These men thought they could will summer to arrive by simply switching to their summer wardrobe. It’s common to see people struggling to scale a large snow bank while wearing flip flops. We’re hopelessly optimistic.

 Needless to say, when summer arrives, people are desperate to soak up every minute. The lake chains that run through our city enjoy thousands of visitors a day and every restaurant in town patches together a makeshift patio to accommodate a few months of outdoor eating. Never mind that many of these patios overlook road construction. If there is any possible way to be outdoors, Minnesotans will find it. Even at work, I routinely see people working on our outdoor patio squeezing out every possible second of battery life from their laptop.

While I certainly uphold my traditional Minnesotan tendencies to spend as much time as possible outdoors during the glorious summer season, I’m not what would be described as “outdoorsy.” I am an urban adventurer.  Mother Nature is my mistress. I enjoy what she has to offer, but I always return to the comfort of my home where a hot shower, microwave and cotton sheets greet my tired soul. I’m painfully dependant on my modern life and have a hard time envisioning a life without air conditioning and TiVo. People who reject the comforts and amenities of home life baffle me. And while I certainly understand the allure of spending time enjoying the outdoors, I simply don’t understand camping. It seems like a huge step backwards. The human race has progressed to the point where climate control and indoor plumbing are accessible to many. If you gave a caveman the choice between a tent or a house, I’m pretty certain we can determine which choice they would make. (If you are faced with offering this choice – please hide your dog).

 Not only do you forfeit toilets, lean cuisines, netflix and your sonic care, you must fight the mosquitoes, surrender your mattress and potentially even put your self at risk to snakes, bears, black widows and Sasquatch. These seem like some pretty serious sacrifices for the chance to “get in touch with nature.”

 I’ve harbored these feeling towards camping my entire life. While my friends were girl scouting, I was lounging in front of the TV watching TGIF. Why would anyone give up the chance to hang out with Uncle Jessie and Steve Urkle just to sleep outdoors and poop on the ground? The only use my Care Bear sleeping bag ever got was the occasional slumber party.

When I mentioned to some friends that I had never slept in a tent they were horrified. Apparently torturing oneself by enduring outdoor elements is a right of passage. How could I survive post nuclear war without the basic skills necessary to build a fire and scavenge food? Simple – I ask my husband to do it. DUH!

Certainly there must be something I’m missing. Thousands of people love camping. Several of my friends take several camping trips each year, sometimes hauling and hiking their way into the secluded wild. I decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about and try camping once-and-for-all. I picked the perfect destination. It was located on a beautiful lake, safe from any potential wildlife threats, with cool summer evenings and notoriously scenic views. I picked my parents’ backyard.


Chili helped me unpack the tent. This was about the only part of the tent pitching process where I didn't feel overwhelmed with confusion.


I borrowed a tent from my sister and brother in-law; Erinand Chris. I was determined to pitch the tent on my own with no help. Thankfully the tent came with simple directions that a 6th grader could understand. Unfortunately, I read directions at a 5th grade level. I wasn’t even completely clear on what this tent was supposed to turn out looking like, but nevertheless I started staking the tent into the ground. 

Directions are hard.

Despite the diagrams, I was lost.


Nephew Isaac supervised as I staked down the tent. Despite being only 19 months old, I think he would have done a better job pitching this tent.I tied some complex knots to make sure the tent was together securely. It involved two bunny ears and a loop.


Umm, are there supposed to be extra pieces?

After staking the tent and inserting the poles I was stuck. How are these suckers supposed to connect to the tent? This is hard! I don’t get it! Chris looked on with a troubled face. Clearly things were getting off track. I read the directions over and over, but still couldn’t figure out how to affix the poles to the stakes. I felt like I was reading Spanish. Finally I retreated and asked Chris for a hint. He demonstrated how to insert a dangly piece of metal into the tent rods. Silly me, I thought the metal pieces were just pieces of tent bling. Apparently tents do not require flare; every piece actually has a functional purpose. Who knew! 
Brother-in-law Chris was baffled by my stupidity

Seriously, who would have thought the metal dangly piece was an integral part of the tent’s structure. I thought it was an emergency beer bottle opener.

After affixing the tent poles to the metal do-dads, I thought I was done. It looked like a tent to me. Unfortunately there were still several pieces left, including a large canvas thinger and another tent pole. Chris whispered “rain shield” and I groaned. I don’t even know what a rain shield looks like and if it didn’t have such a painfully descriptive name, I probably wouldn’t have known it’s purpose either. I caved and let Chris guide me through how to correctly erect the seemingly pointless addition.


Master tenter Chris shows me how it’s done.

Isaac resumes his supervision from the sidelines.


At last, the tent was complete and I was ready for my night under the stars. I recruited Chili dog to keep me company. Surely a dog would love to sleep outdoors and enjoy a beautiful summer night. I prepared my sleeping quarters with blankets, pillows and a flashlight. At 10 p.m. I woke Chili from his comfortable slumber on the coach and dragged him to the tent. I assumed he would plop down and quickly resume his comatose state – but the new environment made him antsy. He stood watch at the tent window, darting his eyes around the yard for the immanent pending attack of squirrels and bunnies. I quickly realized that Chili planned to be on critter duty all night. Chili was sent packing, and happily returned to his cannon ball position on the couch. I returned to the tent to stick out the night alone. Thankfully my white noise iPhone app drowned out the crickets and other critters’ best efforts to keep me up all night. Gosh nature, be quiet! I’m trying to sleep!


Ta-Da! 45 minutes later the tent is complete.


Good night moon!

 I fell asleep more quickly that I anticipated. I am notorious for having difficulty sleeping, so I was expecting a long sleepless night. The sun woke me at 5:30. I was slightly annoyed. Obviously I was trying to sleep. I wish the sun would have been more considerate! I gathered my gear, and waddled back to the house where I retreated to my usual cabin sleeping quarters –  the bedroom closet.

 Although I admit the experience was a pretty half-ass excuse for camping, it was a step in the right direction. I’d be open to trying real camping at some point assuming I could guarantee the following were available: an iPhone charger, a bug zapper, some Ambien, a shower and a fortune telling cat.

  • © 2011 Megan Steil