My First Camping Experience

The best thing I could say about my first camping experience was that it was, “an instructive disaster!”  I still do not know how I allowed myself to spend an otherwise pleasant summer weekend in a primitive camp site at a state forest park located in northern Illinois.  All I recall is that my husband, Rick, and a few close married friends from college said it would be “fun” to spend a couple of days in the great outdoors only a few miles away from our comfortable suburban home located in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.

Rick was grinning from ear to ear when he picked me up as my commuter train arrived that Friday afternoon.  He informed me that everything we would need was packed in the trunk of our car and we could immediately depart on our camping adventure.  In about an hour we arrived at our campsite where our friends were seated in front of their very spacious looking king sized family camping tent.  Rick, an Eagle Scout, encouraged me to stroll around the campground while he unpacked the trunk and set up our campsite. I took in the sites of our primitive campground which included decaying picnic tables, rustic wooden out houses known as “Kybos,” and a smattering of fire rings randomly strewn across the grounds as far as the eye could see.  This sobering scene sent a mild shiver up my spine as I got a strong feeling of having been transported in time from the Disco 70’s to the pioneer days of frontier Illinois!

My feelings of becoming a distraught, disoriented time traveler were amplified as my newly constructed campsite came into view.  There, next to next to our friend’s canvass mansion, stood our dingy green tent with no zippered door, no floor, no windows and barely enough room to accommodate a single camper much less two full grown adults with associated camping gear.  As I vented my horror at my husband, Rick attempted to explain how he had camped many times as an emaciated ten year old Boy Scout then purchased his beloved tent in a shrewd business deal for just five dollars rather than have it placed on a junk heap.  He then explained how plastic garbage bags served as a floor; how the flap in the front was both a window and a door; and how camping gear was not required now that he planned to serve up dinner in an aluminum foil meal plan baked in our campfire coals.

I managed to compose myself enough to sit down and eat my first aluminum foil meal consisting of steam boiled steak, carrots, sliced potatoes and a few ashes for good measure.  I would learn later that this culinary feast caused a night long bout of old fashioned diarrhea which had me running back and forth from our ant infested tent to the nearest Kybo until sunrise on the second day of “camp-a-geddon.”

Nothing Rick or my friends could say that next day could prevent me from having our campsite packed up in the trunk and driven back to civilization.  I vowed to never camp again only to realize, just fifteen years later, that this experience had taught me several important lessons:

  1. Camping is a hobby that requires careful consideration and an investment in acquiring the proper equipment and selecting a suitable site under the advice and counsel of family and friends.

  2. Every camper must be actively involved as a participant in one or more aspects of the experience.

  3. Every campout provides new and different ways of improving your camp craft skills.

These lessons, along with the birth of our four beautiful children, would eventually lead me to decide on camping again.

— Mary Kay and Rick Riviere

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