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new_paltz_bannerSo I went camping.  I camped. I have been a camper.  I now understand the mysterious world of camping–sort of. Jewish Friend and I took to the woods with a moderate amount of success, and strangely, I would do it again.

We arrived in New Paltz, NY around 9pm.  It was darkish–enough to necessitate the headlamps we brought.  Seriously, for this rather low-key affair, I purchased what seems like an exorbitant amount of “gear,” but justified these purchases by telling myself that now I can camp at will.  Think of all the money I’ll save in the long run!

The campsites we were staying at were of the no-frills/free variety.  No toilets, no showers, no well-marked trail, just a small triangle sign and a patch of cleared space.  The idea is, come, pitch a tent, clean up after yourself, which is exactly what we planned to do.  The three campsites are big enough for four tents, and people are supposed to share.  Jewish Friend told me that typically this campsite is full of rock climbers, who go to bed early, get up early, and make little to no noise.

After climbing the steepest hill in the world, we arrived at the campsite.  There were some kids spread out next to the fire pit, and a couple in their mid-twenties a little ways away from them.  “Do you mind if we put our tent back there?” Jewish Friend asked indicating a spot just behind the couple’s tent.

The guy glanced at the spot, and said, “yeah, we kind of do mind.”

Strike one for camper courtesy, but these people were clearly planning on trysting romantically, and with all of the outdoor sex acts I’ve seen this summer, I’m happy to walk away from the chance for more.

So we walked over to the kids, and asked if we could put up our tent near them. There were about eight of them, they were playing a guitar and having a quiet conversation–seemed pretty chill.  They told us of course we could put our tent there, and then marveled to each other about how awesome our headlamps were.

My heart started warming toward these teenagers, but dimmed a bit after they started playing not one, but three Third-Eye blind songs.  Who the hell knows more than one?  How are they even different?

We set up our tent and went into town for late dinner and a beer, getting back to the campsite around 11pm.  By this point, the teenagers were still just sitting around, their fire was dying, and (I thought) they were getting ready for bed.  Jewish Friend and I put on our jammies, played some cards, and decided to call it an early night in preparation for the full day ahead of us.

“Do you think they’re going to be up late?” Jewish Friend asked me. “If they are, I won’t be able to sleep, I can’t sleep if there’s noise.  Do you think we should move the tent?”

“There’s nowhere to move the tent, and besides, how late can they possibly stay up? It will be fine.”  This was the first of so many things I was wrong about that night.

Not only were these kids staying up, but at 3am, they called for reinforcements.  Two boys showed up with a cooler full of beer and a cord of firewood, and got the party going again.  By this point, Jewish Friend and I had our ears stuffed full of cotton balls, I was thinking about draping my clothes over my ears, and she was considering going and sleeping in the car.

One of the new boys noticed our tent and asked, “Holy shit, are there people in there?  Should we be quiet?”

Maggie, the loudest girl ever born, reassured him, “Yeah, it’s two girls, but we asked if we were too loud and they said it was fine.”

This is a lie.

“Actually,” Jewish Friend spoke up, “We would really appreciate it if you could keep your voices down.”

And they did–all of them by Maggie.  Her other friends had climbed into their tents by this point, though I can’t imagine they were sleeping.  She then spent the next three hours talking about herself in the loudest voice possible, and desperately trying to get one or both of the boys to have sex with her.

“My mother says I was born beautiful, she tells me that all the time…If I want to get a tattoo, that’s like my body, that’s my business. I mean she can tell me not to drink or do drugs, but like a tattoo, that’s my body… I’m not drunk, I’m completely sober, I haven’t done any drugs, I don’t do drugs…The people that camp around here are all rock climbers who go to bed early, so we can totally stay up and party, they’re all sleeping…At the Indian restaurant.  Have you been there?  They have this bread, it’s called naan…There’s no room in the tent, so we can just fucking dogpile, whatever….I’m going to go to college, and I’m going to like, live my life…The lobster roll sandwich at Panera Bread is like, fucking 16 dollars of, like, processed, gross, lobster, fucking processed, fucking cheese. I mean for like 3 more dollars I could go to a real restaurant, I mean, why the hell would anyone want…lobsterroll

Finally, at 6am, Jewish Friend (after hours of shushing Maggie and asking her to keep her voice down) said, “I’m sure the Lobster Roll sandwich at Panera Bread is grossly overpriced, however, it is now 6am.  I would like to get at least one hour of sleep tonight.”

Then, we heard the most glorious sound ever coming from the other tent, “Yeah, shut the fuck up, Maggie! She’s asked you like 10 times and you’ve been talking all night.”

Maggie disregarded this in the way that bossy girls who are never wrong do, but her friends quickly rebounded with, “Seriously, Maggie, shut the fuck up. What is wrong with you?”

We managed to grab about two hours sleep after the mutiny shut Maggie up for good. As we were taking down the tent, the four girls were rather sheepishly cleaning up their space.  After listening to Maggie talk about how beautiful she was all night long, I expected to see a homecoming queen-type rolling up the tent.  Apparently, Maggie is quite plain and rather chubby, which may be why she gets so many compliments only from her mother.

We spent the following night in a hotel.

camping_bannerThe teeny-tiny Minnesota town that I grew up in was 30 minutes from the Canadian border.  Every summer there would be a mass influx of Canadian campers who would roost in the campgrounds right by the city pool.  They would stare at us, we would stare at them, they would speak French and then laugh loudly in a way that made me certain they were making fun of me.

I loved growing up in that town and spending all day every day at that swimming pool, but even at that young age I had seen enough of the world to know that it wasn’t a superrad vacation destination.  There were some bike trails– I mentioned the pool (very nice for such a small town), a river that I guess people could fish in… I really don’t know what else would draw so many people to these campgrounds–or why it was almost exclusively Canadians.

When I was 12, we moved to another teeny-tiny town, this one in North Dakota, and there was a lovely state park about 30 minutes away.  This place had it all–woods, trails, a lake, beach–everything that I though proper camping should include.  Yet my friends who were of the camping persuasion, would go out there, spend the night in a pimped-out camper with almost all the comforts of home, and then spend the day either back at their parent’s house on the couch, or hanging out with me–not enjoying (what I thought was) the appeal of camping.

My parents never took me camping– which is probably pretty clear, because they didn’t get it either.  We took day trips to state parks, picnicked, swam, hiked, but then drove back home so we wouldn’t have to wrestle with putting up a tent, or what to do when it gets dark at 9:30pm and you’re really not hungry and have nothing left to say to each other.

Jewish Friend has been trying to shanghai me into going camping with her since I met her.  She went to college in an idyllic town in upstate New York and spent her time there hiking and wearing flannel (from what I understand of it).  I have now relented and agreed to camp with her in exchange for a visit to Washington Irving’s Estate, and possibly the mountain that Rip Van Winkle fell asleep on.

Now, in the quest to scare up some camping gear, I find out that more of my friends than I could possibly thought have a deep affection for camping.  Sassy Redhead, one of my most refined chums, owns a sub-zero sleeping bag and told me, “I chipped ice from a frozen river to make tea.”  Always classy, even in the woods.

This is similar to the bafflement I felt when I left the Midwest–Heartland of America, land of farmers– to come to the liberal Northeast and discover that all of these hipsters I was meeting also were or wanted to be farmers.  That’s an exaggeration, but it was perplexing.

I’m down with nature, I think it’s great and try to preserve it, I prevent forest fires, but I also like showers and comfortable sleeping surfaces.  Oh well, it’s an adventure.