Although I starting camping with my family when I was a little girl, today's tale is of a single camping trip that almost defies description.
Fear of the Great Outdoors
When my daughters and I lived near San Diego, CA, I worked with some interesting folks. Ruth, about 20 years my senior, invited me, daughter Erin, and another co-worker, who I will refer to as 'City Slicker', to join Ruth and her husband, Rich, at an orienteering campout at Palomar Mountain State Park.
And although the temperature was in the range of 60 to 70 degrees, City Slicker was wearing numerous layers of clothing, including long underwear. I hoped she didn't have an urgent need to use the outhouse, because it would take her several agonizing minutes to undress her nether regions.
Have you ever been orienteering? it works something like this: Someone has mapped out a course in the area using a topographical map. At regular intervals on the hike, checkpoints are placed.
Armed with a compass, some instructions, a map, and, most importantly, a whistle, you are to traverse the unfamiliar terrain and stamp your orienteering card at each checkpoint - indicating that you made it to the location. And you're supposed to be quick about it.
Your progress is timed, and competition is fierce.
Sporting hiking boots or racing shoes, this group of hardy athletic types were chomping at the bit to hit the course.
I was not a participant; my assigned task involved registering participants and assigning start times. There were a lot of
Erin, who was in 5th or 6th grade at the time, wanted to give it a try. "Sure, kid, go off into the wilderness by yourself, armed only with a compass and a whistle."
Misunderstanding my sarcasm for permission, she received a quick lesson in how to read the topographical map, and she was ready to go. As she left at her appointed start time on the Beginner course (all alone, mind you), I started assessing the other participants, wondering who would be energetic and agile enough to head up the search team when Erin lost her way or happened to tumble down a ravine, unable to blow her whistle for assistance.
Erin, the girl who was my navigator as we traveled by car from Pennsylvania to our new home in California, was a map geek.
She made it to the finish line in about an hour (ahead of some more experienced orienteerers). It was an excellent showing for her maiden voyage.
City Slicker, on the other hand, was not keen on the great outdoors. She practically hyperventilated as we drove the mountainous roads to the campsite. In all fairness, the guardrails looked anemic, and oversteering on a curve would mean certain death.
But the truly hairy part of our ordeal didn't begin until nightfall.
City Slicker was not accustomed to the utter darkness that fell upon us in the woods. The sky was filled with more stars than I've ever seen, since we were so far away from the distortion of city lights.
As the night sounds of nocturnal critters shattered the silence, City Slicker became more anxious by the minute. Ruth and her husband had retired to their van for some well-deserved rest, and Erin had already bunked down in our tent. I suggested that City Slicker and I also call it a night. That's when the crazy hit.
She was afraid to sleep in the tent; she preferred sitting by the fire. Perhaps she felt better deluding herself that she could see possible danger in the absolute blackness of the night.
She didn't want to be alone with her fear...so we sat up all night, burning up Ruth's firewood. Though I'd have preferred snuggling into a cozy sleeping bag in the tent, I remained by City Slicker's side, offering her whatever comfort I could.
Although, if I remember it correctly, I may have detailed some of the dangers that lurked beyond our campsite - just to keep the conversation going. For example, I'm almost positive I talked about several species of spiders that favored dark outhouses. Oh, and I'm sure I talked about bats.
I was set for the night.
I figured I was more likely to be attacked by a bear than City Slicker was - any grizzly would need Wolverine's fingernails to claw through the numerous layers of clothing to get to her pale flesh.
That experience at Palomar Mountain messed with my camping mojo. It took me ten years to venture outdoors with my tent. You can read about that disaster here.