Glad I Tried

I have always wanted to be a camper. (Not a literal camper, but one who camps!) Perhaps it was the imagination I had when friends talked about overnights with Girl Scouts that sounded so luxurious. I also loved Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and her life on the prairie seemed a lot like camping to me. I dreamed my destiny was to be a camper!

My first campout was in high school. Friends and I planned to go over Memorial Day weekend. We packed the bed of my green Ford pick-up truck with tents and a cooler and spent a couple of “all nighters” at Potawatomi “Pot” Park. I wonder what our parents thought was really in our cooler. 

I camped once as a young adult. We had a lot of laughs with our large group, but the bugs, the rain, and lack of toilet facilities put a damper on things. Did I mention rain? What about damp? As much as I dreamed of camping, it didn’t work well for me. I could go a day or two without a shower, but sleeplessness was grueling.

Some years later, my husband and I tried camping one night when the kids were away. We found an ideal spot next to a swimmable lake and prepared delicious food for a memorable evening. I don’t recollect the meal; I remember all the work. I also recall how our dog cried and rustled around on high alert all night long. Not a wink of sleep. Miserable.

During COVID we hosted some of my daughter’s friends for the summer. As 4th of July weekend was approaching, we wanted to show them a good time. “We love camping!” they squealed with delight. I had not yet given up the family camping fantasy.

I yearned for some adventurous memories to cherish for years to come.

We agreed to go but decided to make planning simpler by borrowing a pop-up camper from a friend. Brilliant choice! 

The night before departing, we filled the camper with our supplies and practiced setting it up. Then we heard a loud sound, “Bam! 

“That was bad.” my husband murmured. “I think the crank busted.” 


The girls were not deterred. “Let’s just tent camp!” they insisted. “It’s a blast.” 

A people-pleasing part inside of me enthusiastically agreed, “Yes, let’s do it!” but immense trepidation showed up immediately. I began to question. “What will we cook on? A fire? How will I sleep? What about dirt and rain and…?”  

Youthful optimism overruled. We squished ourselves and our gear into the car and headed out early the next morning. And we had a wonderful time. We swam, rode bike, ate well, and I even slept two of three nights. The sound of the crickets in the evening and waking up to sunrise was blissful. Card games and campfire stories filled my soul, and I had only one meltdown. Success!

We camped only once that summer, but my hope for future years of backpacking and canoe adventures and more car camping (new term I learned) soared. A legitimate camper was birthed. I zealously informed the family, “We need some gear!” 

Christmas brought me my very own cot, and we added an exceptional cooler (that I could hardly lift) and several lanterns. As I began to organize our new supplies, I could hardly wait to get our first camping adventure on the calendar for 2021. 

When July arrived, we had reservations at a popular spot that had the benefit of bathhouse facilities. We expectantly filled the car with gear and food. I was prepared with expert tips and recipes for our momentous weekend. It would definitely be memorable.

First night: freezing, rolling, turning, spinning. 

Day 1: miserable.

Second night: burned food, mattress leak, rolling, turning, spinning, tent collapse.   

Day 2: crabby.

Relief came that evening in knowing that we had chosen to stay at a place with showers! I fumbled through the disorder of my tent digging for my toiletries and hauled my pile to the bathhouse. There was a long line for the shower as only one was operable. Frustrated, I forged ahead to brush my teeth. The filthy sink had but a trickle of water. I looked at myself in the mirror and sighed in disappointment. I paused to assess my plight. Then came a forceful, once-and-for-all moment of reckoning. I uttered to myself, “I give up. I am not a camper.” 

I gathered my things and sluggishly rambled back to my site as I reasoned, ‘I’m glad I tried, and I have some memories for sure. But sometimes I just want to be something I’m not. Next time, get a hotel.”

Maryhelen Martens has been gathering and connecting with others since she was a young girl growing up in rural Wisconsin. She is a lover of whimsy and play, beauty and depth, all of which she experiences in her relationships. While her emotions and voice were shut down for decades, she is finding them again and using them in healing groups, story coaching, and writing. She’s always been drawn to water and sunsets and more recently to the desert and sunrises. She’s curious about that. Mother to three authentic adults, Maryhelen lives with her steadfast husband Keith on the shore of Lake Michigan.