A getaway. That’s what we’ve been craving during the coronavirus craziness – an opportunity to escape the confines of our houses and masks and the constant bad news online and on television. I booked us a cabin in a park full of socially distanced cabins. Trees, paths, wilderness, woods, some time in nature and away from our big city lives.
I’m no stranger to camping. Growing up in Genesee County, MI, my dad’s favorite weekend activity was going “Up North” to camp. Generally, this meant staying in a tent or a pop-up camper, though when I started high school, he and stepmom had moved on to a swanky motorhome not unlike a mini-hotel. But when I was younger, it was rustic campgrounds without electricity or plumbing, sleeping in a sleeping bag and everything smelling like campfire smoke. Your clothes, your hair, your sleeping bag, everything a mix of smoke and pine and cold mornings. We’d sit around the fire at night and my dad would play the guitar and we’d sing. In the morning, he’d cook eggs and bacon on the fire and then, we’d put our hiking shoes on with our swimsuits and tramp through trails full of poison ivy to get to the AuSable river for a swim. We didn’t see many other people, as though we belonged to a club who chose this form of camping because it was a kind of lonely, “survivor” type not for the faint of heart.
The older I got, the more amenities I demanded. The campground had to have a shower. No more pouring buckets of water over our heads behind a tarp. And no more peeing in a hole my dad dug into the ground, thank you very much.
And so, with this rented cabin located an hour outside of Houston, TX, I was sure to confirm that it had electricity, plumbing and a stove. On first glance, it was charming. A miniature cabin in the woods, away from the scary events of the world. Trees as far as the eye could see and a fire pit ready for roasting marshmallows.
But, there was a problem. A miniature cabin in the woods is exactly that. Miniature. A tiny space being occupied by two adults, a toddler and a terrier waiting for the cabin door to open with baited dog breath. He wants to run! He wants to explore! He wants to get lost several times! He wants you to call for him for over an hour before trotting back to the cabin looking for treats.
But the fire … so cozy! Well, in my memory, the fire was cozier on a fall evening in Michigan, not the muggy, Texas day we had. The temperature doesn’t change much on a Houston area night – mostly unbearable even under a canopy of trees. And that smoky smell follows you into the cabin, sticks to your toddler’s hair, your clothes, gets into the blankets. Inevitably, my partner’s job would (and did) call, leaving him wandering about the cabin site holding a laptop trying to make the mobile hotspot work, yelling about safety precautions, efficiency and “presenting findings to the team” as the trees listened, indifferent.
I had booked the place for three days. But at about 3am, after a night of toddler wakings, dog scratching to get outside (having gone missing no less than three times) and my partner’s work phone/email pinging me awake every 25 minutes, I got up and started packing.
I wanted a hot shower to clean the smoke from my hair. I wanted something cooked in a microwave and I wanted to lock the dog in a kennel for the rest of his life. Most of all, I wanted to stretch out without bumping into my entire family with every movement.
I was no stranger to camping, but it seems that camping had become a stranger to me. Who knew the best part of a getaway was the coming home?