‘City girl’ goes camping

This is how camping made my younger brother Karl and me feel circa 1996. Our exposure to nature must have scrambled our brains. (photo by Johanna Holub/Review)

Jake, an accomplished cook, proudly made eggs and sausages in his beloved cast iron pan both mornings we camped at Lake Maria State Park. (photo by Johanna Holub/Review)

As part of our “We graduated high school!” road trip, six of us “city girls” camped out at a KOA to save money on lodging. Here we are with the fire we built ourselves, getting eaten not by bears, but mosquitos. (Photo courtesy of Caryn Thor)

By all definitions, I am a suburbanite. I’ve lived in New Brighton my whole life, all my friends live in surrounding municipalities, and the majority of my activities take place in very suburban areas.

But according to my boyfriend Jake and his family, who are from Bemidji, I am a “city girl.” From what I’ve gathered, a “city girl” is one who lives within a 50-mile radius of a metropolitan area, doesn’t like to touch insects, turns her nose up at deer hunting and has never lighted a fire for any reason other than to make s’mores. By those standards, I guess I deserve that title.

So when Jake invited me to go camping with his family, all of whom are very seasoned outdooorsmen and women, for a weekend, I accepted the invitation as an opportunity to expand my horizons. They have an RV, after all, so I decided it couldn’t be that bad. In fact, I was apparently so enthralled with the idea of camping that I somehow agreed to go on a second camping trip the very next weekend, with just my boyfriend and no RV.

I’ll admit, my experience with camping is extremely limited. If pitching a tent in my parents’ backyard for a sleepover with five other giggling girls and an air mattress counts as camping, then I am very knowledgeable about how to survive a night in the wild.

My family went state-park camping a couple times when I was a kid in our two-person (read: one-person) tent. My parents set up two cots in the flimsy plastic tarp-and-aluminum structure, and my younger brother and I had to sleep in the cramped space underneath those cots.

And it rained. It always rained, which is why my mom, a “farm girl,” swore off camping after I was about five. So our four-person excursions became three-person excursions, and there was a little more room in the tent, which I undoubtedly got because I was the oldest kid.

When I grew up a little, my best friends and I went on a road trip after we graduated from high school in 2009, during which we “camped” at a KOA for a couple of nights, which, of course, Jake scoffs at because that’s not “real camping.” But the six of us “city girls” were incredibly proud of our ability to pitch a tent, light a fire and not get eaten by bears overnight. That’s still a win in my book.

My idea of a great camping experience includes no bugs, running water for showers and toilets, and good weather. Is that so much to ask for? With an RV, “no,” but with a tent, “yes.”

Trip #1: Walker, Minnesota (with RV)

My non-camping parents gave me some sage words of advice before I embarked on my trip. “Don’t be a princess!” they chided.

We did end up cutting short our two-night stay at the Moonlight Bay Resort & Campground on Leech Lake, but that had less to do with my “regal” nature and more to do with our rowdy neighbors.

In fact, the sleeping facilities in the RV were pretty good. I slept on the couch that pulled out into a bed, and Jake slept in the table space that became a bed.

Our neighbors, however, decided for everyone in the area that bedtime should be around 4 a.m. Despite shouts of “Shut up!” emanating from surrounding tents and trailers, the group of five or so shirtless, drunk guys stayed up all night with a raging fire and eventually devolved into what we think was some sort of fist fight. They all seem to have survived the night.

Thankfully, our sleep deprivation quickly subsided when we stepped onto the pontoon that Jake’s dad had rented. We spent the day (which also happened to be my birthday) getting sunburned on the boat and stopping at various lake resorts for swimming, ice cream and of course, drinks.

Supper was “campfire dinners,” a food Jake raved about for days beforehand. The recipe is simple: cut up some meat and vegetables, plop a generous pat of butter on top, wrap it in tin foil, and it’s ready to get thrown in the fire for about 40 minutes. It was admittedly delicious.

“Having fun glamping?” a text from my mom on Saturday morning read, and no, that’s not a Mom-text typo. “Glamping,” for those of you who don’t know, means “glamour camping,” a term for people who want to camp in a fairly luxurious manner.

And yes, I was enjoying glamping - being able to check my Facebook newsfeed for birthday messages via the (I must say surprisingly) excellent campground wifi, washing off sunscreen and bug spray in the running-water showers, and being able to turn on the air conditioning as much as I wanted.

The mosquitos still made a meal out of me, but overall, I’d say I had an excellent weekend and would gladly go RV camping again in the future - but maybe with quieter neighbors or ear plugs next time.

Trip #2: Lake Maria State Park (sans RV)

So, I ended up losing the debate about whether the state park we were staying at was pronounced “Maria” or “Mariah.” Turns out, it’s the latter, much to my chagrin. Lake Maria State Park is not far from the Twin Cities and near Monticello, so it was nice to not have to sit in a car all day to get there.

We hiked with our gear to our site about a quarter mile off the road (which is very short by most campers’ standards) and set up the tent early on Friday evening.

The park was very pretty, though its serene beauty was severely marred by my panicked yelps every time I laid eyes on a spider - and there were a lot of spiders. The park is seemingly infested with daddy long legs, not, in fact, the deer flies they warned us about on the way in.

In an act of rebellion against my tireless attempts to murder their species, the spiders decided to spin a web right on the end of my toothbrush that I mistakenly allowed to stick out of my backpack overnight. So brushing my teeth was out for the weekend - don’t tell my dentist.

Luckily, however, we made it to the last day of camping before a spider sneaked into the tent. Win!

To be honest, sleeping on the mercifully flat ground was a lot easier than I expected, thanks to an old yoga mat, and the hole-in-the-ground style toilets were not the worst place I have ever had to relieve myself.

And although the state park didn’t have any working showers or swimmable lakes, Jake and I drove to a nearby county park that had the most glorious hot-water public showers, so we weren’t covered in mosquito repellent and smoke the whole time.

Looking back on the weekend, I was reminded a lot of the week I spent in the Peruvian rainforest in high school - but this time, not everything in the woods could kill me.

When comparing my two recent two trips, I was surprised to find I actually preferred the more rustic style of camping. Our time in the woods was quieter and more relaxed than the campground full of loud ruffians. So here’s my message to suburbanites who don’t think they’ll enjoy camping: Don’t be a princess!

Johanna Holub can be reached at jholub@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813. Follow her on Twitter @jholubnews.


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