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Cam Marston on Camping

On this week’s Keepin’ It Real, Cam Marston says that western society has gotten soft, and this is pertinent right now because he’s been invited to go camping.

Years ago, my wife and I got a deal on some camping equipment. We headed into the North Carolina mountains to a creek camp site and set up our fancy new tent and tried out our new gear. When night fell, we unpacked our fancy new sleeping bags that were rated to keep us warm well below that night’s low temperature, climbed in, and waited to get warm, and we waited, and we waited. Then we started shivering. Teeth began chattering. After an interminable amount of time, I asked my wife what time it was. “Ten PM,” she said. The night wasn’t even half over. It was awful. As soon as there was any hint of daylight, we packed up, hiked out, drove home, climbed in bed. That was well over twenty years ago. The cold got into my bones that night and has never left. I’ve still not warmed up.

Mankind, and especially Western society, has gotten soft. In fact, a book called The Comfort Crisis documents this, and I’m right in the crosshairs of that book. Humans have figured out how to make nearly any environment on earth more and more and more comfortable. Along the way, we’ve lost some toughness, some resilience. At the same time, however, I don’t think the solution to too much comfort is to seek discomfort.

And this is on my mind right now as I have, once again, been invited to go camping. I have a certain friend who claims to love camping, and I think he really does, but he has a hard time finding anyone to go with him. He invites me multiple times each year. The reason that no one joins him is that we know camping is not fun. It is unfun. It is the inverse of fun. It is proactively seeking discomfort, and this current invitation involved a five and half hour drive one way to sleep on the cold ground for one cold night and then drive home, and I’ll say it again: Five-and-a-half-hour drive. Sleep on the ground, very cold night, drive home, un-fun.

For two summers during college, I worked in Glacier National Park in Montana. Each summer I planned to become a camping savant. Each summer I camped one time and never did it again. I lay there all night hoping a grizzly bear would come maul me because it’s got to be better than this.

The idea of camping is glorious. Nature and hiking and self-sufficiency and wildlife and all that. It’s romantic, but it’s like horses. I love the idea of being a horse person, but I’ve been around horses. They’re big, and they’re strong, and they spook easily and run very, very fast, and I’ve learned that I love the idea of being a horse person, but I have no interest in actually being a horse person. The same is true with camping.

It disgusts my friend when I tell him this, but on a pretty night when the wind is out of the north with low humidity in the air, I’ll open my bedroom window and throw an extra blanket on the bed, and that’s as close as I’m gonna get to camping.

I'm Cam Marston, and I'm just trying to Keep It Real.

Cam Marston is the Keepin' It Real host for Alabama Public Radio.