Tuesday, September 27, 2016


When I began planning a cross-country trip in 1999, I invited my friend Mike Moore to be my camping consultant.  My friendship with Mike began around a conversation we had one day about fishing.  I was never much of a fisherman and when I learned that he certainly was, I prevailed upon him for some personal coaching.  That led to our going on an overnight camping trip up in the mountains of Southwestern Virginia, location of some of the best trout streams you’ll ever find.  I had been dreaming of camping since I was in the Boy Scouts.  My trip with Mike didn’t disappoint.

He made a total disciple of me by cooking in an iron kettle over a fire a stew of freshly caught fish, potatoes, other vegetables, and spices.  I forthwith returned to Lynchburg, went downtown to an old-fashioned hardware store, and bought a cast iron pot of the sort that Mike had used.   I still have it.  I’ve never cooked a fish stew in it, but I have hopes.

That cross-country trip was my reintroduction to the joys of camping.  Barry, a friend I met at a men’s retreat in New Mexico, was along with me to aid in pitching camp the first time I’d done so since adolescence.   We spent a very breezy night on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  I was surprised that we weren’t totally blown away.   The winds howled.  The tent flapped.  But next day we made breakfast over an open fire with morning calm enwrapping us.  Odors of smoke, bacon, and coffee brought me from the level of disciple to that of true apostolic believer. 

Camping solo has its value, though I am not much of a loner and certainly don’t like setting up a tent of any size by myself.  Enter Joe, seven or so years after that extended trip.   I owned a tent that Bobby Harris had handily talked me into buying when he was selling tents in the early 2000’s on the lawn of Boonsboro Shopping Center in Lynchburg.  It was a beautiful little tent—rather gaily colored purple and green, and big enough (so Bobby said) for two. I used it over the next few years, including at least twice on Joe’s and my initial camping ventures.  It did not take us long to discover that two guys our size would be much happier not stuffed into a pup tent. 
Joe and I camping at Ohiopyle, PA
We sprang for a four-person tent that actually is just the right size for two adult men.  And both of us can stand up in it, though it is easier to do so when we don’t have a queen size air mattress in the middle of it. 

We manage to go camping once or twice during warm weather, three times if we’re lucky.   Only once have we carted with us my old plastic tub of cooking pots and utensils, although there is a part of me that would love to carry all that paraphernalia including the Mike-inspired cast iron pot.   Last weekend, our second and final one for camping this year, we returned to a small, private campground in rural Virginia.  It is really more like a bed and breakfast than a campground.   There is a swimming pool, an outdoor Jacuzzi, a lake for boating and swimming (though not for fishing), a guest house with kitchen facilities available to campers, an outdoor bar, some gazebos for lounging and eating, and plenty of trails to hike, including one that encircles the lake, punctuated by two screened gazebos that serve as nice little stopping places for relaxing and socializing. 

swimming pool at "camp" in Virginia

domed cover over jacuzzi; pool; bar

more like camping maybe than pools and jacuzzis

Lovely stonework, an enviable array of shrubs and plants, a new gas grill and various other amenities clearly do not throw this place into the column “Roughing It.”   Still, in the fire pit and the fireplace of the beautiful outdoor stone chimney, burning oak and the occasional hickory logs snap and pop in mesmerizing flames that take us back to our tribal origins.

In the ten years that we’ve been camping, Joe and I have perhaps only twice avoided being rained on.  Even though the weather was incredibly beautiful last Friday and Saturday, some little breakaway cloud could simply not avoid dumping a quick shower on us.  It didn’t last long, nor was it heavy, though it only takes a quart or two of water from on high to ensure the necessity of drying out a tent before repacking it. 

Camping is hardly a convenience.  In our small living space, we have exactly one tiny closet into which to store all of our camping gear and just about anything else that needs to be out of sight.  Unpacking and repacking the closet is itself something of a time consumer, not to mention loading and unloading the car twice, pitching and striking camp, and sometimes being bested by mosquitos who can zoom into a tent faster than you can zip, unzip, and re-zip the tent door.  It is cheaper than a hotel room, for sure.  But the mystique of camping is exactly what drew me to the Boy Scouts in the first place, when I had little in common with most of the guys in my troop. 

one of our better campfires
It is some form of primal experience of sitting in the nighttime around a fire, gazing into its flames, maybe not even speaking for long stretches, sharing a story or two (the ghastlier the better), maybe cutting a fart, yarning, joking, philosophizing. 

Convenience?  What is that to compare with waking up in the morning to the scent of bacon sizzling over an open fire and the bubbling of coffee perking in an enamel pot?

© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2016



Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing your camping story. Camping is a great way to get away and enjoy nature for the weekend. Iam sure it is nice to have those extra comforts at the campground though. Like the swimming pool.

Frank said...

Oh, that place is wonderful, and by far the best experience of camping we've had, if measured by sheer fun. Camping for a lot of people means RV's and popups. That's fine, but not my style. I really like not only sleeping in a tent, but cooking over an open fire. The latter, as I said here, has not been the case for a number of years, and I can't argue that it would be easier. There is something healthy, I think, about living even for a day or two on a more primitive level than normal.