“You Want Me to Sleep Where??” How I Became a Camper

What kind of child do you get when you marry a country boy to a city girl? Me – a girl who takes a curling iron to her first campout.

Camper camping
My glamorous mom with my brother and I

My mother, born and bred in the city, was a vain woman and never left the house without makeup. Every hair was always perfectly in place and she almost always wore high heels. Being her only daughter, I shared a lot of her opinions and characteristics. However, I was more of a tomboy as a kid and hated dressing up. I did however, share her love of nice hotels (I still do!). On vacation, she’d spend a day outside, but needed that nice hotel to go back to at night. She was no camper.

Even though I was an outdoorsy kid, I had never been camping, nor did I think I ever would. The thought of sleeping outside, around bugs and rodents, and using pit toilets was enough to keep me from sleeping in the woods.

Camper camping
My brother and I exploring the Wisconsin Dells in the late 1980’s.

My first real camping experience was back in 1989 for a mandatory church confirmation retreat. Now mind you, we were not on the amazing west coast, near the scenic Sierra mountains or the Rockies. We were nowhere scenic. We were in a state park, in northern Illinois, in the late spring.

And I hated it.

Camper camping

It rained almost the entire weekend (and when it wasn’t raining, it was rather chilly). Since most of us weren’t prepared for rain, I spent the day in a Hefty trash bag with a hole to fit my head. I was cold and wet, I missed being home, and I didn’t see the value in spending a weekend away in the woods. Couldn’t we have just done activities at the church? Why did we have to go out to this awful wet park and sleep in a tent?

The night brought more rain and water pooled under and into our tent. I was miserable. I couldn’t possibly understand why people did this for fun.

The next day, I took a cringeworthy shower in the camp bathroom (I didn’t know to bring flip-flops for the shower), trying to keep the disgusting shower curtain away from my wet body.  Relieved to be dry and out of the shower, I headed to the sink area with my curling iron and blow dryer and was stunned not to find an outlet.

Yes, I know. I brought hair styling tools to a campout. I really had no clue. Of course, that just further ruined my day since my hair wasn’t styled properly with 3 inches of curly, poufed bangs.

About six years later, wiser (supposedly) and more mature, I took a camping trip with my husband’s (then boyfriend’s) family. They allowed me to join them on their family camping vacation in Yellowstone and the Rockies. This was a much better experience for me: the tent was better; the scenery was breathtaking; it didn’t rain; and I was with people I really enjoyed being with.

However, I still brought my curling iron.

Camper camping
That’s me at Rocky Mountain National Park in 1995. I was forced to wear a hat since I couldn’t curl my hair!

Maybe I thought that camping had evolved into a more technological activity – with nice, clean bathrooms with power outlets, counters, and mirrors . My boyfriend’s mother (now mother-in-law) kindly laughed at my ignorance. Of course, this was also a trip that I brought jewelry and makeup for. Camping was completely foreign to me. I knew absolutely nothing about the simplicity of being a camper.

Since that trip with my husband’s family, I’ve been camping quite a bit. I’ve learned a lot, but I’ve also realized what camping is really about and why people do it: the act of camping is simply setting up a place to sleep for the night in a place you enjoy; to immerse yourself in the beauty of the environment; to escape from the everyday world; to get back to humanity’s roots; and to be at peace with yourself, naturally, without the colorful veneer of cosmetics and material goods.

Since I didn’t get to travel much as a child, I didn’t realize how beautiful certain areas of the country were. I didn’t know that there would be places so beautiful that you would want to totally absorb yourself in that environment, both day AND night. Also, knowing that camping is the only way to see some of the world’s most beautiful sights, you have to find a way to enjoy sleeping outside, if you truly want to see them.

Camping is so much better today because of technology. Tents are constructed better, sleeping materials are lighter, and all fabrics are more comfortable, and protective from the elements. Having better gear makes a person more comfortable being in the outdoors.

All in all, I realized that what matters most when you are camping, is who you are spending the time with. If you are with people you love, you should love the experience. Add to that good camping gear and being in a place that you love, and you should have everything you need to make a fun, memorable, and happy experience. At least, that’s what made me a camper. If I have the right people, the right gear, and am in the right place, I can happily camp.

Of course, I still like to stay in those nice hotels every once in a while. But who doesn’t?!

Happy Travels and Happy Camping!



  1. Phil | 4th Jul 16

    You’re good at putting your feelings and thoughts into words. It seems you have made a written record of many chapters of your life. I can’t keep up with your writing but share many of the thoughts from my past. I have never been married but every relationship I had that lasted a year or more shared a cross country trip zig zagging our way across the US.
    The adventures that still remain in the GC are many. One just needs to get off the beaten path. Phantom Ranch is the cross roads for meeting a diverse mix of people that share the trip for reasons that in ways are opposed to outdoor thinking where comfort is something that is traded. The appreciation of what we already have becomes amplified when not taken as a given. I have had more than my share of memories.
    Have you ever seen the movie The Grand Canyon? The last scene is our first.
    I’m thankful for spell check in the word program.

    • Julie | 6th Jul 16

      I agree Phil! Phantom Ranch is a wonderful place to meet people from all walks of life. Everyone there has a story to tell. Although my favorite memory of Phantom Ranch is an ice cold lemonade that I would have paid $20 for! Nothing beats a cold drink when you’re at Phantom Ranch!!! Thanks for the movie recommendation. I’ve never seen it – I’ll have to put it on my watch list. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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