We have a saying in our family--if nothing goes wrong, you didn’t try hard enough. I can prep all I want for my camping trips but something will always get the better of me. It’s just part of being outside in the elements and taking a chance. As a result, I’ve experienced some camping doozies and wanted to relay a few so that you don’t feel so bad about that time you pitched your tent too close to the stream and when it rained, half your stuff washed away. One time, I didn’t realize that a bag of hotdog rolls had fallen out of the bag and wasjust sitting in the hatchback of my car (or should I clarify that it was the car I had at the time, you’ll find out why I am making the distinction in a minute). It wouldn’t have been so bad if I had also remembered to roll the window back up after I went through the gate at the campgrounds but it was late and Murphy was on my side that night. Luckily I was not in bear country. Unlucky for my car, however, I was in squirrel country. It was my own stupid fault, but still. There is no amount of car detailing that is going to get the smell of squirrel piss out of car upholstery, let me tell you. I always keep an eye on the weather reports before I head out, but there was one time where the weather guy could not have been more wrong. It rained the entire time I was out there, and the road to leave was in danger of getting washed out. I spent much of that trip in the truck I traded in for the squirrelmobile. So much that I killed the battery in the truck and had to have somebody jump the battery in the rain so I could evacuate with everyone else. That was fun. But probably the best “disaster” I ever had was when my girlfriend—who hates camping and is literally allergic to the outdoors—decided that she was going to come along. She doesn’t like fishing and won’t eat fish either. I didn’t argue with her because she wanted to spend some quality time outdoors and I’m good with that. So she got some steroid medication from her doctor to help with her allergies and put on a brave face. Well, the steroids worked all right. She didn’t have any allergy problems. What she did have, however, was a serious case of roid rage. She got mad at me because I “didn’t bring her anything to eat” even though she bought and packed the food. She actually kicked the entire tent down. Then she broke a bunch of the poles and whatever wouldn’t break, she tried to throw in the stream. I say it’s funny now because she bought me a new, better, tent once she calmed down. I’ve got a million of ‘em: falling on my butt while fishing and getting drenched, losing a fight with a fish and having my pole break, accidentally forgetting some vital thing at home, touching some poison ivy in the dark while finding a place to do my business when I was drunk once; the list goes on and on. What about you? What’s your worst camping trip story?
Camping, when you do it right, requires a lot of planning and foresight. If you’re really going to be out in nature, there probably won’t be a store anywhere nearby so you have what you bring and that’s about all you’re going to get. If you pack smartly, you’re fine. Here are a few tips that I have learned—sometimes the hard way—over my many camping trips:
- Plan a shelter. You need somewhere to sleep. Bring a tent that’s big enough for the amount of people who plan to be in it. If it comes with extra poles or stakes, bring those too. You never know when one is going to accidentally (or intentionally) break and you’ll be glad you have a backup. A waterproof ground tarp is also good. Sleeping bags or an air mattress to sleep on/in, along with sheets, blankets, and pillows. If you’re bringing an air mattress, make sure you have something to blow it up with and a patch kit in case of air leaks. For sleeping bags, make sure it is rated for the temperatures you will be experiencing.
- Keep yourself safe. Research a little about the area before you go. Learn about any wildlife you may encounter and what to do if you if your path crosses anything dangerous. I bring printouts if I am not sure I will remember (is it black on red, I’ll be dead?) Bring a map and a compass or GPS. Trust me, your sense of direction isn’t perfect. Have plenty of water or the ability to filter/purify/treat it. Take a battery powered radio and a flashlight or lantern with you. Check to make sure everything works before you leave. The last thing you want to find is that your flashlight is dead when you’re in the tent and have to pee on the first night. Been there, done that! Matches, too. Just in case you need it. Have a multi-tool or pocket knife.
- Personal items are a must. Not just toiletries like a toothbrush and toothpaste, but other things like sunblock, chapstick, and bug repellant. If you take medications, bring extra just in case. If you are a fan of showers, you can get a camping shower and pump or a shower bag to stay somewhat clean. If you require more than that, you probably shouldn’t be camping. But you might want to pack toilet paper.
- I already mentioned water, but be sure to bring more food than you think is necessary. Store it smartly so that you don’t attract animals to your campsite. Have a way to cook that is permitted by whoever runs the grounds. Cooking on the hood of your car is not recommended. Bring firestarters or newspaper if you can light fires, along with your matches. Take cookware and dinnerware with you, preferably reusable so you aren’t creating a lot of trash. I personally always bring my fishing license and gear with the intent of eating what I catch, but I always bring enough food just in case nothing is biting. Hey, it’s happened.
If you try a new type of bait, lure, or pole, you attribute your catch with the change. When you do something one way even just a single time and catch a fish, you want to do that thing the same way every time. Some people would call that superstition but I call it using every advantage. I don’t necessarily have to do things a certain way, but I do have a lucky fishing pole. My parents got it for me when I graduated from college. It’s a pretty simple carbon fiber pole—they don’t know all that much about fishing, I am sorry to say—but whenever I use it, I usually manage to pull something edible out of the water. But that’s not the real reason I call it my lucky fishing pole. Nope. I call it my lucky fishing pole because about a year and a half ago, my apartment was robbed while I was at work. I came home and the whole place was trashed. They took just about every single thing of value: my entertainment system, my camera, the cufflinks I inherited from my grandfather, my camping gear. They even took some of my clothes. And yes, they took both of my fishing poles. I was required to have renter’s insurance by my landlordso I was able to claim most of it and get some stuff replaced. Then I moved to a safer neighborhood. I bought one new pole with the money from the claim, a really nice Pinnacle. I used the new rod a few times and it worked really great. But I wasn’t catching anything. It wasn’t just fishing, either. It was as if the robbery had kicked off this huge string of lousy luck. My girlfriend at the time and I broke up. I was up for a promotion at work and didn’t get it. Things were looking kind of bleak all of a sudden. And then, out of the blue about two months later, I got a call from a pawn shop. The manager had found my name and number written on the grip of my fishing rod. It was faint, he said, like they had tried to wash it off. He’d had to guess on some of the digits in the phone number but he finally figured it out. He gave me his address, told me he’d already talked to the police about it, and I went over to pick it up. It was the fishing pole my parents had given me. To this day, it’s the only thing that’s ever been recovered from the robbery. The police think that whoever stole the rest of my stuff is either using whatever they took or they sold it in a different, untraceable, way. I’m not sure why they decided after all this time to pawn the fishing pole but I am grateful that they did. I went fishing with it just a few days later and caught a decent sized trout. I couldn’t believe it. Don’t you just love happy endings? And that’s why I call it my lucky fishing pole.