Monday, July 15, 2019

Tent camping experiment

A couple of years ago I started going camping again, but so far I've always rented a cabin.  A cabin makes for quick and easy get away since these have a kitchen, a bathroom, a real bed and air-conditioning.  You don't have to pack much, just some food and clothes and maybe a camp chair for sitting outside.  But it's not exactly the camping experience of my younger days and I found myself longing for a good old-fashioned tent camping excursion.

I wasn't sure if I could successfully pull off tent camping at my age so I booked a site at a local state park for the weekend.  Home was only 20 minutes away so it was a quick trip back to the house if things didn't work out or I had forgotten something essential.  There was also the possibility that it would be far too hot during the day in July and I might want to retreat to air-conditioning for the afternoon.

I bought a cheap tent for this initial foray since I didn't want to spend a lot of money on a tent that I might only use once.  That cheap tent turned out to be the biggest pain point of the weekend.  I've always had very large tents in the past and wanted to go with something smaller this time so I got a tent that was 7x9.  I was afraid that I would find it too small, but the footprint was not the problem.  Instead, the problem was that I could not stand up straight to get in and out of the tent or stand up to do anything once inside, such as changing clothes.  I have back problems so that made everything about this tent extremely difficult.  I knew I would struggle with the set up and take down, but I did not expect it to be a literal pain beyond that and I would definitely swear off tent camping forever if that were my only tent option.  But there are other tents, so this was not a deal-breaker for tent camping in the future.

My next age related concern was the sleeping on the ground with a sleeping bag/cot/airbed.  I opted for an airbed, which I have never used before while camping, but it seemed like the best choice for my old bones.  The first night I found the airbed to be very comfortable, possibly more comfortable than my bed at home.  I can't say for certain because I had not only set up camp that day, but also had gone on a nature hike and my back was so sore that laying down on just about anything would have felt comfortable at that point.  The second night I felt like I was sleeping on a bowl of jello because the bed was now under-inflated.  It hadn't leaked, but it since it was brand new it had done the usual "stretching" that always happens with airbeds.  This was nothing more than poor planning on my part because if I had remembered that it was going to "stretch" then I could have put more air in it at a reasonable hour instead of discovering this at 2 AM when I went to bed. And I wasn't going to wake up the entire campground with a noisy air pump so I just had to swim around in it for the night.  That said, even an under-inflated airbed was satisfactory and so as long as I remember to bring a rug or some sort of padding for when I roll off the bed in the morning to stand up, I'll be fine. Yes, I have to roll off the bed and then stand up since it's far too low to the ground for me to get out in a normal way.  That's what happens when you are old and have back problems and sleep less than 24 inches off the ground. But it was not a deal-breaker for tent camping in the future.

Another age related concern was having a bathroom located some distance from the campsite.  I wasn't sure how easily I could accomplish those middle of the night bathroom trips.  The whole getting out of bed, putting on shoes, unzipping the tent, re-zipping the tent, then walking the 200 to 2000 feet to a restroom in the dark seemed like it might be a bit much at my age.  Turned out that it wasn't a problem except for the first night when they had to shut the water off because someone drove over the water faucet for their campsite.  The nearest working restroom was a half-hour walk away and that wouldn't have worked out for me in my youth either.  But on the second night, when we did have working restrooms nearby, it was a non-issue.  Still, it never occurred to me that the restrooms might be out of order and I think I may get one of those canister toilets and the little popup tent to house it in for "emergencies."  Therefore, the restrooms were not a deal-breaker for tent camping in the future.

Next, I had concerns about the heat since it's always very hot in Texas in July.  This weekend was a  tad cooler than normal, but it was still in the mid to upper 90s and the heat index was over 100 degrees.  The heat didn't bother me near as much as I expected, but I'm also certain that I can no longer endure a full week or two of tent camping in July.  That wasn't a problem when I was in my thirties or younger, but it's not going to be possible now.  That probably holds true for the cold as well and there will likely be no week-long tent camping happening in January or February either.  So overall, the weather was not a complete deal-breaker for tent camping in the future, it just limits the length of time that I can camp.

To wrap things up, I had a really good time and learned that I am not too old to go tent camping.  I just need to get a better tent!

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