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27 – I am not outdoorsy. I’ve tried.

I wake at 5 am and it’s still dark.

I wake at 6 am and it’s still dark.

I wake at 7 am and it’s light-ish, but only 48 degrees, so I go with the only reasonable option and pull the covers back up around my ears, check my phone to remind me where we are and what day it is, then decide to stay in bed and hope I won’t need to pee any time soon, as that’s just about the only thing short of a life-threatening emergency that might convince me to crawl out from under the covers until it’s several degrees warmer and many lumens lighter. I may be sleeping in a long sleeve thermal shirt and leggings, but 48 degrees is not a temperature conducive to leaping out of bed and padding around the RV to make coffee. Even Lizzie the cat doesn’t want to come out from under the blanket, and she’s wearing fur.

I freely admit that I’m not deeply fond of sleeping anywhere other than in a nice soft bed in a cool room (side note – 48 degrees is not cool, it’s cold) with smooth sheets and warm blankets. I’m closer to the Princess and The Pea than Grizzly Adams in the woods, so it would be ridiculous to start pretending I’m a dedicated outdoorsy person at this point in my life. I spent my entire childhood and young adult life camping, and frankly, I think that’s enough. Even camping in an RV isn’t really my idea of an optimal arrangement. It’s not that I haven’t spent plenty of time in the great outdoors, and even enjoyed it, but there are limits. Just when I start to relax and think I have this whole camping thing down, inevitably there’s a hitch. I am not outdoorsy. I’ve tried.

Snowy tree branches

I once went on a school trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of northern Minnesota, which involved, among other things, camping overnight in a tent. In January. I was 11 at the time and swore I’d never, ever, ever, ever, do it again. That was the trip during which I tried to warm my frozen feet by the fire pit and failed to realize that the three-inch rubber soles of my moon boots were rapidly melting, until someone suddenly demanded to know what that godawful smell was. Too mortified to say a word, I waddled back to the cabin two inches shorter on one side.

It was on that same trip that we discovered why they put thick pieces of styrofoam over the outhouse seats during winter in cold climates. We also learned that there’s a very good reason why you’re told to wear thick socks if you plan to sit otherwise naked in a sauna until you’re parboiled, then run down the path to the lake where you will jump into a hole cut through ice thick enough to ski across and submerge your entire body in water colder than you thought possible, from which you will emerge utterly shocked and breathless to find yourself being hauled straight up and out by both arms. Even more important, we learned that one should definitely, absolutely, never, ever plant one’s naked, parboiled ass on the ice and attempt to scoot gingerly into the water. They meant it when they said not to let your skin touch the ice if you wanted to keep it on your body.

The main lesson I took away from all of this though, was never to spend a week with a bunch of supervised but hormone-addled adolescents in a place with outdoor toilets, no showers, and a daytime high temp of 5 degrees fahrenheit.

My mental template of camping includes swarms of biting bugs, toilet arrangements that make a portapotty look good, excessive heat, excessive cold, a deep craving for a hot shower, and that one damn rock that is always digging into your ribs when you try to sleep, no matter how many layers you put between your body and the ground. This time around, it’s poop chutes.

All of which is to say that I have absolutely no urge to leap from my warm, comfy bed and play Grizzly Adams just yet. So the cat and I mutually agree to snuggle in for the duration and stare out the window.

Sun peeking through trees

We’re surrounded by trees here, filled with birds that are just beginning to rustle the leaves as they prepare to announce themselves to the day. Moments like this are the lovely part of camping. We could be in any number of places, which is both freeing and disconcerting. It feels as though we’re traveling along completely disconnected from the flow of everyday life, which is kind of magical. Until a critter pukes in the middle of the floor or pees inappropriately, or until the black water tank has to be flushed.

This kind of traveling also messes with your sense of passing time. You have your own time line, which keeps connecting one experience to the next. But you keep popping up in the middle of other people’s time lines, and the cast of other people around you keeps changing. It’s like watching one movie while characters and bits of story from other movies keep appearing at random, temporarily playing along with the plotline from the movie you’re watching, then disappearing again. Meanwhile, bits of your movie keep appearing and disappearing in all of the other movies.

The sensation of being a singular event in someone else’s life, with no existence before or after, is bizarre. Then again, that sense of appearing out of nowhere then disappearing is one of the things that makes travel so appealing. Mom and I could be anyone at all. Well, almost anyone. There are limits. We probably couldn’t convince anyone we’re supermodels or MMA champions or NFL linebackers, but with a little effort we can still pull off “interesting strangers with a mysterious past and possibly fascinating present” fairly well.

When we’re strangers, our past is a blank slate to anyone we meet. They may make some assumptions, because we’re all human, but they don’t really know who we are or what to expect from us. And away from our usual environment and the people who know us, all of our usual routines and habitual responses get left behind. We can imagine ourselves differently, try on a new persona. We can practice being another kind of person entirely because no one has established expectations of us yet. Changes that can seem impossible in our usual environment may suddenly come more easily. Then again, they may not. Our own mindset still follows us everywhere. The things we think we know about ourselves are sometimes the hardest to let go of. But it can be freeing simply to walk around unencumbered by the usual expectations. Also, it’s kind of fun.

Lizzie and Skeeter the cats

At this point, Lizzie the cat has had enough. She rolls her eyes at me and decides it’s finally warm enough for her to slide out from under the covers. She walks across my head, just to remind me who’s really in charge here, jumps to the floor and begins meticulously scattering cat kibble in every spot where one of my feet might land when getting out of bed. Taking this as her cue, Skeeter the other cat leaps up and knocks something off the counter, just to remind me that she’s still mad that we won’t let her eat the spider plant. Meanwhile, Sophie the dog hears the sudden commotion and begins whining, just to remind me that she needs to go out and can’t very well go by herself. And I’m pretty sure I hear mom muttering something about coffee.

Ready or not, another day at the RV camp is beginning. But at least my ass won’t freeze to the toilet seat.


  1. Diane

    Ha! Lovin’ your story!
    I was an outdoorsy type until my mid-40s. Now I prefer an AirBnB in the woods 😀

  2. The most handsome brother, Dr. Walter F. Cyphers

    Unlike my beautiful, sophisticated sister, I enjoy the wilder side of life. My memories of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and Wilderness (BWCAW) are quite fond. The frigid air and lack of light pollution caused the stars to seem vivid and clear. The transition from relaxing in the sauna to being submerged in water just above freezing was exhilarating. The only time I’ve felt more alive was when skydiving while free-falling followed by the serene feeling when the chute opened.

    Love you sis.

  3. Kerry Williamson

    Another awesome post. You have a way of making us feel like we’re right there. Observers of your movie. Now I want a spinoff blog about Boundary Waters Canoe Area of northern Minnesota!


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