Monday, April 30, 2012

You Camp Like a Girl

This is an old post that I wrote last summer but never published—until now!

While reading the July 2011 issue of Self magazine, a small sidebar caught my eye: "Happy Camper." The sidebar features six items—ranging from clothes and makeup bags to a crank radio and water purifier—that Self recommends for camping excursions. The introduction to the sidebar reads:

"When you think of tents, do you picture Fashion Week instead of Yosemite? Never fear, roughing it is so yesterday. These easy-to-tote items let you go wild with style. Ready, set, s'mores!" 

The online version of the side bar (a simple slideshow of the recommended products) simply says, "Rough it in style with easy-to-pack essentials."

So, what's the message here? Are we ladies roughing it, or was that so yesterday? And why are women still afraid of a little dirt?

Let's get muddy.
Women often gape at me in disbelief when I tell them I'm going backpacking for a few days.

"Will there be showers?" they ask in concern. "Where do you go to the bathroom? How can you stand it?"

I usually laugh, explaining that it's not really so bad. The truth, however, is that forgoing the hot shower for a night under the stars used to be gross to me, too. The first time I went camping with Andy was a 1-night trip that involved 2 days of hiking. We were not camping out of the backs of our cars. In order to sleep that night, we needed to hike until we found a suitable place for our tents in the dense woods -- impending thunderstorm and all.

It was a nice introduction to the idea of going without soap and toilet paper. After all, I was able to run straight to the shower when we got home on Day 2. Not much different from lounging around at home, unshowered, on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Right?

Fast forward to our first 2-night camping trip. We hiked 30 miles in 3 days. It was hot, humid, and buggy. By the third morning, I reeked of bug spray and sweat, and I was greasy from a three-day layer of sunscreen. I had brought some camping soap along with me, sheepishly washing my face and hair in a nearby pond. I knew that the soap wasn't the best thing for the critters in the water, even if it was biodegradable; I knew that the scent could attract larger animals to the spot later; and I knew that even a little rinsed-off bug spray and sun screen could contaminate the water. (After all, what if everyone bathed in the pond?) Yet, I still did it. I couldn't fully embrace the "gross" idea of truly roughing it.

Much to my surprise, my habits changed gradually over time. It wasn't an epiphany about being one with the wilderness. It wasn't guilt that forced me to leave the soap at home. As I went on more and longer trips, I just became a better camper. I learned to pack light by leaving extra comforts behind, and I learned to be comfortable in my own skin.

Being afraid of a little dirt closes the door on so many adventures. I've seen gorgeous wildflowers, beautiful animals, bright constellations, and unbelievable sunrises. I've felt closer to my partner and my friends as we spend time together without the distractions of daily life. I've challenged my body and I've learned new skills.

Don't believe for a second that "roughing it is so yesterday." Leave the insulated makeup case at home, and let yourself get stinky! Your body and your brain may actually thank you for it.

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