There was a time when everything I needed for a camping trip fit in a backpack. That time has passed. These days I pack so much stuff to go camping that packing the car becomes a game of Tetris.
Last week I jammed it all in for a three-night stay at Cobscook Bay State Campground in Washington County. Of course, as I forced my car’s trunk door shut against the press of gear, it might have looked like I was on my way to the Arctic for six months.
On this particular trip I had managed to reserve a spot I’d long coveted. It’s one of only four on Cobscook Point — a small peninsula jutting out into Whiting Bay. A level site on the water, it’s also spacious enough for my camping village for one.
That’s the good news.
The flipside is the campsite is a walk-in. So instead of driving right up to the site and unloading, I parked in the designated area and used park-provided wagons to transport my gear the 300 or so feet to my home for the next four days.
It took three loads, thanks to my creative cart loading and impressive balancing skills.
First on the to-do list was erecting my tent.
I am proud to say I had it up and staked to the ground in pretty good time — about 20 minutes.
I next was ready to turn my attention to the more complicated process of setting up my spiffy privacy shelter.
It’s sort of a cross between a tent and cabana made up of yards of bright orange fabric and a tangle of metal pole segments connected by elastic cords. Those metal segments have a mind of their own. It makes assembling the privacy tent feel like wrestling with a giant four-legged robotic insect.
It took several attempts over about 45 minutes and some impressive cussing but in the end I triumphed.
There it was in all its fluorescent orange glory — my own personal nylon and no-see-um netting fortress of solitude.
Otherwise known as my bathroom.
Now, I am not at all adverse to answering my calls of nature in the outhouses that are scattered around the park. They are clean and stocked with toilet paper. What I do object to is stumbling my way to one half asleep in the dark.
Thanks to that shelter and a wonderful portable composting toilet I bring with me, those nocturnal wanderings are a thing of the past.
There was just enough daylight remaining for the final installment of my camping village — a self standing hammock with its own confusing tangle of poles, elastic cords and fabric.
By then I was pooped. It was time for bed and that meant inflating my brand new air mattress using the supplied electric rechargeable air-pump. Once inflated, the mattress took up most of the tent’s floor space and offered an eight-inch-high raised and felt-covered platform on which to lay my weary 61-year-old bones.
At one point during the night it started raining. I remained perfectly dry and delighted in the sound of the drops drumming against the outside of my tent. It got me thinking about why I’ve enjoyed camping over the decades and my evolution from minimalist to outdoor hedonist.
Over the years camping has always allowed me to create my own little bubble in nature where I can disconnect from the larger world and day-to-day responsibilities. For those blissful days there are no assignments, deadlines or other demands on my time.
When camping, my biggest concern was and remains having enough dry firewood to toast marshmallows for s’mores in the evening and brew coffee in the morning. That has never changed.
What has changed since those early backpacking days is the level of comfort I now afford myself because, well, I can afford it. Do I need my own private toilet, luxury hammock, gourmet camp kitchen with which I turn out three-course meals and spa-worthy air mattress to go camping? Of course not. But do I want it? Damn straight I do. As long as I can fit it in my car, it’s all coming with me.
I’m still in my bubble. Now it’s just a well furnished and tricked-out bubble.
Back home, I’m now sorting through all my gear and organizing for my next camping trip. In the meantime, who knows? I may discover a new item to add to the village. I’m pretty sure there was at least one pocket of unused space in my car I can fit it in.