The Camping Compromise


Nothing ruins a carefully-curated outdoorsy image faster than having a child, and camping is the first activity that fades into the Outer Darkness. I determined this while purchasing something I once swore I would never buy – a camper. In scripture, Outer Darkness is a place in which a person, generally of the wicked variety, is “cast out” and there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Well, I certainly was weeping as I hitched the camper to my pickup truck. And I suppose my clenched jaw could be considered teeth gnashing. As I pulled away and headed home, the truck’s engine was slowed by the weight of my personal hell being dragged behind me.

In a past life I was a minimalist camper, and proud of it. My first year in Utah right after college, I traveled across the state camping everywhere I could. I had only a cheap tent from a big box store that leaked in the rain. My sleeping bag was a greasy hand-me-down. I felt lucky to have an inflatable pad, though it was about as airtight as Trump’s Russia collusion defense. But I reveled in this dirtbag existence. I thought camping, real camping, was an exercise in outdoor purity. And nothing in this world was a worse stain on outdoorsmanship than a gargantuan, diesel-generator belching, hermetically-sealed RV.

My hatred toward motorhomes and their ilk germinated one particular night long ago in a mountain campground. I was alone, enjoying a beer by my fire, relaxing and probably thinking about yoga cats or some such important thing. Then an RV the size of a building backed into the vacant campsite next to me. Reverse beeping shattered the night silence. Hydraulic jacks came down and leveled the metal beast. Running lights flooded my camp and blinded my dark-adjusted eyes. Then, of course, the deafening hum of the RV’s generator screeched on. Night ruined, I downed my beer, flipped the new neighbors off, and went to bed. The worst part is that the people inside never came out. They didn’t bother to breathe the mountain air, gaze at the stars, or listen to the crickets. I assumed they were instead watching television, powered by that incessant generator.

Fast forward to today, truck towing a camper of my own, and I am now among the RV people’s ranks.

How did I get here? It happened in only two steps. The first was marriage. It took some convincing but my wife grudgingly married me. It took even more convincing for her to go tent camping. She relented, but only with three conditions: I had to buy a better tent, she insisted on sleeping atop a nice camp mattress, and we would only stay in established campgrounds that had bathrooms. Fair enough. Our system worked great for several years.

Step two? We had a baby. Our first summer with the tyke prompted an unholy decree – there would be no camping with the baby in a tent. The pronouncement continued: if I wanted to take my newly expanded family camping, then I must buy a camper trailer.

Defeated, I figured trailer camping was better than no camping at all. But I insisted that we not go all-in on a modern RV with every amenity. So we agreed on what I call the camping compromise. And that’s how we came to own the “Ghetto Popup.” Scouring the classifieds, I found a 1998 Coleman Redwood. The outer shell was held together with electrical tape. The furnace didn’t work. The awning was moldy and spilled out of a broken zipper. The only thing that operated properly was the gas-powered mini-fridge, which I immediately filled with beer. The Ghetto Popup was the perfect balance of no-frills camping and just enough comfort for the wife and child. Best of all, there was no generator.

Over a few seasons we made several repairs. I fixed the flooring, while my wife reupholstered the cushions and made new curtains with the help of a crafty friend. After replacing the stock mattresses with memory foam, the popup isn’t so ghetto anymore. Although the exterior is still covered in tape, the interior looks like a post on Pinterest.

Several trips in, I’ve come to terms with my camper and am actually enjoying it. My back doesn’t hurt in the mornings after sleeping in a real bed. Cooking is easy on the two-burner stove. And when it rains, it’s really nice to sit around the table playing cards. Hell, the camper even turned me into more of an outdoorsy man, as it forced me to learn how to back up a single-axel trailer.

My theology knowledge is sketchy, but I believe Mormons think those cast into the Outer Darkness have a chance to repent and escape after 1,000 years of torment. They say when the millennium is up, those wicked souls will be “resurrected to a telestial glory.” But for me and this terrible religious analogy, it will be more like a terrestrial glory. Because someday, when the kiddo is grown, perhaps I will be resurrected back to the glory of sleeping on the ground like a real man.

In the meantime, I’m really enjoying the torment of memory foam and a gas-powered beer fridge.

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