Well no, it really isn’t crap. Maybe you could liken camping to cold french fries that you warm up in the microwave. It is supposed to be satisfying, but they are never really as good as you expect it to be and it will probably leave you with a stomach ache and/or the runs. Also, isn’t camping supposed to bring you all sorts of enlightenment? Get out into nature and experience a oneness. Let me set the scene. Last minute, “why the hell not” decision to camp on a Friday night. insert an inadequately prepared family of 4 with neurotic dogs. Grandmother, husband, me and a 14-month-old baby. Here is what I learned on my last camping trip.
Setting up a tent on a hillside where you sleep at a 45-degree angle could be classified as a weird sort of psychological torture. Constantly sliding down a hill while sleeping makes you dream you are going to slip-n-slide to hell or the world is covered in lube.
Never camp with a 30-year-old tent. I am still coughing out the shredded plastic fibers. The only upside is the calming pea green color. Why did folks in the early eighties think pea green was the color du jour?
Only camp with your toddler if absolutely necessary. If there is a cliff, river, or patch of poison something your toddler will run at it full speed. Which means as a parent you will have to hold your screaming toddler. The whole time. (see the previous comment about being inadequately prepared) My kid weighed thirty pounds. I hated everyone after hour 3.
Never camp with my dog. My dog hates other dogs. He tries to simultaneously shred them to pieces and run away scared. The dog had to remain on a leash for the entirety of camping outing. Thus, the dog made a circular track around the tree while he tried to maim every foreign thing he saw. This included wildlife, trees, stumps, the stars, me after awhile. It was all a crazy fever dream for him. This got annoying at 2 am. For the extent of the trip; I hated my dog.
Mosquitos were invented by the devil to taunt me. If only they sucked fat instead of blood. (see number 6) Ever read the book, “Thinner?” That would be me. They will hassle no one else. I swatted mosquitos away and prayed for a firestorm. The other members of my camping party told me it was all in my head. I wanted to push them in the aforementioned poison-something bush.
I ended up eating only chips because it was both too dark to see and I was too tired to give a damn. Actually, this wasn’t all that bad.
Fire is beautiful and the thought of roasting smores by the campsite is great until your toddler wants to play with the shiny bright thing.
Raccoons are jerk faces.
I want to like camping. I used to love it when I was a kid, but now it seems like it lacks all the things I want in my daily life; toilets, showers, hot food, no bugs. I end up feeling like, “what fresh hell is nature bringing me now?” I’ll camp if it is not torture so my kid can eat a s’more. But future self will need a fabulous RV or tasteful beekeeper suit. I can look out at nature and flip off all the bugs.
I want to tell you a little story about an experience I had when I first moved to portland. I went on a haunted ghost tour of downtown portland found here.
I did this for a variety of reasons:
It was cheap entertainment for the evening.
Gave me an opportunity to walk around like a tourist.
Also, gave me a chance to hang out with my very cool friend Jessica.
I like dark stories when they involve architecture and secret compartments.
Even better if they feature some sort of dastardly secret society hell bent on kidnapping you and using you for nefarious purposes.
I can use these stories later to not-impress family and friends when they come to town to visit me.
I do believe in ghosts.
I do believe that alcohol can make the above mentioned points even better.
The evening started off mild and wet. I met up with my friend Jessica and ghost hunting partner at a local bar downtown called Oldtown Brewing. This bar is renown for its excellent beer, excellent pizza and haunted and terrifying past.
“Old Town Pizza sits in what used to be called the Old North End, a section of the city with a rather questionable reputation. Despite the upstanding clientele of the Merchant Hotel, even it was known for offering one of the oldest professions in the world: prostitution. As legend goes, one of the young “working women” was Nina, sold into this life by a thriving white slavery market. In an effort to clean up the neighborhood, traveling missionaries convinced Nina to share information in exchange for freeing her from a fate she did not choose. Nina cooperated but soon afterward was found dead in the hotel, now Old Town Pizza. Thrown down the elevator shaft, Nina is reported to have never left the building. Could it be Nina who carved her name in the brick of the old elevator shaft, now the backdrop of a cozy booth in the rear of the restaurant?” https://www.otbrewing.com/haunted-past
The beer was good though, plus they had karaoke. Bad karaoke can make you wish you were dead, so that was close enough for me. I did not meet Nina, there was no hovering over my pizza while karaoke played, but I did hear a neat story told by a great storyteller.
After our food, beer, and story where concluded. We headed down single file to the back of the restaurant and filtered through a series of hallways and stairs that lead down into the dusty and dimly lit basement. The room looked old by the wood lathe used on the walls. It smelled dusty, moldy, but with the never mistaken smell of rising pizza dough. You can tell that it had not been used as a busy space in years except by GHOSTS! haha no really, it was pretty well not used. In the corner of the basement was a dark and cordoned off hallway that lead.. well..it led away into darkness. I am not trying to be all mystical or scary movie-ish. It literally led out into the darkness around the corner. It was a weird hallway. We were not allowed to follow the hallway into the great beyond. My inner goonie was screaming. Apparently it is dangerous to walk around pitch black tunnels in the middle of the night that may or may not be used for slave trade and/or drug running. They could get sued. All I heard was blah blah you are ruining my fun.
The tour continued around downtown from there. It is a walking tour after all. The guide walked and pointed and the tour group nodded sagely and occasionally took pictures. I know we visited the Bensen Hotel, which is a marvel of wood and crystal and makes me feel both very fancy and underdressed at the same time. Apparently it is said to be haunted by the ghost of the previous owner, Mr. Bensen. No freaky apparitions of men from the 1930’s wearing expensive suits were seen. I did however have another drink.
I am never one to shy away from a bucket list or reading list of any sort or really.. anything numbered.
I feel like I haven’t been doing much of anything lately and that is rough on me psychologically. I suffer from “I need to get things done or my life is being wasted syndrome.” Followed closely by, “I’m tired and don’t want to get out of bed (depression)” and “I am to freaked out by the immensity of living that I am just going to curl up into the corner over here and rock back and forth (anxiety).” Basically it’s fun to do things, it’s fun to not be sad and it’s fun to be like, “I did that, I level up myself.” So I made a happy list that I will update regularly. Also, if anyone has any additions that I can add I would love that! I am all about trying stuff. If I end up trying it, ill write a post about it.
After three months, gaining ten pounds, and twelve ass gropes (groping of my ass, not me assaulting Italians); I start the journey home. I am reminded of one of the great movies of modern cinema. Homeward Bound – The Incredible Journey
I had an absolutely wonderful time at the villa. I learned a great deal about Roman architecture and got an opportunity to sketch great Italian masterworks, both new and old. I would say that traveling to Europe was the greatest event of my college career aside from graduating, but I was happy to be going home.
I realized the day that I needed to leave that I had made a terrible mistake. As a side note, it seems that in my life I tend to miss important details. Especially if there is excitement involved. If there is excitement. I could be naked and covered in eels and I probably wouldn’t notice. The way that it worked out was I gave my presentation that I had been working on for a month to all the students and faculty. Sat down for a moment to take a breather and overheard a conversation.
“What time is your plane?”
“8 am, what time is yours?”
“3 in the afternoon, you know the trains don’t run till 9 and you have a 4 hour train ride ahead of you”
Oh holy shit. Oh bullocks. Oh fudge. oh damn… oh shite. I haven’t packed and my flight leaves a 7 am. IN MILAN! Which means dear reader, that I need to be on a train within an hour with all of my crap from my journey here plus: six bottles of wine, a bottle of olive oil, a new purse, rolls of parchment drawings, a painting, a agate stone, a new glass necklace, and a glass statue. Seriously I bought a glass statue in Venice. I am of the “It’s awesome, I’ll figure it out later,” variety. This also meant that I had no where to sleep tonight. If all else fails, I can create a fort out of my luggage on the side of the road and huddle inside.
Commence packing. Actually no, that is not an accurate description of what happened. Commence the fastest packing in the history of all packing. Commence chucking multiple things that I did not use this summer. Hair dryer, who was I kidding. Swim suit, I will buy another. Toiletries, I will stink. I shoved, I pulled, I sang lullabies to those bags till they closed. And close they did with the help of some duck tape.
I realized a small snag in my victory. What do I do with all the wine, olive oil, and sculpture? I bought them, I will steadfastly carry it across my chest like some deranged wine bomb. Wine is not heavy at all! (I should have just drank the damn wine, all six bottles, and they could Medivac me to Milan.) We pile into the car. My instructor looks at my wine bomb sideways.. I smile the smile of desperation and glee. My roommate had to fit the clown car with all of their luggage as well so she sat on my lap with her face pressed against the windshield, like a mime that is saying, “help me, we need a bigger car.”
We arrived down the hill at breakneck speed. Our combined weight, plus that of the luggage allowed the car to be pulled down the hill. I doubt the instructor had to even put it into gear. We landed with a squeal and smoking tires at our stop just as the sun was setting. It was picturesque. Trash blowing in the wind and then getting caught on my luggage. The smell of urine and bougainvillea wafting by. A lowly mosquito landing on my arm and receiving a just death. Ahhhh Italy. How I will miss thee. I want to point out that Italy is a beautiful country full of wonderful people, but this train station smells like pee and has bums everywhere.
We hop on to the night train heading for Genova.
The train ride to Genova was blissfully quiet and empty. The air conditioner was on and it was wonderful. I created a fort of luggage around me and put my feet up. I dared anyone to say anything by sporting a manic look, and twitching a bit. I only wanted to set fire to my luggage once at this point. From there, we took another train to Milan. Again uneventful save for dragging it through the huge terminals. At this point I have bruises on my shoulders from my “wine bomb” across my chest.
We hop on the train from Genova to Milan, then take a bus and arrive around midnight. Nothing is open. Of course we are all starving. I have learned to use the Euro, and I want to use it to buy some damn food. My flight does not leave for 6 hours. I am exhausted and have not slept in 30 hours. I pulled an all nighter the night before working on my final project. So I am slap happy. I try to play cards, but I cannot focus on anything. I go hunting for a place to wall myself up in. Low and behold I spy a space behind the elevators. My roommate and I make a wall of luggage blocking off us from view, curl into a little ball on the dirty linoleum and sleep the sleep of a child on Tylenol.
I wake up four hours later and wipe the gravel and drool off of my left cheek. It was wonderful. When you are that tired, any sleep is welcome. Even if it is behind a elevator shaft that infrequently gets cleaned. I turn my luggage in to the counter, I almost want to draw faces on the individual pieces of luggage and name them. They have been my constant companion on this voyage home. Sort of like Tom Hanks with “Wilson.” Except mine would be, “Samsoniteeeeee!” Or Sami for short. We don’t stand for formality.
I trudge onto the plane. I smell amazing, and I pity my seat companions. The plane takes off and I leave my second home. It was the grandest adventure of my life up until that point and life changing. I will always remember the good and bad of Italy and be thankful that I took the chance offered to me to travel in college. It has shaped so many aspects of who I am now as an adult in my thirties, and I think I am better for it.
Things I learned on my Voyage home:
I am not carrying anything to Europe. I’ll stuff cash and my passport into my bra.
Every place I pass that has food, I am going to purchase some. I am not going to starve and live off of airline food.
All joking aside, I am serious about the passport and my bra. Screw luggage.
“Hey, people who travel with their bed pillow. You look insane. ” – Jim Gaffigan
I was a terrible packer and a worse traveler. That is to say, I didn’t know a damn thing about how to travel or what I was in for. All I knew was that I needed my hair dryer, curling iron, bed pillow, and a selection of hardback books. Yes. Hardback. I was flying to Italy via New Jersey, and somehow I was going to make it from where I landed, Milan, to a small Italian hill town in northwestern Italy with all of my luggage. Which included a very large very heavy rolling bag, a second large and very heavy rolling bag, a backpack, shoulder bag, purse, and bedroll. Someone at sometime was going to meet me at the airport and guide me to my new home for the next three months. I had no idea who or when they where and when they where going to show up. I had no idea how to use the euro, or exchange rates or any damn thing. I was a traveling idiot.
After 12 hours of flying and many time zones, I arrive at my destination. Only to sit for six hours on pins and needles waiting for someone to come get me. I finally see one of my instructors arrive off of a bus. He is carrying a single bag and looks like an avid traveler. When he sees me, he pauses. “is this your luggage?” I reply with an enthusiastic, “yes!” He sighs. He knows he is going to have to help me carry my plethora of bags across Roman-dom. (Get it. Instead of Christendom. Dumb joke, moving on.) Now in my very USA mentality, I am thinking we are going to pop into a mini-van and be at our destination in an hour. No problem. At this point I have been traveling for 18 hours straight. I was blessed with many useful abilities, sleeping in public a la plane was not one of them. So I am slap happy making dumb jokes. I look like a complete tool ready for excitement. So I grab my nearest bag, all 60 pounds of it and start to drag it to destinations unknown. Squeak squeak. Also, I might add that I have not eaten anything in 6 hours except for a Nutragrain bar I surreptitiously packed because I have no idea how to use the money.
We walk out of the airport and I am surrounded by very chic Italians going places in their Manolos. I am rocking some Nike’s and my camera. I am oblivious, and frankly I am starting to sweat. Milan is hot, I also didn’t check the weather, Sticky horrible hot. My teacher leads me over to a large bus. We have to take a bus to a train station on the other side of Milan. I lumber over, dragging my luggage. Beads of sweat are starting to rain down upon the baking pavement. I load the luggage into the bus and get on. It is a non-air conditioned bus. I have now entered the seventh circle of sweaty hell. Me being me I try to look out the window and see some of the sites of Milan. There are lots of multi-colored flags hanging out windows that say “Pace.” I had no idea what that means and I have other problems. Namely the pool of sweat I am sitting in.
Aside from that, the bus trip is uneventful. Busses seem to be the same where ever you travel to. Kinda scary, but mostly safe. No seat belts. We arrive at the train station and it is HUGE bustling place. I have never seen anything like it in the states. We just don’t use trains like this. Squeak, squeak, drag, drag, sweat, sweat. Our train is on the other side of the train station and it is packed. So carrying 200 lbs. of luggage, and bumping into the odd Genovian, I make my way to the train. Which is of course totally crowded, I died a little bit inside. At this point I really wanted to set my luggage on fire and damn the consequences. “Excuse me, Excuse me. Pardon me, lady with luggage coming through.” This train does not have air conditioning either, but thankfully it does have open windows. Thank god. I stick my face out of it like a German Shepard and wait for whatever is going to happen next. I am enjoying the sticky breeze, when an older Italian woman starts yelling at me in Italian about rolling up the window. I whimper and roll up the window. I am now her bitch. I should have told her to shove it, but I did not want to seem like an asshole American. I ride the train for 3 hours. Eventually I get a seat, which is a godsend. I also had one of the coolest moments of my life. Going through a very long tunnel with the windows open and no lights. I thought I knew what dark was until I was in the middle of that tunnel. The coolness and darkness was such a relief I could have cried.
I arrive at Genoa where we are to switch trains, again. This time it is a much smaller train. Squeak ,squeak, drag, drag, sweat, sweat. I lumber on like Sisyphus with his stone. This one does have air conditioning and I am eternally grateful. We ride this train for another hour and arrive at a train station that is out in the boonies. At this point I have not eaten. I have no idea how to procure food. I am starting to get ravenous, and thinking what my instructor would taste like with bbq sauce. Either I eat him or I am going to eat my luggage. I follow my instructor around the back of the train station and he takes me to a minivan! No just kidding. He takes me to a clown car that is the smallest car I have ever seen. I laugh uncontrollably and scarily at this point. My luggage weighs more than this car.
I need to preface the next part of this journey with, I am 6′ tall and a rather large person. So I laugh hysterically. My instructor looks at me with concern. We pack the back of the car, Jenga style with my luggage and start the final leg of our journey. Loaded down the car can’t go over thirty miles an hour and we have a big hill to climb to the villa. A really big hill. 15 mins later traveling up the shoulder we arrive at the final destination. We unload everything and I head to my room. My instructor takes pity on me and feeds me a bowl of soup and a glass of wine. Which was ambrosia. It could have been boiled horse ass and I would have slurped it up with bread. I head into my room where my cot awaits and sleep for 15 hours.
Things I have learned on the first leg of this journey:
I am not traveling to Europe again with more than a paper lunch bag sized purse. Thats it. Screw it. I’ll buy clothes when I get there.
I am going to learn how to use money from a youtube video beforehand.
I am going to understand where I am going.
I am still going to wear tennis shoes.
Soon!! “It all Began with a Clown Car – The Voyage home.”
This will be a very “listy” post. For obvious reasons, see title. I thought it would be a good idea to get some of my goals and stuff up and crossed off. I know, super long list and it is constantly getting updated. This is by no means all of them. But a good start and I plan on writing posts about them: