The Definitive Guide to Couples Camping
My partner and I have been doing long distance for over a year now, with him in Southern Washington and me in Central California. I had planned to move up this year, like I’ve been planning for the past three years. In fact, my dream in life is to live in a penthouse apartment with a view of Pike’s Place Market and the Puget Sound (I’m a simple person with simple needs, I guess). But as John Lennon said, “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”, and some timely and strange intervention has lead me to a service year on the coast of California, thereby putting off my endgame plan for another year. I have to say, this works out well for me, because I am great at long distance. My partner, however, desires a little more.
For his 30th birthday, we originally planned to have a party with friends and family, which obviously didn’t happen due to Coronavirus. So, we decided the next best thing would be to meet at the halfway point for us and go camping (or I guess glamping) in Eureka, California. We got a tiny one-room cabin (practically a tent with solid walls) that had little more than a bed, but it was perfect for a couple that owns no camping supplies.
I grew up camping, but in the past six years, I’ve only gone twice. The first time, for my senior trip after graduating high school, I went with a group of friends and my ex-boyfriend. The boys were too cheap to buy firewood, everyone ended up getting really sick (throwing up beside a tent is terrible), and I got a sunburn so gnarly it hurt to move for three days. The time after that, we got forced to camp during a family reunion, and I spent one very damp and ill-prepared night stuck in a tent with my brother and his girlfriend listening to someone else throw up in the bathrooms (what is it about camping and throwing up???). Needless to say, it should be more simple this time around, with a tiny rudimentary cabin and two well-prepared, well-adjusted adults meeting for a romantic getaway. Right?
Wrong! Let’s just say, after this experience, I understand why camping is prime sitcom/romcom material.
Day 1: Both of us left from our respective places. I left extra early in the morning because I had an extra stop to make that would take me about two hours out of the way. He would be leaving after a half day of work. Seems simple, right? It should have been a five to six hour drive for both of us, but mine ended up being nine and a half and his was about eight. I managed to get the worst driving anxiety about two hours from the destination and cried in the car for an hour while Marlowe whined and paced in circles on the passenger seat. To make matters worse, I got to the campsite four and a half hours before my partner would arrive. This wasn’t the original plan, and he had most of the essential supplies. There wasn’t much exploring for me to do alone, so instead I sat on the camp bed and watched Twilight on my phone. Because Bella and Edward’s painfully awkward relationship makes me feel healthy by comparison. At least my partner doesn’t sparkle in the sunlight.
Of course, I had started the day 15 hours earlier dressed nicely, smelling fresh, ready to see my partner after not having seen him for a month and a half. By the time he got there, I was wearing sweats, slippers, and my dad’s old flannel from the 90s, and probably had crumbs in my hair from the cheese bagel I had devoured.
We managed to cook dinner over the campfire, but by the time we ate, it was nearly 11pm, and we were both a little tipsy from our pre-dinner aperitif being had with no food. We fell asleep sometime around 2am to the sound of Marlowe licking himself in his crate. Such sweet, sweet music of the night.
Day 2: Woke up with the sun, despite the fact that I wear an eye mask while I sleep. But that was okay because part of the unique magic of camping is waking up early and having to trek all the way to the inevitably gross shared bathroom (and of course, the closest one to us was closed so it really was a trek). The big win for me here was that Ryan had promised he would walk me to the bathroom because I am afraid of the dark, but he didn’t need to. I braved it alone. The sky was striped bright pink and orange and early morning mist still hovered above the ground. It was beautiful and solitary, and the campground was quiet. The evergreens lining the mountain behind the camp stood stoic in the wispy fog. I stood alone outside for a few moments before I climbed back into bed. Ryan woke up to wrap me in blankets, and we went back to sleep, only to wake up hours later to the infernal heat of the seventh circle of hell.
Camping is supposed to be cold! I was so looking forward to bundling up in a lawn chair and sipping hot coffee by the fire. Instead, I had to put on sunscreen just to go out and cook breakfast, and by the time Ryan had my french press coffee ready (which was terribly weak because we did it wrong), I was covered in sweat. We took turns poking our breakfast with an extended spatula and stirring the potatoes while staying as far away as possible from the flame.
We made it to the beach, though, despite a late start from the heat and the fact that our campsite was much further from all the attractions than I originally realised. At the beach, I nearly got bludgeoned against the sharp rocks by the rising tide because instead of just sitting and enjoying the view like a normal person, I prefer to crawl up and down the rocks like Smeágol in search of a Precious. Ryan sat on the shore, minding Marlowe and laughing at the way my toes spread out like a monkey while I scale the rocks.
On the way back to the camp, we had to make a lengthy detour to buy Marlowe new food… because the night before, a raccoon had stolen the entire bag of his food and dragged it back behind the cabin.
Then we made the mistake of snacking late in the day and thought starting dinner late would be fine…. Fools. We were utter fools. A nice family in the cabin next to us gave us their firewood before leaving, so at 9pm we decided to start cooking, dreaming lofty dreams of late-night Spanish-style dinner. The cold was coming now, in earnest, and I was wrapped up in my warmest clothes. My pup was snuggled into the bed in the cabin, having long since decided that it was way too cold for him to be sitting outside with us.
The icing on the cake? Our wood was damp, and wouldn’t catch fire. We stoked it, waiting for the smoke to clear and the flames to catch on. Our chicken sat, pale and cold in the cast iron, getting no closer to being edible. By the time we figured out that we would have to just throw the foil pack straight into the coals instead of trying to cook in the cast iron, it was embarrassingly late. By the time the food was cooked, it was well-past midnight, and we sat in the cabin gulping down steaming hot chicken with our hands straight from the foil pack.
Day 3: On the way out of town to see herds of Roosevelt Elk, we managed to get into a long political discussion. Big mistake. I love my partner, but our views aren’t always aligned, and we both get very fired up. But we managed to put it behind us in time to see a herd of majestic and beautiful elk, which made me cry because I just love them so, so much. We also found a gorgeous, half-decomposed fox, which Ryan refused to let me take back with us in the car. Even though I begged. I guess he is just unsupportive of my taxidermy hobby (….or we didn’t have proper PPE to support the safe collection of the carcass).
Again, due to poor planning, by the time we finished hiking and observing nature, it was nearly 3pm and we hadn’t eaten, which for some reason translated into a poorly-timed and utterly inappropriate political discussion over Ryan’s birthday lunch. And I thought we were supposed to be here for a good time.
The culmination of all this was us sitting on the porch swing outside the cabin crying. It felt so stupid to be squandering our time together bickering. And besides, the couple in the cabin next to us could very clearly hear and see us and were pretending not to. Once that was over and we poured a birthday drink, everything was okay. The storm had passed as quickly as it came, but only because we talked about it.
And that night, things were more normal. We were able to relate to each other again after a stressful day. While laying together in our little cocoon, we heard some rustling outside the cabin. A very unafraid raccoon was breaking into our trash (again). We stared at it for a while, but it continued to loudly separate our trash, so I got the pleasure of watching a sleepy, disheveled Ryan chase a raccoon off our porch with a broom, in his underwear.
Day 4: We drank coffee and packed up to leave. I cried a little while I loaded my car, not knowing when I would see him again. The last thing we did was get lunch, and because indoor eating wasn’t an option at this place due to the pandemic, we sat in our lawn chairs outside the car and shared food. We held hands and spoke softly, the way we always seem to right before leaving time. And we hugged for a long, long time next to our cars. At some point, one of us always has to break it off and just leave before it gets too difficult, but I always cry looking in my rear view mirror or watching him walk away. Somehow it never gets easier.
So maybe camping wasn’t ideal.
The pressures of a long distance relationship means that when we are together, we usually have between three days and a week to go through the entire range of emotions that we don’t have the luxury of experiencing over the phone or through text when we’re apart. Things tend to get heated, they get emotional, and sometimes they get downright weird. The added pressure of meeting up at a halfway point (which was supposed to be romantic) and camping (supposed to be rugged), turned into a bit of a disaster because of course, we were less prepared than we imagined and more stressed than we thought we would be. But this isn’t a rarity. Just because we are in a long distance relationship doesn’t mean that reality gets to be suspended every time we are together. It isn’t some big vacation because even though we get to do special things and celebrate every time we are together, it’s still a relationship, and it still requires work. By all normal standards, our trip probably sucked.
But I wouldn’t trade the experience of it for anything, because to me, the fact that it wasn’t perfect meant more. It meant that we could weather the storm of things not going right and still make the best of it and come away with amazing memories. How typical of us that despite nothing going right, we had the best time deepening our relationship and spending quality time together. To me, this is the difference between who I am in this relationship and who I was in my past relationships. If this type of chaos had happened during my vacation with anyone else, I probably would have flown off the handle or dissolved immediately into a puddle of anxiety and stress. I see this as a sign that I have grown into a person who can have a mature relationship, but also that I am with someone who can help me diffuse and handle all the bumps in the road appropriately.
Okay, so maybe you’re more likely to hear a spicy political argument coming from my cabin than the first strains of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On”. Or maybe you’ll hear my partner grumbling quietly while I force him to watch Twilight with me. And we definitely aren’t the camping experts we originally thought we would be. But we have something more precious than that, and that is the ability to gracefully deal with it when things don’t go according to plan.
The Takeaway on Camping: Buy firewood before you need it, do research on how far from you the local attractions actually are, keep the dog food and the trash out of reach of raccoons, maybe avoid talking politics when you’re both starving and sunburnt, and most importantly, go with someone you really really love, because camping is the ultimate relationship test.