What I learned about camping culture

I reek like camp fire. A day, and two washings later, and still I smell like a woodsman. Usually I would go for a third or fourth trip to the shower to rinse the stench but now I just smile when I get a whiff of the smoke smell. I get it. After 41 years, I get camping culture. Finally.

Full disclosure, I like hotels. I like that they make my bed for me. I like restaurant recommendations from the concierge. I have turned up my nose at camping, in the past. IT DOESN’T HAVE FREE WI-FI OR A STARBUCKS IN THE LOBBY!

But, one day earlier this summer, my friends and I took a walk through the campground at Pigeon Lake. My pals have a cabin at the popular spot, a well-equipped winterized one. As I walked through the tenting area with a tummy full of mimosa and foie gras, I saw these families with their tents, their tarps and their ladder ball. Snug and set up in a beautiful curtain of trees just wide enough for me to peak in. The tenters looked like they were having fun. And for some reason I wanted that. More importantly, I wanted to give my family that.

Whether they liked it or not.

Setting up the campsite. Camping Culture, Photo credit Stacey Brotzel.

Once I set my mind to it, I knew this would be a test of human endurance. Could I handle sleeping in a tent? Cooking my food outside? I am not a princess by any means but I was naïve in the ways of the camping. I remember only one time I slept in a tent, when I was much younger. Immediately, once I started talking about the trip, my camper-friends stepped up. I didn’t drop a dime and I had a full complement of gear.

In a shockingly generous way, even complete strangers offered help. A friend of a friend heard I needed a sleeping bag and lent me 2 of hers. They were so enthusiastic and excited about me having this experience. That’s when I got my first glimpse into camping culture.

Getting my family to go was a bit of a chore. My 6 year old was gung ho. But she had no idea what she was on board about and I wasn’t sure how she would do in a tent that wasn’t set up on the cushy carpet in the basement. My husband, a former Polish scout with plenty of experience sleeping in tents as a kid had gone soft. He was not sold. I found a campsite at Garner Lake Provincial Park, a lake where Mr. Brotzel had spent a lot of his youth and that was my hook to drag his reluctant behind on this uncertain adventure.

After a 2 hour driver north east of Edmonton, we reached Garner. Suddenly I was enveloped in my own tree curtain and I had to make it feel like home for 3 days. The tent was cozy, squishy but cozy. We brought a camp stove & rib eye steaks, and a few recipes I grabbed off Pinterest which ensured that my stomach didn’t have to suffer through endless dinners of hot dogs and cheezies.

I however made a crucial mistake.

In all my Google searches, I read somewhere I should bring boxed wine. 6 bottles in two convenient packages. No glass, no fuss but in the end it also gives you the inconvenience of a BIG head ache. Don’t do that to yourself. Bring the good stuff.

I was there for 3 days and I learned a lot about camping culture. Here’s a list.

It is a community.

It is about being with your friends gabbing and laughing around a campfire.

Playing in the water at the beach. Photo credits Stacey Brotzel.

It’s about seeing your children exploring a forest and making friends with the kids in the next lot. It’s about meeting campers down the path, asking them questions and borrowing an egg. And camping is way better with friends.

It is about a rustic way of life.

Simplicity. It’s about feeling the ashy grit in your baked potato pulled from the burning remnants of your fire and thinking it tastes great. It’s about pulling tiny raspberries off bushes and popping the sourness in your kid’s mouth without washing them.

Breakfast time. Camping culture, Photo credit Stacey Brotzel.

It is about being with your family.

There is no greater definition of togetherness than four people squished in a four-person tent in three degree weather. (Whatever you do bring a hot water bottle.)

It’s about being away from the city.

And off my phone. It was lovely to see my kid splash in crystal clear water. I saw a sky full of stars through the canopy of trees above me while listening to the crackle of a late night campfire. In the city, you can’t hear northern lights clapping while you gaze up in awe and lie on a sandy beach.

Sitting on the dock and watching the sun go down. Camping Culture, Photo credit Stacey Brotzel.

And, for me…

It was also about finding out what I am capable of.

I pulled off campfire nachos, brie cheese with red pepper jelly over the open camp fire. I slept well in a tight nylon cocoon of mountain equipment co-op despite the fact I could see my breath above me. It’s a lot of work to assemble all the gear you need to camp, and I pulled it off.

I survived my first camping trip. Will I do it again next weekend? No. Will I go out and buy hundreds of dollars in gear for my next adventure? My Visa is probably safe for now. But I am so glad I went.

“Roughing it” was kind of cool. Thanks for letting me in your club for a while, Campers. I’ll be back at some point, without the boxed wine.

Stacey Brotzel
Stacey Brotzel is co-host of CTV Morning Live in Edmonton. Mom of 2. Wife of 1. News and Political junkie and self declared city girl.
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