That's exactly what Ed and I did on our recent trip through the Great American West. Every few afternoons, we'd pull into a camp ground, drive around and scope out the best camp site. Stop and put our camping gear on the preferred site's picnic table and then go sign in to reserve our site.
Usually, it cost us a whopping $7.50 for the site for the night. It takes us about 15 minutes to pitch our small tent, blow up our extra thick Themarest® pads, spread out our sleeping bags, and add two full-size pillows. Never do I sleep so well!
Once our tent is set, we usually take a hike, looking for some weird birds. Then we come back and read for a bit. Dinner is always simple. If we are organized, we'll grill some bratwursts and nestle some foil-wrapped ears of corn in the ashes of the campfire. If we are not organized, we pull out some cheese and crackers and crack open a beer and cider. A handful of Peanut M&M's make for the perfect dessert.
I can't tell you how pleasant it is to travel this way. I don't want a big RV. I don't want a fancy hotel room and hot shower (well, sometimes I do). I just want our cozy two-person tent, a crackling campfire, and a clear, starry night.
I didn't grow up camping. In fact, I never camped until Ed suggested that we invite a group of families to give it a try at a group campsite on the Blue River. It was the start of something special.
It wasn't nearly as simple as our current camping operation. Back then, we'd jam pack our van full of kids, a complicated two-room tent that only Jeananne could set up, coolers full of juice boxes and food, folding canvas chairs, sleeping bags, Pass-the-Pig card game, bug spray, sun screen, fishing equipment, matches, picnic supplies, and a well-stocked first-aid kit.
We'd have a blast. A dozen or so adults and 20+ kids. We'd hike or fish with the kids; let the little ones carve sticks with real pocket knives; play a rousing game of softball or go on a nighttime owl hoot; build a campfire; and David would bring his guitar and lead us in a sing-along to Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant (all 50 verses). This went on for at least a dozen years, until the kids grew up and scattered across the globe.
Back in these early camping days, we'd split up responsibilities for meals -- teaming up with another family to cook a full breakfast or a complete dinner. I'd always bring Triple Good Treats; Robin would bring Nutty Buddies; the other Debbie would bring Nord's Bakery Butter Cookies. And then late at night as the campfire turned to embers, there would be round two of desserts: orange cakes or banana boats.
My friend Robin and I used to joke that we should publish a cookbook with all our favorite camping recipes. In memory of those good times, I leave you with this recipe for our famous Banana Boats.
I leave you also with a challenge: consider pitching a tent. It is more fun than you might think!
a bunch of bananas
heavy-duty foil paper
Peel bananas down to within a half inch of the bottom. Smear banana with peanut butter. Dot with chocolate chips and marshmallows. Fold peel back up and wrap in foil. Place in ashes of campfire or on the grill, turning every few minutes, until the bananas start to soften and the chocolate chips melt. Unwrap, unpeel, and enjoy!
And I leave those of you whom we used to camp with a trip down memory lane...