Column: A diary of a first-time camper


A few weeks ago, my friend Lizzie texted me about joining her at Mountain Jam, a four-day outdoor music festival in Hunter, N.Y., June 2-5. At the time, I was sitting on my couch watching “Chopped” reruns on the Food Network, so I eagerly agreed to go. 

As departure day approached, my nervousness intensified as the reality of my weekend plans began to set in. Unless you count staying in a log cabin at Disney World’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground — where I had access to an on-site general store, personal golf cart and housekeeper who fashioned my towels into cute Mickey Mouse faces each morning — I’d never camped a day in my life.

Now I was about to sleep in a tent with other first-time campers. And to top it off, weather reports indicated rain on two of the days.

Clearly, disaster awaited me.

On Friday morning, I packed my car and headed north to Hunter Mountain. After we unpacked, my friends and I paid $25 for a cab to drive us and our massive amount of gear to our spot, which the driver called “the top of the mountain.” The other, less desirable option was to walk up the rock-laden dirt path.

When I purchased my festival ticket I had passed on the option — and added expense — of camping next to my car. But as we headed to our site, miles from our vehicles, I realized spending the extra money might have been worth it.

Then it was time for the part I dreaded most: assembling the tent.

Less than an hour later, I was relaxing in a lawn chair, beer in hand, campsite set up. And to think, I’d been afraid camping would be hard. It turns out I’m a natural.

After a day of concerts, we trudged back up the hill to our base. Excited because the predicted rain never arrived, we hung out for a while before I was ready to curl up in my sleeping bag and really see what spending the night in a tent was all about.

Unless you enjoy feeling hard, uneven ground beneath you, I wouldn’t call the experience comfortable.

Lizzie and I had failed to consider that, since we were at a ski mountain, the ground would be on an incline. I kept waking up throughout the night with my head in the middle of the tent and my legs crumpled in a ball beneath me. It was far from comfortable, but I managed a decent night’s sleep.

The next morning I was eager for a shower but the line stretched about 50 people deep, so I grudgingly forfeited that luxury and doused myself in perfume and dry shampoo. Luckily, I’d purchased a travel mirror for the occasion, so I could at least apply makeup. Otherwise, I might never have left the tent.

After watching bands like Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds and Beck and taking a ski-lift ride around the venue, the five of us returned to our site. Since the forecast was calling for never-ending thunderstorms starting around 1 a.m., we threw everything we could into our tents or coolers for protection.

Fun fact: Weather-resistant and weatherproof are not the same thing. I learned this hard way when I woke up Sunday morning to a soaked pillow and duffel bags. After the rain let up, we packed our campsite and used the rest of our cash to take a cab back to our warm, dry cars.

I’d say I enjoyed the weekend more than expected, even with the few minor hiccups. Being able to spend two full days outdoors with some of my best friends was worth the leg cramps and wet bags.

I may be more of a camper than I thought, but I would definitely wait for the shower next time. And bring an air mattress. Or try to rent an RV instead.

On second thought, maybe I’m not a real camper after all.

Nicole Smith_CThe author is a staff writer for the Riverhead News-Review and The Suffolk Times. She can be reached at 631-354-8037 or [email protected].

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