“Camping is about overcoming,” said my husband’s boss Friday morning. We were headed out to camp that evening for a birthday weekend getaway – Matthew turned 25 on the 27th (or as he likes to say, “a quarter of a century”). I picked out the location a month ago and planned the trip, eager to be on our way to Alexander Springs to spend a few days outdoors. We’d both camped quite a few times with our families when we were younger – me with mine in NC, and he with his in Ohio. All good memories, so we thought it’d be fun to go together now that we’re married and see if it’s something we want to invest more time in.
When my husband first shared with me what his boss said, I was a bit puzzled. He went on to explain that his boss put it like this, “When you camp, you set out to overcome obstacles. Think about it, you’re giving up electricity, a nice home, running water, and air conditioning to sleep outdoors in a tent for a weekend. There’s going to be things you must overcome that you don’t encounter on a regular basis.” I shrugged off this reasoning as I focused on the things left to be packed and the fun that was sure to come. I didn’t give the word “overcome” another thought until we arrived at our destination Friday night… hence my need to share words of wisdom.
1) Arrive before dark
Yes, the drive to this particular part of the Ocala National Forest was only a little over an hour away… but, I had to tutor until 7:00. Believing we could make it before dark, I wasted no time… until the lack of street lights on the forest road made me miss the little sign that read “Alexander Springs On Left.” I was only within a couple miles of the park as the last specks of daylight turned into night, yet by the time we actually arrived it was just plain dark. Setting up your campsite at night can leave you feeling uneasy as you try to fall asleep, unaware of your surroundings! The car headlights and multiple flashlights were very well used as they helped us overcome obstacle one…
2) When borrowing a tent, ask the necessary questions
*Are all the pieces there?
My husband and I decided not to go out and buy a tent because we weren’t sure if we’d enjoy camping in Florida (drastic difference than camping a few states north of here). His boss said he’d let us borrow his tent, and we could take their camping chairs. We were quite excited to have found a tent so quickly without even needing to ask some of our other friends. This was a larger tent with the main “area” and two sides branching off, with option zip enclosures to make separate rooms. Now, I know my husband is very tall, but we don’t necessarily need a tent that big. We thought it’d be fun to use one and see what it’s like. Unfortunately, during set up, we noticed some poles were missing that were needed to pop up the last “room.” Good thing it wasn’t a main pole that held up the tent! When we told Matt’s boss about this after our weekend trip, he replied, “Oh yeah, I thought there might be some missing.” Really?! That would’ve been nice to know beforehand. You should always ask if all the pieces are there…
*How long since you last used the tent?
This question is of UTMOST importance. You see, Matthew and I didn’t think to ask this question, and therefore met our next obstacle to overcome. When the tent was finally up and ready for living, we became keenly aware of this terrible smell… one that was only slightly noticeable when we first pulled the tent out of the bag, and then it became increasingly odorous when the tent was complete. My husband went to busy himself with trying to start the fire (my next point), but I, being so curious as to what was causing the smell, grabbed a flashlight and cautiously peer into the tent. There on the floor lay something small… I gulped a breath of fresh air and took a step inside to get a bit closer…
It was rancid…. It was foul… It was STRING CHEESE!
I jumped out of the tent to catch my breath. This was no ordinary string cheese. It no longer looked like the cheese you know of – I only knew what it was based on its familiar packaging. The brown colored cheese juice turned my stomach as I quickly searched for something to put it in. With a napkin and trash bag, I disposed of the smell, or so I thought. The smell just would not go away, even after I got on my hands and knees to attempt to sweep up the flakes of mold that had fallen off the sides of the tent. Yes, flakes! My husband and I laughed in amazement at how uninviting the tent was at such a dark hour, despite our readiness for sleep.
Needless to say, we slept in the tent anyway on our air mattress (the car was too packed!) – with our faces buried under the sheets in an effort to keep the smell from penetrating our nostrils even more. All the flaps were unzipped that night so fresh air could get in through the screen, but it didn’t matter. The smell was everywhere and when the wind blew a certain way, you could smell it several feet away from the campsite.
This particular obstacle was not overcome until the next day… afternoon to be exact. I couldn’t get over the fact that the smell was still so strong, despite our efforts to air out the tent. Then there, on the window of one of the flaps was a small pouch – one I thought had only Ziploc bags crinkled inside (I’ll blame it on the darkness from the night before). Nope…there mixed in with the bags was more stinky cheese! Two more, actually! Come to find out, Matt’s boss said his little girls had last used the tent and someone packed it away without checking inside. Gross. ALWAYS ask how long it’s been since someone last used the tent you plan to borrow. And if it’s your tent, NEVER forget to clean it out before rolling it up!
3) Dry firewood makes the best fires
Since we arrived at dark Friday night, we needed to purchase firewood from the park ranger. My husband grabbed a bundle from the pile and set about lighting a fire to brighten our campsite that first night. I love campfires and was eager to have one ready. I would feel better seeing a bit more around us other than what I chose to shine the flashlight on. Well, after three tries, the logs just wouldn’t be lit. The wood was damp… meaning no fire that night. Disappointed that we couldn’t inhale the smoke as opposed to cheese, and with my husband a bit frustrated, we resorted to flashlights and magnetic push lights that we stationed around the tent. The next day, he carefully searched and picked a bundle of dry wood that lit in an instant.
4) Don’t forget your pillow!
There we were, in our smelly tent Friday night, ready for bed. We were going to try to fall asleep, wanting the next day to come quickly so we could be back outdoors. We go to lie down and my husband says, “Are the pillows still in the car?” I gasp and respond, “No, they’re not in the car,” knowing full well I forgot to pack them! You wouldn’t think this is such a big deal, but you don’t know my husband. He has a special pillow filled with water that he swears is the best pillow in the world… and now it lay on our bed at the apartment and not on the air mattress where it was supposed to be. I started giggling as I thought about what a trip it’d been so far and it had only been a few hours! He laughed too as I handed him some extra blankets to use as a pillow. My poor husband already doesn’t fit on an air mattress and now his wife forgot his favorite pillow! Though he had a bit of neck pain the next day, it was still funny to the both of us. Next time, we will not forget the pillows.
5) Dress warmly for bed
Nights in April in the Ocala forest can be cold (low to mid 60s – which is cold when you’re sleeping outside). I went to bed that first night wearing comfy shorts and a t-shirt, believing I was being smart because I wouldn’t wake up hot and sticky from the Florida weather. Unfortunately, the first night consisted of shivering, tossing, turning, and snuggling as we sought to find warmth. I was too cold to get up with a flashlight and find some pants in the car… also, the warning of bear in the forest helped enforce my decision of staying inside the tent. Remember, we had the flaps unzipped so fresh air could get in through the screen – zipping them back up was not an option, despite all the cold coming inside. We decided to brave the cold in order to spare ourselves from being zipped in with the odor. We survived. The following night, I wore pants over my shorts, socks, long sleeve shirt, and a sweatshirt to bed! I figured dressing in layers would allow me to go to bed warm – and I could always shed the sweatshirt if it got too hot (which it didn’t). When you camp, check what the lows will be and plan your pj’s accordingly!
~We set out for adventure, we camped, and we overcame! The weekend was certainly one to remember – and we’d love to camp together again (in our own tent, of course!) Saturday we took a peaceful two hour canoe trip, swam in the spring, and cooked hotdogs and s’mores over the fire. Relaxing on a blanket by the spring was nice too, as we played card games and people watched. There were also trails to explore which provided even more activities. I can’t forget to mention that the campground is teeming with wildlife. At night you could hear the constant walking of raccoons and ‘possums around our tent, looking for anything they could get their hands on. We made sure all our food was safely put away in the car. I was proud of myself for packing for the both of us that Friday… I boiled eggs and made muffins for breakfast, baked heart shaped brownies for Matt’s b-day, and packed plenty of sandwiches/snacks to last us all weekend. The things lacking were more water bottles, trash bags, and the pillows, of course!
Here are a few pictures from our trip: