Tuesday, July 20, 2010

One (Not So) Happy Camper

I love camping.
Actually, I think I love camping. Until I am actually camping, at which time, not so much. If I were to be completely honest with myself, I actually hate camping.
Unfortunately, I never remember this when the siren song of the summer begins to call out to me, and I think, once again: Hey, let’s go camping!
Lately I have begun to feel the lure of the mountain air tugging nostalgically at my heart strings. So, in order to remind myself of exactly why it’s been so many years since we have packed up the sleeping backs, dug out the perpetually moldy tent, and headed off into the wilderness for the great outdoors, I decided to dedicate this blog to the turning point in my love affair with camping.
I can clearly remember the first—and last—time Kirk and I decided to forsake the traditional campgrounds and rough it for real. It was the summer of 2000, the year before we were married. Our good friends Jacob and Sara were recently engaged—as were we—and though we hadn’t two pennies to rub together between us, we all wanted to go on vacation. What could be more fun than eating hot dogs off a stick and sleeping on the cold hard ground?
Young, and optimistic—and stupid—were we. Sigh.
It has been lost in the annals of time who it was that first suggested heading to the western North Carolina mountains, away from the heat and oppressive humidity of Columbia, South Carolina, for a little man-on-wilderness action. It is probably a good thing, as the remaining three of us would still not be speaking to that particular genius. Regardless, I can recall packing up my old navy-blue Acura Legend in 100-degree heat and taking the long climb into the highlands.
Kirk and I were practically giddy because the last time were had visited our parents in KY, we had raided my dad’s cache of mountain-man survival gear. His horde, along with the hours we spent pouring over the camping section of Wal-Mart, combined in a sort of supernova of supplies which somehow (at least in our minds) made us overnight experts in the field of wilderness survival. Training? Pfftt, we don’t need no stinking training—we had collapsible cups. And a camp stove. Everyone knows a owning a camp stove is tantamount to earning an honorary Eagle Scout badge.
With the heady scent of kerosene and Off filling the car, we pulled into the parking lot of one of the Blue Ridge Mountain’s finest trails.
Stepping out the car like generals inspecting a battlefield, we scanned the surrounding parking lot, full of other weekend warriors brandishing their own nifty folding silverware and fashion-forward headlamps. Aww, our fellow sportsmen. We nodded knowingly at each other, testing out travel compasses and lacing up shiny new Aslo Power Matic 2000 Gor-tex hiking boots with optional reflective tongues.
We were going camping.
Kirk, Jacob, Sara and I busily went about unpacking the car and loading ourselves up for the trek before us. We knew the rules (sort of) and knew that we had to head out on the trail, then hike a good distance off the main trail in order to set up camp.
Having carefully and lovingly—and knowledgeably (remember that honorary Eagle Scout badges?)—packed our backpacks the night before, Kirk wrestled the enormous moldering red backpacks from the trunk. He held the smaller of the two up for me, and I slipped my arms through the straps. He released his hold on the pack and I, along with my backpack full of every gizmo, gadget, and thing-a-ma-jig we could think of, hit the ground like a ton of bricks.
With that, we were off to a fabulous start.
I staggered back up to my feet, grinning as though nothing happened and hefting the four tons of gear on my back with as much grace as I could handle, which incidentally, wasn’t much. Incredibly happy that neither Jacob nor Sara had seen the fall, I ambled down toward the trial, wobbling and swaying like a drunken sailor.
“Hey Erin, hang on,” Kirk shouted from the car. I slowed to a halt, and looked back. “Can you grab the camp stove?”
I felt the blood drain from my face, but with the people around me taking notice and beginning to question my ruggedness, I quickly agreed. At last, our little foursome headed off down the trail, eagerly setting off into our own adventure.
I’m fine, really. No, I’m sure my knees normally make that noise…
With various utensils and essentials dangling from every available surface of our packs, Kirk and I clattered along the trail like a caravan of gypsies, totally obliterating any possibility of enjoying the peacefulness of nature. Not wanting to appear weak (I used to have a complex about that) I trundled on for what seemed like miles, huffing and puffing and straining under the weight of the overstuffed pack and the stupid camp stove whose completely un-ergonomic handle bit ruthlessly into my fingers.
After a while, we chose a break in the vegetation and headed off the trail in search of a site to set up camp. For what seemed like hours, we hiked along the rocky, uneven ground, wanting to get as far away from the trail as possible. Finally, as the light was beginning to fade and I didn’t think I could take another step, I pointed to a completely unremarkable patch of ground. “Wow, that’s beautiful, let’s camp there.”
Gee, what a picturesque site…
I was weak with relief when the others agreed, and we promptly dropped all of our gear to the ground. The guys and got to work assembling the tents, while Sara and I headed out to gather wood for the fire. When we returned, the boys had the site nice and tidy, with two perfectly assembled little tents in place, the stove set up, and the firepit assembled.
Look at us, we were like pioneers!
Kirk got to work cutting up the wood, since we had brought the handy-dandy machete.
Oh, yes, like cavemen, cowboys, and small boys from the 1950’s, we were on our own, one with nature.
The only problem was … nature in the wilderness wasn’t like nature in the campgrounds we were used to. There was no toilet (don’t even get me started on that particular joy,) no lights, no entertainment … and lots and lots of scurrying. Furtive, secretive rustling seemed to surround us on all sides, especially as the sun set and twilight settled. I chuckled and smiled all nonchalant-like to the others, like hey, I’m cool, but inside I was wondering what, exactly, a ten-foot tall grizzly bear sounded like moments before it launched at its hapless prey. Heh heh, I’m fine guys, why do you ask?
*rustle rustle* What’s that?!!
By true nightfall, I was a nervous wreck. I had developed a crick in my neck from all of the sudden swiveling I was doing, making sure a Puma wasn’t poised for the kill behind me every time a leaf fluttered.
Notice the dead-behind-the-eyes look I have? I kind of have the whole ventriloquist dummy thing going for me…
Worse than my neck and my nerves, however, was my body temperature. I was freezing. Having only brought a thin rain coat and one pair of jeans, I was totally unprepared for the precipitous drop in temperature that happened the moment the sun went down. Of course, poor Kirk didn’t even have that. Notice he is keeping his hat on for warmth here.
Cold, jittery, and bored, we decide to turn in for the night. We said goodnight to Jacob and Sara, and we headed to our tent as they went to theirs, which was about 10 feet away. By then it was cold enough to see our breath, and there was no way we could change into our flimsy night clothes – we would surely freeze. Kirk and I only brought a few extra articles of clothing, none of which is particularly warm, so we decided to layer up, wearing everything we brought.
Kirk blew up the air mattress, and we outfitted it with the sheets we brought. Notice I didn’t say blanket. It was 100 degrees when we left Columbia; we had been worried we would be sweating all night. It had never once occurred to us two honorary (wannabe) Eagle Scouts that it might get cold in the mountains at night.
So we slide under the sheet, fully clothed and shivering, only to discover another fact of physics. When you sleep on air (i.e. an air mattress), the air will not warm with your body heat. Oh no, it will acclimate to whatever temperature the air around it is, in our case, about 40 degrees. Oh, and here is another fun fact for you: as air cools, it contracts. The result? An air mattress which slowly collapses on itself, leaving the occupants both cold (yep) and utterly uncomfortable (double-yep).
So there we lay, freezing, making our slow but steady descent towards the hard rocky ground, clinging to one another in a desperate attempt to steal each other’s body heat, when we hear a noise outside of our tent.
We froze, eyes wide in the darkness as we strain to hear the sound again. There it was! It sounded like … footsteps? Of the biped persuasion, perhaps? Were Jacob and Sara playing a trick on us?
We held our breaths and waited, listening as the steps wandered around the campsite. After a minute or two, I hear Jacob’s worried voice. “Are you guys walking around out there?”
Kirk and I grab each other’s hands and squeeze. Sweet mother of mercy, Jacob’s voice had come from inside their tent! Inside my head, I am screaming like an eight-year-old girl. I swallow and finally replied in a small voice, “We thought that was you!”
There was a total cessation of movement and sound for about three seconds, then all hell broke loose. Kirk and I start scrambling around the tent, me looking for the flashlight, he fumbling first for his glasses (he was nearly blind without them) and then for the machete. I finally located the light and click it on, blinding us and ruining our night vision all at once.
Nearby, I can hear the grunts and muttered curses from Jacob and Sara’s tent as they clamber around in their own tent. “Okay, I’m coming out,” Kirk announced, unzipping the flap while I cowered behind him, holding my foldable utensil set as if it could save my life. Get back, ax murder, I have a SPOON!
Holding the machete in front of him, Kirk yanked opened the flap and shined the flashlight all around. Nothing. Perhaps if had not shouted his warning, we would have caught the ax murderer, leprechaun, or exceptionally well balanced saber tooth tiger in the act. As it was, not even crickets dared chirp lest they invoke the wrath of my machete-wielding fiancé.
When it was clear that we weren’t going to nab the perpetrator, we reluctantly zipped ourselves back up in our tents. I was sure Ted Kaczynski was setting up shop outside out camp, and for once Kirk didn’t seem to think I was overreacting.
While I tried to figure out which side of the bed would position me further from the serial killer / bear / suicidal wombat poised outside of the tent (I wanted them to have to go through Kirk first), Kirk tried to set himself up as defensively as possible. In the end, he decided to sleep with his glasses on, grasping the machete in front of him. While I slept next to him. On an air mattress.
What could possibly go wrong?
Well, I could actually answer that question, since I spent the entire night lying awake—freezing my butt off—imagining each and every one of those possible scenarios, but I will spare you the details.
When at last the first fingers of dawn arrived, I drifted off into an exhausted, fitful sleep. It was about half an hour later that I was awakened.
By a weed whacker.
A weed whacker?! Bleary-eyed, bedraggled, wearing multiple layers of clothes and an aggravated scowl, I stumbled out of the tent to see what the heck was going on. In the new light of day, I squinted towards the sound of the whining internal combustion engine, at a complete loss what it would be doing so far off the beaten path.
And then I saw it.
The trail. We had hiked all over creation the day before, lugging our enormous packs and superfluous camping supplies, only to have looped almost all the way back to the stupid path.
So, darling reader, that was the day I decided that roughing it was not for me. To this day, I have never tried it again, and I am pretty sure I never will. In the meantime, I thought you might like to see where we stayed the last time we visited the mountains…
I'm curious if anyone else gets bit by the camping bug come summer, or if it's just me. Any fond camping memories ... or less than fond, as the case may be? I'd love to hear from you!
There is one thing that is good enough to wipe away almost all the bad stuff of camping. I speak, of course, of (drum roll please…) S’MORES!
Today, I bring you are newly perfected cupcake recipe, one that was inspired by my friend and fellow author Jerrica Knight-Catania. Check out her books - I am loving A Gentleman Never Tells :)
Campfire Cupcakes
This recipe makes 3 dozen cupcakes, so I usually cut it in thirds to make a small batch. Also, I recommend using sturdy foil cupcake liners to support the graham cracker crust.
Graham Cracker Crust:
- 1 and ½ cups fine graham cracker crumbs
- ¼ cup sugar
- 6 Tablespoons melted butter
Mix together crumbs and sugar, add in butter and mix well. Press about a tablespoon of the mixture into the bottom of the cupcake liners. Evenly distribute any leftover mixture
Chocolate Cake:
This is slightly modified from the Bakers One-Bowl Chocolate Cake Recipe printed inside the Semisweet baking squares (red) box.
- 6 ounces (6 squares) BAKER'S Semi-Sweet Chocolate
- 3/4 cup (1 – 1/2 sticks) butter
- 1 – 1/2 cups sugar
- 3 eggs
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 2 - 2/3 cups cake flour (or sifted all-purpose flour)
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 -1/2 cups water
- 2 Tbsp sour cream

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Microwave chocolate and butter in large microwaveable bowl on HIGH 2 min. or until butter is melted. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Stir in sugar and vanilla. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating with electric mixer on low speed after each addition until well blended.
Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl. If you are using all-purpose flour, it is best to simply sift it all together.

Add 1/3 of the flour, then ½ the water and the sour cream, then another 1/3 of the flour, the last half of the water, and finally the last 1/3 of the flour.

This batter is very thin, and I always transfer it into a gallon sized Ziplock bag and cut a small hole in the bottom for easy distribution. Distribute evenly over the 3 dozen graham cracker crust-lined cupcake liners.
Bake 18 to 20 min. or until toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Be careful not to overcook! Cool in pan 10 min.; remove to wire racks.
Marshmellow-Meringue Topping
I found this recipe on Martha Stewart’s website (Click Here), but felt that it needed a little more vanilla
- 8 large egg whites
- 2 cups sugar
- ½ tsp cream of tartar
- 2 ½ tsp vanilla extract
Place egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in the heatproof bowl of an electric mixer. Set over a saucepan with simmering water. Whisk constantly until sugar is dissolved and whites are warm to the touch, 3 to 4 minutes.
Transfer bowl to electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and beat, starting on low speed, gradually increasing to high, until stiff, glossy peaks form, 5 to 7 minutes. Add vanilla, and mix until combined. Use immediately
Generously frost the cupcakes. Garnish with a drizzle of melted chocolate and a dusting of graham cracker crumbs. Enjoy!!


  1. I should have stopped at the camping story because now I am hungry. Your camping experience is a riot. I've never camped without a camper (when I was a kid) or a cabin, the many, many,times I chaparoned the Girl Scout Troop. I don't think I would last without running water.

  2. LOL Amy, I made twelve of those cupcakes today and there is only one left. I *swear* I didn't eat them all... but I ate a lot more than I should have!

    I agree about the running water. It's just one of those things that I like to have access to... call me crazy! :) Thanks so much for stopping by!

  3. I think your second accomodations look just about perfect. The cupcakes sound divine!

  4. Sarah, I believe we are in perfect agreement (especially since it not only has running water, but a hot tub as well!) Thank you so much for dropping by to say hello!

  5. Hilarious story, Erin! I actually do love to camp, but my husband and sons do not. So we compromise and get a cabin. But this is Idaho. And it snows in the mountains in June. So freezing? Yeah.

  6. Snows in JUNE??? I think perhaps, Clarissa, I would get a cabin in Idaho, too, LOL! :)

  7. This sounds ridiculously like the last time I went camping. LOL. A group of friends and I (and their kids...and my roommate's kid) all decided to go camping together. I hadn't been in years, but I used to be pretty good at roughing it. Note the "used to be" part.

    It was Spring Break, which, in Texas, is typically plenty warm. When we left, it was hot outside. By the time we got to our camping location, the temperature had dropped about 30 degrees. None of us had packed real sleeping bags--we just had air mattresses and sheets, and a couple of blankets amongst the twelve of us.

    It was a miserable first night, because the temps kept dropping. And yes, the air in the air mattresses stays cold and continually loses air pressure, until you're on the cold, hard ground. Yay. To add to that, the kids stole all the blankets. And most of the adults? We're snorers. So there was a whole symphony going on that night. LOL.

  8. LOL, Catherine, that's hilarious! Now, anyway. I'm sure at the time, you didn't find much humor in the situation ;) But look at the stories we have to tell!

  9. LOL -- I love reading your stories. I am not a camper -- I consider Motel 6 a camping experience -- so I died laughing at your reactions to the noises outside.

    And I think I can use my gas stove to make s'mores at home. LOL Especially with those big marshmallows designed just for s'mores. So I can have those AND avoid camping!

  10. You make me laugh out loud everytime I read your stories. "Get back, ax murderer, I have a SPOON" HAHAH! Suicidal wombat? HA!!! The only think I miss about camping is the collapsable cup...I loved that thing. I still have an intense hatred for coffee to this day because of a camping trip with the family where I was freezing so dad gave me some instant Sanka that was about the consistency and taste of mud to warm me up. Gag. But Campfire Cupcakes are a camp food that I can get behind! They look beyond amazing!!!

  11. Wait a second, Donna... there's a S'mores sized marshmallow out there?!?! How could I have not known that? I tell you what, if I had a gas stove, I'd be all over that :)
    Thanks for chiming in!

  12. Aha! Kara, I think that's where my deep, abiding hatred of coffee may have originated... ;)
    I'm so glad I can make you laugh, all the way over there on the west coast! I can't wait to make those Campfire cupcakes for you soon :)
    Thanks for dropping by!

  13. I have not gone camping as an adult. I am sure I would have a different opinion now than the one I have fond memories of as a child. Memorial Weekend was always the kick-off to camping season for my Dad and I. It was the first 3 day weekend of summer. I always helped load the truck and get things together, but my Dad was the ultimate packer. Every time we went, it only got better. We would find something to make our next trip more enjoyable. We did tent camping, but the campgrounds were preset places within the forest and there were showers and toilets. Once we found our favorite campsite, we went to it every time. I know how my body feels when I fall asleep on the couch. I'm not so sure how it would take the air mattress and ground at my "age". My Dad and I did go camping once in December. We woke-up our first morning to a snow covered camp site. My Mom has a pop-up camper that has A/C, water, and mattresses. We haven't given that a go yet, but maybe, just maybe we will before the end of this summer.

  14. Now a pop-up camper, that I think I could do, Rhonda :) Anything with water—and walls—sounds pretty good to me!
    I do actually have very fond memories of camping as a kid. I think back then, I had a much more innocent view on the world ... and a more resilient spine, lol!
    Thanks for coming by to say hello!

  15. I used to camp all of the time...in fact, I grew up at a church camp, so every day way camp day for me.

    Used to canoe a lot, too.

    But then we bought a little cabin at the lake and surprisingly, my desire to stay in a tent without air-conditioning sort of went away...hmmm...

  16. What is it about air conditioning that is so damn alluring, Heather? Although, a canoe sounds rather nice as well ...
    Thanks for dropping by! Looking forward to seeing you at Nationals :)

  17. Last time I went camping was with the kids in the backyard which lasted to all of 10 o'clock. We haven't come through 6,000 years of civilization to sleep on the cold hard ground. Other than stargazing, I'm just fine to leave camping to the bears (and axe murderers)!

  18. What?! Andy, after all those camping trips in our youth, you don't want to repeat the experience with your kids? Blasphamy ;)
    Thanks for stopping by - I hope you guys will give the cupcakes a try :)

  19. Erin - I was directed here by route of Jerrica and I love your blog. This story cracked me up and I WANT those cupcakes. I am going to give them a try when I get a break in the action of my 2 month old. :)


  20. Hi Marnee!
    I'm so glad you found me! I will have to thank Jerrica for spreading the news :) I hope you do get the chance to try the recipe, and if you do, let me know how it goes. For a little extra oomph, turn your toaster oven to broil and pop the cupcakes in until the top turns slightly brown. Just be sure not to look away - it will happen quick!

  21. OMG--LOVE this. My father was a big fan of "primitive" camping, and in that pursuit I experienced such childhood awesomeness as watching him fish and gut a pregnant trout (do NOT ask), which I was then expected to eat later that night. To this day, my idea of camping is a Holiday Inn.

    1. Pregnant trout?!?!? Good god, I don't wanna know :-/. Yes- a Holiday in works juuuuust fine, thankyouverymuch