That’s me, little Bobby Yessa, with my big sis, Shelly, circa 1986 in our Starcraft pop up camper at Devil’s Lake in Wisconsin. My family would take at least one trip a year to Wisconsin, Michigan, and any other surrounding Midwest states we could get to in a few hours. We’d arrive at the campsite late at night in the dark. By the moon’s light, my dad would back in the camper, pull out the crank, pop up the camper, and pull out the beds. Occasionally we’d hear some colorful language in regards to buttoning in the door. There wasn’t much to it, but if you’ve never had the pleasure, there are a few critical steps. We learned the hard way that perhaps one of the most vital is pulling the bungee cord straps through the canvas cover and hooking them under the beds. If you forget these, it’s possible to wake up in the morning and wonder where your little boy is. “Bobby?… Bobby?” After one of these late-night, sleepy setups, my dad forgot to hook the bungee straps. While sleeping, I had rolled to the side of the bed and fell through the gap between the bed and the canvas cover landing on the ground only to wake up early the next morning in the grass.
When you’re camping, not everything goes to plan. Sometimes it rains, sometimes you forget to fill the propane tank, and sometimes you fall out of the camper and sleep in the grass. But sometimes you see the Milky Way by the fire with your mom. Sometimes you hear the howl of a coyote or the “whooooo” of an owl off in the distance. And sometimes you learn you’re more capable then you thought. You learn a little more about the depth of your self-worth and identity.
The anticipation of the adventure is palpable as dad finishes loading the last bits of the civilized world and slams the back door. Will we find buried treasure at the beach? Will we discover cave paintings that haven’t hidden for hundreds of years? Anything is possible. We are embarking on a personal and also a shared adventure. We share the open road with travelers and truckers, who we see and smell at gas stations along the highway. We share the open vista from the scenic overlook on Highway 51 North. We start to see license plates from states we’ve never been and imagine what adventure the car from Ontario is on. Our world is now more massive than our little plot of land in suburbia between work and school.
Our camping adventure allows us to take time for ourselves. Our pace slows down as the spaces widen around us. We start to notice the sounds and smells of our surroundings. We feel a sense of connection with something greater than ourselves. Our hearts and minds open to what we may find around the bend. When we are on a trail in the middle of the forest and see an empty snack wrapper in the bushes, we learn about stewardship. When we sit around the campfire at night and hear the loud, obnoxious people at site 4F, we learn about courtesy and consideration for others. We are not learning life lessens in an ideal institutional setting; these are lessons we experience, feel, and absorb.
It’s not easy for an 8-year-old to hike for what seems like days up to Balancing Rock. But when he gets to the top of the bluffs, time stops, and he understands that some things are worth the struggle. He doesn’t remember the hike’s pain and monotony; he remembers seeing birds flying beneath his feet. He remembers being closer to the clouds and the deep breaths taken to reach those heights. He now sees the world from a different perspective, and that is what he’ll never forget. Patience delayed gratification, and hard work is not teachings easily imparted. An experience is worth a million words.
I was lucky to spend my formative years camping quite frequently. Camping allows for the time to immerse oneself into an unlimited amount of experience. Camping also provides for the time to absorb these experiences and lessons. My character and belief system is built on these life lessons and shared experiences. I couldn’t imagine raising my two boys without providing them with a blank canvas to paint their picture of self via the vast open roads and campsites of America.
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