Rainy Day Writing

Writing, Reading, Inspirations and Aspirations

Campgrounds Take Some Growing Into


Fort Flagler State Park, WA

The old man and I just returned from a short beach vacation in a State Park campground. Us and a hundred or so other old people. And five or six kids too young to be back at school who managed to worm their way into Grandma and Grandpa’s camping trip. It was very peaceful and quiet. There wasn’t anybody texting while walking bumping into over-sized RV mirrors needing medical attention or any other such drama. Old people didn’t have to dodge careless kids on shaky bikes while they strolled the camping loops with full cups of steaming coffee. No burns. No bumps. No bruises. Safe and Sane.

Nine years ago we made the switch from a couple of air-conditioned gypsies,(thank you Pete Townsend for the reference), to a fully equipped camp trailer with four inches of memory foam on the bed. I can’t remember quite how that transpired. It may have had something to do with pulling an engorged tick from my thigh two days after camping in the hills of Eastern Oregon with no “facilities”. Then again it might have been my machinist’s husbands inevitable back issues. Or maybe it was the sleazy motel room’s 89 bucks a night buys anymore. The ones where you feel itchy sitting on the bedspread and where you have to move your body around strategically in a close mildewy space under a pitiful trickle of lukewarm water, otherwise known as a shower, to reach the important parts. It’s a lot like a game of twister or a hot yoga class in a wet, unhygienic environment.

What I do know is that the first time we sat across from each other at the banquette of our brand new Rainier camper, my husband looked at me with a serious expression and said “You know we’re old now.” I nodded. I knew exactly what he meant. Up until that time we were smug young grunge campers, not to be confused with smug young Eddie Bauer campers– the ones with first-rate gear and matching outfits punctuated by colorful lemon oil soaked bandannas just for panache. No, we were more like the B & I Circus Store campers.

We started out with true Army/Navy/Boy Scout salvage equipment inherited from my husbands’ father, most of which belonged in a museum. A huge green canvas tent that weighed about thirty pounds bone dry, down Army sleeping bags, and canvas Boy Scout backpacks built on 1 X 1 rigid wood frames that even our twenty something backs rebelled against. Those early camping trips were rough. We were pulling down quills out of our cold, wet asses and our backs hurt. Those boy scouts were tough kids. Ditto the soldiers. The boy scout back packs were cool looking in a Country Living Magazine sort of way, but tortuously painful to carry. Now they are the kind of thing you see hanging on a wall in the mudroom of a campy fishing lodge owned by a Real Estate millionaire in Bar Harbor, Maine. The backpacking world is all the better for it believe me.

The night I woke up to mice running laps around the inside margins of the Army tent with the frayed floor I knew we needed to upgrade. Eventually we discovered REI and equipped ourselves with North Face bags, a Sierra Dome Tent, inflatable camper pads and internal frame back packs. Everything was relatively light, comfortable and easy to transport. We could backpack when our necks and backs were young and lithe enough, and as we got older, we could easily pack all our gear in an AWD vehicle and drive dusty Forest Service Roads for days and days. We camped in crazy remote sites, where if UFO’s really did exist, we should have been abducted. We were happy for years with our gear and our bohemian camping lifestyle. At some point we had a stroke of genius and realized that the removable seats in our Astro Van meant we could outfit the floor with an inflatable mattress. That soon became our magic carpet camping vehicle. We learned to pack all our clothes and cooking gear in plastic tote boxes that could be stored outside overnight while we fought inside with the dog for space on the air mattress.

We would haunt established campgrounds for an hour or a night to get in a hot shower and maybe a meal at a nearby cafe. I remember watching the “old ladies” walk around with their curled hair, running suits and manicured fingernails hoisting their aging bodies up into RV’s the size of a Washington State Ferry. I would snicker at them. “Don’t let me ever get like them,” I would tell my husband, and he would grin at me knowingly and nod. Once in a blue moon we would stay in a dingy motel thinking a shower and a bed would be welcome. Wrong. A sleeping bag with a known list of occupants, including a dog, is preferable to a cheap motel bed with an unknown prior history, with or without a dog, any day of the year.

And now here we are camping in State Park Campgrounds in a camp trailer. The old man has even been known to carry his coffee cup around the grounds as we walk. Oh say it isn’t so!

Funny thing is, it’s not so bad. Old folks are quiet. And last night as we took our sunset stroll along the beach there were three old guys creating giant bubbles with some kind of string contraption and shining flashlights on them as they floated away in the wind. The flash light beam refracted off the bubbles and they lit and flared up like fourth of July sparklers. It was awesome! And playful. And I felt  like a little kid watching it. People sat around fire pits quietly talking. Even the dogs were mellow. It was a much more communal camping experience than our magic carpet forays into the empty spaces and corners of the west, which I don’t miss so much anymore. We seek out the remote trails and beaches now, and we can drive down to the organic market for goat cheese brownies and produce. We can plug in our C-pap machines and sleep instead of snore all night. And there’s definitely something to be said for grinding fresh beans and drinking strong hot coffee in the morning…with real cream!

Of course, we still have some ethics. We don’t have a TV in the camper and I hope we never will. I didn’t bring the laptop because even when I do, I don’t open it. We read an issue of the local newspaper, visited the Nordland General Store and chatted briefly with the owner about Island news. We listened to gulls and waves and wind in the trees for music. We’re still a little bohemian. We explored the Port Townsend boat yard and drove around looking at the Victorian homes above town but skipped the downtown shops and galleries. We had one of the smaller camping rigs in the park, (she mentioned smugly), and I have yet to purchase a running suit, curl my hair or paint my nails.

And as I sat at the banquette eating my organic hippy/artisan produced goat cheese brownie, I was remembering. Remembering a thousand miles of bumpy roads and rocky trails. Remembering skies lit only by twinkling stars, the milky way hanging overhead as thick as spun silk. Remembering freezing mornings spent snuggling, with our malamute wedged between us like a body pillow, his kitten fluff of a head pressed against my face. Remembering our tent surrounded by a herd of elk, grazing hungrily around us in the forested blackness of the Mount Adams Wilderness, daring not to move a muscle. Maybe our days of freeze-dried meals, damp trail mix and primitive campsites are over. If so, I’m grateful for the memories.

Safety. Sanity. A comfortable night’s sleep. These things matter more to us as we age. If that means sleeping in a camp trailer, in a State Park campground, surrounded by old people, so be it. Old people rule! And being abducted by aliens? Never even crossed my mind.


  1. “Remembering our tent surrounded by a herd of elk, grazing hungrily around us in the forested blackness of the Mount Adams Wilderness, daring not to move a muscle.”—–> Wow! That must have been amazing! Great essay, Ilona. I really enjoyed this one.

    By the way, what ever happened to the Astro Van?


    • Funny you asked about it TF. My husband used it as a commuter car for three years. We sold it recently with 350,000 miles and still going! Thought about hoisting it into one of our big firs and using it to sleep in but were concerned about the logistics! God we hated to sell it with all those miles of memories…


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