Those of you who come here often already know that Kevin has managed, against all odds, to get me camping. A couple months back, we bought what he billed as a ‘tiny house,’ but is really a standard-issue slide-in truck camper. We did a shakedown cruise in the form of a one-night stay at a campground here on the Cape, but the real test wasn’t until last week, when we took it to Acadia National Park for three whole days.
Three whole days! Living, basically, out of your truck.
I learned that Acadia is absolutely beautiful. I learned that I miss hiking, which we seldom do on Cape Cod. I learned that whoever invented bicycles with gears deserves the Nobel Prize for Enabling Serious Hill Climbing (they do give one of those, don’t they?).
And I learned that camping seriously lowers your standards.
If ever there was a case that camping wasn’t for me, that’s it, because my standards are perilously low to begin with. My motto in so many areas of life – dressing, home repair, personal hygiene – is “It’s probably good enough.”
This has been the source of some friction in my generally low-friction marriage to Kevin. He’s always wanting to buy the thing that isn’t the cheapest, or build the thing to withstand more than one season, or throw the thing out when I think there’s still plenty of wear left in it (case in point: underpants).
Although, to his credit, Kevin also has a few low standards. He has the most disreputable set of stained, ripped tee-shirts you’ve ever seen. He never, ever calls you back. And he’s not going to win any prizes in Garage Organization.
You might argue (as I have) that this makes us compatible. But it also has the danger of trapping us in a low-standards downward spiral. The road to hell is paved with situations where no one’s there to say, “Hold on! Maybe you shouldn’t be repairing the chimney with insulating foam and a machete.”
We live in a 900-square foot house that bears an uncanny resemblance to a shack. Our trim needs painting. Our landscaping is, well, it actually isn’t. Inside, there are often spiderwebs in the corners. The floor is covered with cork tile we put down as a temporary measure some five years ago. Under these circumstances, lowering our standards could be dangerous.
But camping makes our home seem luxurious! Well-appointed! Pristine!
It starts with a toilet. At home, we have one! And it works. For quite a while, we had one that didn’t, really, but then we renovated our bathroom. (Before you start giving us credit for higher standards, I should tell you that we didn’t renovate it until the tile literally started falling off the wall of the shower. For a while, we held it up with duct tape, but there’s only so long you can make that work.)
Our camper has one, too, but not really. It’s one of those chemical jobs that nobody every uses voluntarily. But one of the ways Kevin won me over to camping was to point out that campgrounds generally have toilets, so you don’t have to use the one in the camper. Until we started camping, I viewed having to leave the house to use the bathroom as a definite non-starter but, somehow, when you’re camping, it’s OK. Even though it means you have to put on either a bra or a sweatshirt, take a flashlight if it’s dark, and share a bathroom with an entire campground’s worth of strangers, it’s OK.
Then there’s the food. My standards there aren’t quite as low as they are in other areas, because I really love to eat. We have a very well-equipped kitchen, and we consistently turn out excellent meals.
In the camper, we have a propane stove with three burners, which you have to light with a match. There is a tiny workspace created by putting a cutting board over the sink, which is small, shallow, and works by pumping a lever up and down. There is a refrigerator, but we don’t use it unless we’re connected to electricity, which we weren’t, so two coolers filled with ice kept cold things cold.
But we brought a grill, of course. On our first night, Kevin smoked a chicken and then grilled corn and asparagus over the remaining coals. Plain corn, buttered. Plain asparagus, with olive oil, salt and pepper. At home, that’s a make-do kind of meal. But serve it when you’re camping, and you start looking for your Michelin star.
Not to mention that we ate it off, not plastic, but Corelle, practically indistinguishable from Spode. The picnic table was pretty dirty, but we had the Sunday New York Times, which includes a Style section printed on heavier-than-normal newsprint (I’ve always wondered why). Who needs linen damask? Naturally there was no dishwasher, but there also wasn’t running water. But we had two – count ‘em, TWO! – buckets, one for wash water, one for rinse. Clean-up was a snap.
For showering, we had two choices. We have one of those black bags with a spigot that you fill with water and leave in the sun, and we hung that on a tree. Unfortunately, the campsite was completely shaded, and the water did little better than ambient temperature, but it was just fine for washing my hair. And, really, when it comes right down to it, how many parts of your body require daily cleaning? I can think of three, and a washcloth is more than adequate.
Our other choice was coin-op showers, about a mile away. Kevin chose that option, although only once. If we had a Who’s Cleaner? contest, it would have been (dirty) neck-and-neck. But it was undoubtedly good enough.
At least that’s what I thought, until the morning we left. As we packed everything up, I started to be a little uneasy about our … ahem … condition. Because we weren’t going straight home. We were fortunate enough to have invitations to stop both for lunch and for dinner on our way.
Lunch was two hours south of Acadia, on the coast of Maine, with our friends Zora and Jonathan. At least, they’re our friends now. When we showed up at their house for lunch, we didn’t know them at all. Zora and I both travel in food circles, and are Facebook friends. When she read that Kevin and I were going to Acadia, she invited us to stop in.
Zora’s idea of “stopping in,” we were to discover, involves a four-course lunch. There was home-cured gravlax with lemon cream cheese. There was a cold minted pea soup, garnished with yogurt and sugar snap pea slices. There was a classic Crab Louis. And there was a wild blueberry buckle, which Zora described as “fruit, loosely held together with cake.”
Zora clearly needs to go camping.
In the three hours or so we spent with Zora and Jonathan (an artist, and the illustrator of many National Geographic bird guides), never once did they seem to be giving us a wide berth, which I considered a triumph of lowered standards. Eventually, we had to drag ourselves away from a series of fascinating conversations with two lovely, interesting people for the embarrassing reason that two other lovely, interesting people had invited us for dinner, two more hours down the coast.
Our plan was to have dinner with Susan and Dennis, overnight in their driveway, and head home the next morning. We had brought way too much food with us, and I had a deboned leg of lamb, spread with a paste of garlic, rosemary, and olive oil, and vacuum sealed for the trip still in the cooler. Susan is a fan of lamb, and when I told her I had it she put it on the menu. Of course, she tarted it up with a little mustard, cooked it beautifully, and made a salad of green beans, olives, and potatoes to go with it. That, and the second fruit dessert of the day – a crumble, with crème fraiche – meant that it was one of the best food days Kevin and I have had in a long time.
We probably needed it, as an antidote to the standard-lowering involved in camping. The next morning, before we left, I got in the shower for the first time in five days.
There was one area in which our trip actually raised our standards. Acadia National Park is an extraordinary place. The hikes are interesting and varied, the bicycling hilly but not grueling, the views nothing short of astonishing. One of the reasons we seldom hike on the Cape is that most of the parks look a lot like our backyard – scrubby pine and oak bordering kettle-hole ponds. This trip isn’t going to make us look on local hikes with much more favor. (Although we will try and get out to the National Seashore and Provincetown, where there’s a bit more variety and, of course, a great deal of ocean.)
We came home last Thursday, five days ago, and the camper is still on the truck. That’s partly because Kevin, his standards being what they are, just hasn’t gotten around to taking it off yet. But it’s partly because we’d really like to use it again, maybe even before we need the truck to pull the boat (its primary job, up to now).
Maybe it’s too early to say, but I think I might love camping. I love the tiny house. I love the mobility. I love that we can go anywhere, and see anything, on our own schedule and at reasonable expense.
Low standards, I’ve always loved.