“Roughin’ it” can be a scary phrase for some of us, especially those who live in suburban or urban areas. As folks get older, I find the phrase brings in even more possible apprehension, ranging from “what if I’m physically uncomfortable?” to “what, no technology?”
I’m a middle-aged woman who has lived near New York City –in very suburban New Jersey — her entire life and has only gone “car camping” once. That said, my week roughin’ it last summer while camping IN the Grand Canyon was more foreign to me than traveling abroad.
Why? Because it meant leaving my comfort level at home where every physical object and service I could want is immediately at my finger tips. It meant forging into the unknown, knowing only that once I was on our week-long Grand Canyon Expeditions’ (GCEX) Colorado River rafting trip, there was NO turning back.
“Wadaya mean? I can’t just jump in my car or a cab and leave when I want to?!”
However, after a challenging first 24 hours on that trip adjusting to roughin’ it, I soon became awe-struck of the natural beauty around me in the Grand Canyon. Inevitably, I became an advocate for getting away from technology for a week and bonding with my kids instead. I became a poster child, as in “If I can do it – and love it – you can too!”
There are many things I learned that week that would have been helpful to know prior to our trip in order to make my assimilation into “being away from it all” easier. Because of that, this article is dedicated to all those “city folk” or suburbanites who yearn for the solitude and the near-existential experience that transpires when in nature’s bounty, yet are a bit concerned about how they’ll adjust to “roughin’ it.”
LESSON #1: LESS IS MORE
I went into this trip thinking, “I better bring everything BUT the kitchen sink since we will not have any stores in which to buy toiletries, over-the-counter meds, snacks, and more.” The problem with that is that I had way too much luggage and all “my stuff” became more of a burden than an asset. When we’d get to camp daily and after we’d pitch our tents, everyone would relax riverside with a drink or appetizer. But instead I was wrestling with my duffel bag, trying to find “things” and keep all my possessions slightly organized.
Pack light! You’ll be glad you did.
LESSON #2: PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!
I know this sounds silly, but you may want to go on an overnight practice camping trip locally before any multi-day trip that involves group camping. I had only gone “car camping” once 20 years prior to my Grand Canyon Expeditions river rafting adventure, so I was admittedly nervous how I’d fare with roughin’ it.
Although all the cooking and cleaning up was done by professional GCEX staff, I still had to get used to sleeping on the ground in a sleeping bag and going without a shower for a week. It would have been easier for me if I had done a trial run and realized it’s not such a big deal to not repose on a bed. And besides, if I got middle-aged aches from sleeping on the ground, there’s always the Tylenol I shoved in my toiletries bag!
LESSON #3: HOW TO PITCH A TENT 101
If you’ve never pitched a tent before, it is not as easy to do the first time as you might think! Trust me, I know!
On our Grand Canyon Expeditions river rafting trip, all guests were expected to pitch their own tent(s) nightly. I was in a total sweat the first night trying to set up the tent. Luckily my teen niece had been in Girl Scouts and so she was able to instruct my 10-year-old son and me how to pitch the tent. Once she showed us the first night, it was a piece of cake.
In hindsight, I wished I had borrowed a friend’s tent for a trial run back home or had watched this YouTube video PRIOR to our trip. The tent that the National Wildlife Federation and “Nick Knock” pitch in this video is very similar to the one I mastered on our GCEX trip.
LESSON #4: FLEXIBILITY HAS ITS BENEFITS
I was one of the few on my trip who braved the cold temperatures of the Colorado River daily to bathe/wash up after a long hot day on the river. Since I’m used to the cold temperatures of Cape Cod water, I found the Colorado River’s natural yet chilly bathtub very invigorating. So in effect, I was being flexible since that although the river was no bath tub, it served its purpose for me.
On the other hand, one woman on our trip was not about to subject herself to bathing in cold water. She however exuded a different type of flexibility because the lack of a shower/bathtub didn’t bother her. In fact, her motto was, “Just think of all the time we spend daily at home on personal hygiene. I’m enjoying all that extra time to sleep or just relax.” I couldn’t argue her point!
LESSON #5: YOU WILL MISS MOTHER NATURE ONCE YOU’RE HOME
There was a reason you chose your “roughin’ it” trip even though you might be having second thoughts. If this trip has appeared in your life it probably is because you REALLY need to get away from the rigors and stresses of civilization. Or maybe it’s because you and your family REALLY need to connect without all the traps of the modern world as diversions.
I didn’t realize how stressed I was until I was two days into our GCEX adventure and started to really breathe and become one with the awesome scenery around us.
Funny but at first I was squeamish about the fact that there was only a communal toilet at night/morning in camp. But as our trip unfolded and I reveled more and more in the serenity of the Grand Canyon, the bathroom situation was not as important to me anymore.
In fact, right after our trip ended, my kids wanted to visit Circus, Circus in Las Vegas prior to our departure home. Although Circus, Circus had plenty of clean, modern bathrooms, it didn’t matter to me because I was overwhelmed by the noisy and crowded amusement park. I would have instantly traded any of those bathrooms for the simplicity of roughin’ it on the banks of the mighty Colorado River.