By Todd Lancaster
Somewhere in the wilds of Parke County I was forced to confront my fear — a fear of camping, also known as living like it’s 1685.
For many years people have tried to convince me that sleeping outdoors beats sleeping indoors, that a pit toilet is not nearly as bad as it sounds, and people participating in a makeshift “Florida-Georgia Line” concert two campsites down is really just free music.
So what drove me into the woods recently so I could experience “camping?” It was my love for my wife. She has an “outdoorsy” streak that I have been trying to extinguish for the last 25 years. She has camped, hiked and canoed for years, while I have not camped, not hiked and the last time I got in a boat, it was in the Persian Gulf (it was a really big boat).
For years I had built-in excuses like, it’s baseball regional, it’s softball semi-state, we have someone playing in the Indiana All-Star game and I have to go. There was the U.S. Open, the Stanley Cup or maybe even just a ballgame I wanted to watch, because God knows, it’s is not like they play every day and are almost never on TV.
However, after COVID completely cleared my calendar, I found my wife had driven me into a box canyon with the Federales taking the high ground and the Texas Rangers cutting off any escape trail (not the baseball team Rangers, the old gunslinger outfit, because had it been the baseball team I could have said, “I can’t go because I’m watching the Texas Rangers play”). All I could do was surrender to the fact that I would be camping and there was nothing I could do about it.
My wife tried to make accommodations and ordered a plus-size tent, for her plus-size husband, along with an air mattress (because my debilitating back problems are rarely affected by sleeping in the elements on glorified pool equipment).
We shared a campsite with friends who were also roughing it in the 30’ slide-out, with air conditioning, satellite dishes and a hide-a-way hibachi grill. The nice thing about their camper is it was so big, the shadow it casts allowed for an entirely different ecosystem to form around it, allowing access to flora and fauna I never imagined. I have learned a lot about camping from them, like if you have the same size RV as Jimmie Johnson and he is in the next campsite, you are probably not really camping; you are at a NASCAR race.
However, I also learned that if you are using something called a “pit toilet” then you are definitely camping — or in a Turkish prison.
To make matters worse, on this particular weekend, all of the human toilets in the campsite were being remodeled, leaving us with two choices: the lone port-a-potty that had apparently been in continuous use since Woodstock, and located in the only truly shadeless spot on a 93-degree day. The other choice was the “pit toilet.” To begin with, when the word “toilet” is the most positive part of the description you are bound to have problems. It was essentially a seat attached to a something just a little bigger than an old paint can. That contraption was then used to cover the second part of the description – the “pit.”
The word ‘pit’ is not normally associated with places of high-quality personal hygiene, but more closely associated with phrases like, “bottomless pit” or the ever popular, “pit full of demons.”
Ours was not actually a pit full of demons, but more like a pit full of spiders, who must have also been camping at Turkey Run as well, because they were so big I later saw them carrying a full-size kayak down toward Sugar Creek (much easier with 16 legs, by the way).
To make a long story short, I slept so well in my oversized nylon mesh bag and pool flotation device, that I didn’t even hear the group of raccoons who were apparently having a bachelor party all night.
The next morning, I was awakened to the sounds of nature at 5:30 a.m., as Turkey Run must have Indiana’s only family of wild howler monkeys, which only howl from 5:30-to 5:34 to remind you that nature has no snooze button and you will be getting up.
After getting up at the leisurely hour of 5:35 a.m., we did have a great outdoor breakfast, which is like a great indoor breakfast, just without the indoor part. After that we then were able fill up bed of the truck with everything we brought to get us through the 18 hours in the wilderness (the gear that kept us alive, as we only had to go to the gas station/deli across the street twice during our wilderness adventure).
Two hours later, we were home safely and after much self-analysis that you can only get by spending long stretches of time in the woods, I had come to realization that I may camp again — but I will never take my personal commode for granted.