The rain started just past midnight, the gentle tap dance on the tent fly playing an enjoyable melody for us sleeping cozy and warm on the inside. I dreamed of water that night, cascading and color-streaked water, and I distinctly remember thinking to myself at one point as I stretched my toes deeper into my sleeping bag, “Man, I love camping.”
However, as the night wore on, the pace of falling rain quickened and sometime before sunrise, there was no longer anything cozy or warm left in the tent. Instead, a small and previously unseen leak had turned the area near our feet into a legitimate puddle, and the once romantic pitter patter had created a steady devil drip right above our heads. The misery built as the chill of pre-dawn set in, making sleep impossible and driving me from the tent out into a muddy and wind-tattered campsite shrouded in a gray darkness that, at the moment at least, could best be described as hell. Fumbling with numb fingers to ignite the camp stove in hopes firing up a morning-saving batch of coffee, I shivered and cursed and caught myself exclaiming to the indifferent nature all around me just how much I hated camping.
Of course, I didn’t mean it. I was two days into a four-day kayaking/camping trip along the north coast of the south island of New Zealand, and, well, these are the types of adventures that make life radical and stir your soul toward salvation. But the sudden and unexpected flip-flop of experience (i.e., pure bliss to absolute misery in a matter of moments) is par for the course in the camping universe. In fact, it is one of the things that makes camping such a worthwhile and rewarding thing to do. You suffer through a cold night camping at elevation to watch the otherworldly hues of red, yellow, orange, purple, and blue as the sun rises over a snowy mountain; you lose your breath as a bear materializes out of nowhere to stumble confidently through your camp; you go from painful hunger to absolute appetite satisfaction after capping off a day on the trail with a simple yet stuffing meal of campfire chili; or a massive star blazes across the sky just for you as you pee all alone in the dark.
In all of these experiences, your emotions pendulum from one side to another, but the net result is undeniably positive. You may not feel it right away, but as soon as you return home, no matter how miserable — or amazing — your camping trip was, you will feel refreshed, invigorated, and suspiciously at peace with things that may have been bothering you before you departed.
You see, even in the most manicured of state parks, camping gets us outside of our concrete comfort zones and into a head space and physical place that speaks straight to the hunter-gatherer roots that are within us all. It is an antidote for the ailments of these modern times, a relatively inexpensive one at that, and it is waiting for you right now. Just make sure your tent doesn’t have any leaks.