Thursday, October 31, 2013

Camping Around Other People

I recently read a blog article about how to avoid crowds and get away from other people during busy camping periods.  Not many us like traffic jams, long lines, and crowded venues and roads on busy holidays.  And no one likes a noisy neighbor.  But this article didn't sit well with me. I didn't agree with some of the authors views.  And as I pondered it more, I realized that most of my camping has involved doing just the opposite.

I respect that we're all different and are out camping for different reasons.  Some of us use camping to get away from busy and hectic lives and seek the solitude of a natural setting.  I respect that.  Others like camping to be part of a gathering and love the fellowship of being together.  I respect that too.  I do both.  

For me, camping has always been about going to new places, getting a change of venue, having a new experience, learning something new, and meeting new people.  I will tend to avoid traveling on busy days because I prefer not to spend time waiting in lines and sitting in traffic jams.  But, I don’t mind camping with a group or on a busy week-end, or in a jam packed field at a festival.  If fact, I kind of enjoy it.

Camping with 1,500 bikers at Bike Florida in Apalachicola
For me, camping is not about the campsite or camping spot.  Its about the reason you're why you're at a particular place.  It could be wanting to be near a certain lake or natural setting.  It could be a rally or an event that you're attending.  It could be a festival, a group activity, or just a place to layover for the night while on a journey.  The camping part is really secondary to why I packed up in the first place.

A few years ago, when I was into serious long distance cycling, I went on numerous organized cycling trips that involved camping with lots of people.  I went with a group cycling over the Rocky Mountains in Montana and Canada and we camped in open fields.  Another group I went with biked along the coast of Maine and camped in fair grounds and city parks.  I did several years of Bike Florida week long rides camping mostly in school yards.  And I did the bike ride across Iowa (RAGBRAI) where we camped in any open space we could find.  All of these involved camping in close proximity, sometimes with thousands of people.  
Camping with 12,000 bikers at RAGBRAI in Iowa

Then there are the music festivals that I love to attend.  I usually attend at least three each year that involve rustic camping in fields and city parks.  Again, most of these have thousands of people camping shoulder to shoulder.  And music festival can be noisy with people playing music and parting through all hours of the night and morning.

I've had some great times at these events and activities and have seen some great country. I’ve also met some great people along the way.  My guess is that 99% of the people I’ve met camping were super fine people.  Sure there were the guys who kept me up all night singing Rod Stewart and Rolling Stone songs till the wee hours of the morning and there were the drunks at a state park that did the same thing, but they were the exception.  Some of the people I've met while camping have become permanent friends and I've learned a lot from some of these acquaintances.

Camping at Rhythm & Roots Festival
I’ve also had many rewarding experiences helping others set up their tents, rescuing blown down canopies, lending out an axe, a hammer, and eating utensils.  I remember fixing a lady’s broken tent pole and saving her week-long camping trip, helping with flat tires, giving directions, giving campground recommendations, sharing some dry firewood, etc.  I never looked at these instances as intrusions but rather rewarding chances to help my fellow camper.

Music festival campers with a water front spot
Camping in a crowded setting is not for everyone and it requires you to reset your expectations, needs, and attitudes.  First, get used to the idea of not having lots of personal space and don't assume you have ownership rights to the space you're on (its all there to be shared).  Second, get used to hearing body noises (e.g. snoring, belching, crying, laughing, etc).  Also, be comfortable meeting and talking to total strangers who may be camping right at your doorstep.  I always try to meet my camping neighbors.  Introducing yourself and asking "where are you folks from?" is an easy icebreaker.  I also talk to them ahead of time about noise I may be making (e.g. I might have to run my generator for a short time each day, do you mind if I play my mandolin).  Assume it will be noisy (e.g. music, talking, snoring) and take ear plugs. And don't be afraid to engage and join the fun

I love camping and traveling.  For me, the joy comes not just from the beautiful scenery or event participation, but also from the new people you meet and learn from.  

1 comment:

  1. I'm in the middle. I don't want to be completely isolated, as I am a woman who camps alone. Like you, I have met some amazing people in campgrounds, helped them and been helped by them, and heard their wonderful stories. But I also like a little personal space around my camper. Usually, I camp in State campgrounds, and I reserve my site ahead of time, choosing one on a corner or surrounded by trees. That little bit of privacy gives me time to reflect and settle down, while nearby campers give me companionship, tips, laughs, and once in a while, dinner!