At the station in Hoboken, anticipating the glory of the trip
My 10-year-old son had wanted to go camping ever since a friend of ours gave him a little two-person tent about three years ago. I’d been using evasion tactics ever since. While he spent anticipatory moments plotting various trips on the computer, I continued to try to find substitutes. When we went to my sister’s house in Madison, Wisconsin, we spent the summer night outside in their large four-person tent. When we went to my other sister’s house in Minneapolis, he brought his tent and pitched it in their backyard to pull an all-nighter with his two cousins.
But that didn’t cut the mustard and as his plans went from vague excursions where we’d just get off the train and randomly pitch the tent off some path in the woods, to a campsite where he made reservations, I relented. Obviously I’m not a camper and I don’t come from a camping background. And we live in Manhattan and we don’t have a car. But last Sunday we took the PATH train to Hoboken, and from there took New Jersey Transit to the Harriman stop, then a taxi to Beaver Pond Campgrounds in Harriman State Park.
We had to haul everything with us, and somewhat randomly threw a loaf of bread, a chunk of cheese, peanut butter, cans of tuna, tomatoes, a head of lettuce and some chips and fruit into one backpack. In the other we had a few clothes, swimsuits, our little wind-up flashlight, two sheets, a knife, a few books and some drinking water. And we carried the tent and one sleeping bag, which is all we have. We decided against pillows, since we already had 500 things, it seemed, and we only brought one jacket, my son’s hoodie, because of space. He had promised I could wear it because he was never cold.
We got there, had to pay $40 for the cab, which was more than I had planned on, and checked in. It was a beautiful ride from the train station, though, I certainly will say. After checking in, we walked up to our little campsite. My son had taken great care with the reservations, and booked us a site that was up on a little hill and somewhat removed from the other sites. It was protected by bushes and trees, such that we had our own little alcove.
I had about five separate dreams that we were leaving
They had wooden platforms upon which you would pitch the tent, which threw us for a small loop, even though we knew it would be that way from the website. So we walked around and we saw that people tapped or pounded their stakes through the cracks in the wood. We did that and successfully set up our stuff. I swept the platform first with a little leafy branch, and I must say we were quite organized.
The lagoon through the trees—everyone starts rushing toward their fires
Who needs a car when you have a fire like this?
It was already late afternoon so after walking around for a while we went back to our campsite and thought about starting a fire in the fire pit. We screwed around looking for wood and twigs, and it seemed it was suddenly pitch black out. The fire wasn’t started yet, and we were bitching at each other about that, but after wildly vigorous fanning, I got it going. We only had three books of matches, because that’s all my son had grabbed, and, perhaps it goes without saying, no fire starter.
We ate our cans of tuna with a butter knife that we shared, because we had forgotten forks. We couldn’t even see what we were eating, it was so dark. The fire provided light of course, though, and the pleasure of this roaring conflagration occupied us for the rest of the night. Night. I’m sure you can imagine how hard a wooden platform is. We put the one sleeping bag on the tent floor and covered ourselves with the sheets we had brought. My son heroically let me wear his hoodie. Nevertheless, I was freezing and in total misery.
I had about five separate dreams that we were leaving. I dreamt repeatedly and in different ways that it was 5 a.m. and we were packing up to go and we had a car. My overactive imagination started envisioning the whole campsite as prey to some psychotic murderers … wouldn’t we just be the sitting ducks, I thought? Charles Manson-style. I also started thinking of those people in torture cells, who have to sleep night after night in the cold on a steel-hard surface. And what about animals attacking us? I was so used to walls and a locked, locked door.
At the first dimming of the sun, everyone started maniacally tending their fires
My son sat up a little and I asked him what time it was—3:30 a.m. he reported. We walked down to the bathroom with our little wind-up flashlight and when we came back we put the sheets down first and covered up with the sleeping bag. I raved to my son slightly, telling him I didn’t think we could stay two nights. I thought we’d have to leave in the morning. If you could imagine how hard that platform was with only the sheet down on the tent floor. But I slept a little and in the morning we analyzed all our mistakes.
We went and collected firewood—pilfering it from people’s sites who had left. We organized our food and our things. We started talking to some people from India and they gave us huge plates of Indian food for lunch and piled plates for us to take back to our tent for dinner. We swam, walked around, checked out other people’s sites—many of whom seemed to have imported their entire backyard decks to the campsite. My son and I were the only ones without a car, nay, an S.U.V. , and the only ones without some kind of mattress on the tent floor.
At the first dimming of the sun, everyone started maniacally tending their fires. My son and I had a raging inferno going, so impressive that the Indian people brought their camp chairs over and sat down to admire it with us for a while.
Next year a floor mat …
The second night wasn’t that much of an improvement over the first—it was freezing, the floor was just as hard, and it rained. But we didn’t get wet and the next morning was beautiful and sunny and we were sorry we were leaving. We need a floor mat, an additional sleeping bag and maybe some smarter food choices and we’re set for next year.
Single mothers from the city take their sons camping
So as my son’s 11th birthday approaches in September, I also thought I’d take a moment and give myself a giant pat on the back—single mothers from the city take their sons camping. My son’s a totally cool guy and he somehow managed to get that way without having a dad anywhere around.