Every summer from the time I can remember, my parents would load up the car with camping gear, kids and dog and off we would go. Often, we camped as a means to get to a destination; most frequently, travelling from wherever we lived at the time to my father’s family in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. Other times, the camping was the destination: provincial and national parks in Canada and the United States.
When my parents decided we would spend a year in Europe during one of my dad’s sabbaticals, they bought a VW camper which became our base of operations when we were on the road. It seemed the height of luxury to us after years of sleeping in a canvas tent: beds, an eating table with benches, a tiny fridge and stove, cupboards! All this in the days before mandatory seat belts, so we could sit around the table and play games while our father drove and our mother navigated.
Once I became an adult, I assumed camping would continue to be a big part of my life. I made a few efforts, but here’s the truth: I just don’t like it.
What’s not to like?
Much to the disappointment of my partner, I have a long list of objections to camping.
First, there is a lot of lugging, loading, unloading, setting up, taking down and reloading.
Second, every camping mattress I have found has left me feeling as though I slept on the bare ground, directly over several large and sharp boulders.
Third, it is a pain in the neck trying to get dressed in a tent.
Fourth, no matter what you do, everything ends up damp or wet.
Fifth, cooking, whether over an open fire or on a camp stove sitting on a picnic table, is unpleasant.
Sixth, eating at a picnic table isn’t comfortable.
And just what are you supposed to do after dinner? Sit at the same uncomfortable picnic table to play cards? Tell ghost stories? Make a campfire and cook s’mores?
Mosquitoes and bathrooms
Most important, though are the presence of mosquitoes and the absence of en-tent bathrooms.
When I was a kid, my sisters and I would sit around of a summer’s evening letting mosquitoes bite us, somehow taking great satisfaction in smashing them dead once they were filled with our blood. Such a pastime holds no charm for me now: mosquitoes love me, perhaps out of some genetically-encoded pay back for my regular slaughter of their predecessors, and I react badly to their bites.
A few days away from my 65th birthday as I am, I need a bathroom at least once during the night. I don’t want to have to clamber out of a sleeping bag, unzip a tent door, put on shoes and use a flashlight to find my way to the closest outhouse and then do it all in reverse, keeping an eye out for wildlife or other campers and battling hungry mosquitoes all the while.
I like the outdoors just fine; but in my world, cooking, eating, showering and sleeping should happen inside. In other words: when travelling, these are activities best undertaken at hotels.
There, I have the opportunity to sleep in a bed that has been made up by someone else and to get to a bathroom in the middle of the night without it becoming a major production. I am not likely to be awakened in the night by the telltale sound of a mosquito hovering over my face. And, I don’t have to pack up my temporary house in the morning and load it back into the car.
Finding a compromise
My partner and I decided that this summer we would drive along the south shore of the St. Lawrence, through the Matapedia Valley and then take a ferry from Rimouski to Forestville so we could travel back to Ontario along the north shore.
He made yet another valiant attempt to convince me to camp, insisting he could find a tent big enough to meet my needs, get camping cots so I would not have to sleep on the ground and buy a small chemical toilet to spare me the middle of the night hike to the communal outhouse. Wisely, he did not promise to rid my environs of mosquitoes.
Surely, I tried to persuade myself, I could manage a couple of nights in a tent. After all, this was obviously something he really wanted to do. But, I am ashamed to say, I just couldn’t do it.
As we began looking at non-camping accommodation possibilities, we sought out alternatives to the usual hotel room. We found some: a boat, nestled in a small cove, sounded wonderful, but it was already booked for the whole summer. A tree house also beckoned, as did a yurt on a large float in the water; but these were already spoken for on the dates we needed them. Obviously, the first trick to finding creative holiday accommodation is to start at least six months ahead of time.
Nonetheless, as we pulled up to the cabin we had booked in Parc National de la Gaspesie, we both felt we may have found the perfect compromise. The spot was beautiful: we were surrounded by trees, and a small river burbled along right outside our door. Really, it was just like a campsite.
The cabin was charming and contained everything two people could need for a couple of days: a bed, eating table and chairs, a pine dresser and a remarkably well-equipped, if tiny, kitchen as well as, happily, an indoor bathroom with all the mod cons.
There are no nearby neighbours, no room service, no internet. After we made ourselves a tasty supper and cleaned up using running hot and cold water in a sink, we sat outside to smoke a joint, then retreated from the bugs and darkness to play dominoes until we crawled into our bed, made up for us by someone else before we arrived, and drifted off to sleep, lulled by the sounds of the river. My night time excursions to the bathroom were quick and easy.
It was kind of like being in a tent, only better.