You call this camping?

Camping is one of the best activities to do in the summer. The possibilities are seemingly endless and camping trips are always satisfying. Or at least I used to think so until recently.

Frequenting many of Manitoba’s esteemed campgrounds this summer has left me questioning society and our collective survival skills.

Let me begin by admitting that I have lived in a tent for two months in a row as a tree planter. I have also spent the majority of my adult camping life in the backcountry — where you can only bring what you can carry. This means that everything that you pack into your backpack must be weighed carefully, both in terms of actual weight and personal value. There is little room for luxury, and the opulent items that people do pack can reveal a lot about them. Aside from covering the basics (food, water, shelter and warmth), backcountry extravagant choices for me have changed over time. They have gone from cigarettes, to music, to beer, to a pen and paper, to a book, to a hammock — and if you know me, these items pretty much speak for themselves.

So imagine my shock when I pulled up to the campground on Hecla Island. Already adamant about avoiding the “island” resort — Hecla is technically not an island anymore, as a road has been built to permanently connect the island to the mainland — I was excited to check out the campground. Taking all of the spontaneity out of camping, I was informed that there were no camping spots available without a reservation. I was about to be directed to the overflow camping — which I would have refused to do — when after some discussion I was given permission to take the site of someone who was late for their reservation. Feeling grateful, I paid for the spot and proceeded through a maze of campers and festical tents to find my site. Pulling into the spot I was greeted by a stretch of gravel that was surrounded by trees and had a picnic table and fire pit. This place was clearly not very tent-friendly, but I set my tent up on the gravel anyways and decided to take a walk and look around.

There were numerous recreational vehicles equipped with patio lanterns, tarps and clotheslines — imbuing a sense of kitschy permanence. There was a beer fridge and a ping-pong table at one site with competing music from various others. As I strolled down the paved roads and gravel paths, I was overwhelmed by how manicured the place was. It was like a watered-down version of nature. And to add to my disappointment, when I finally got down to the beach there was so much algae that the water was “unswimmable.”

Processing this experience has left me a bit skeptical. I mean, let me get this straight, I just paid money to set up my tent on a gravel driveway where the night time lull of frogs and crickets was replaced by Eminem and obnoxious conversation that got louder as the night progressed? This is not camping. There is nothing remotely peaceful about this entire experience.

To me, camping is about leaving your comfort zone. It is about temporarily disconnecting from city life and appreciating a slower pace. It is about fresh air and stars and fire. At its core, camping is about simplicity and when you drag all of your comforts from home with you to a campground, you are missing a chance to truly connect with something bigger than yourself.

Noreen Mae Ritsema is the Features Editor at the Manitoban.