Until last night, I had never been camping. Oh, I've been to camp; cooked on campfires and hiked through rainstorms. But never in my 22.5 years of living had I spent an entire night outside. I know, I myself find this odd, having grown up in the mountains of Virginia. Nonetheless, I was a camping virgin.
Until last night.
Our plan really wasn't that grand: find a few feet of flat land on the wooded hillside behind the apartment complex, ten feet from home. But in my head, it was different: a veritable campground right in the middle of the city! We'd build a fire, cook outdoor food, tell ghost stories and sing campfire songs. I imagined a large clearing in the middle of a vast forest, our tents pitched in a circle around a massive bonfire. Ideal.
As it so often happens, the picture in my head didn't quite match up with reality. An early rain and rumors of copperheads led us to scrap the idea of a site by the creek. The alternative site was really, literally ten feet into the woods behind our apartment complex. There were neither large clearings nor vast forests, though, and the site was eventually vetoed - the Eagle scout consensus was that we'd burn the woods down with a campfire there.
At a loss, we weighed our options. We could stay out in the woods sans fire, risk the mud and snakes down by the creek, or turn to the manicured lawns and security lighting of the Turner Village Conference Center. We chose option three.
It actually worked rather well: we pitched our tent in the shadow of the massive building, fired up the grill and lit the citronella candles. We ate hot dogs, told stories and sang. As it got later the crowd dwindled as people realized that while the cold ground was quite inviting, their warm beds were only fifteen feet away. Four of us braved the elements, warded off the wildlife and endured the sounds of nature (18 wheeler semis backing up over and over again in the parking lot next door), and spent the night out there. And it was good.
As we broke camp this morning, carrying sleeping bags, hot dog buns and a tent out from behind the conference center, the complex manager stood outside her office watching. Russell stopped to talk to her, and reported that while she looked like she wanted to scold us, she couldn't really decide to what the scolding should refer.
Urban camping? I'd do it again.