Or, how I survived my first camping trip
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It was early afternoon on a Friday when I got the call. I had been wrangling commas and scanning The Superficial the news all morning when Grist kahuna maxima Chip Giller asked me if I would go to the Bonnaroo Arts & Music Festival in Tennessee to cover its efforts to eco-ize.
This was exactly the kind of break I’d been waiting for. Giller wanted me — me! — to travel across the country and file a real story.
My ego started to swell. Oh yeah, I said to myself. Giller knows that when he needs a real reporter who’ll get the job done right, he comes straight to me the staff writer I share an office with. But when that guy can’t go, whom does Giller turn to? Ya damn right.
The boss interrupted my mental cheerleading with a serious question. “Are you sure you’re up to the challenge?” he asked. Hellz yeah, I told him.
After hanging up, I did a quick skills check. Talking to hot, sweaty musician-types about their eco-interests? Check. Hanging out in the beer tent eating funnel cake? I’ll take seconds, thanks. Proudly flashing my all-access media pass in front of all the slobbering plebes? As long as it matched my outfit. Navigating airport security and surviving the middle seat on a transcontinental flight? Bring on the li’l bags of peanuts. Camping for four nights in the middle of summer in Tennessee?
Are we talking the kind of camping where you sleep in a tent, like, outside? On the ground? Without showering? ‘Cause let me tell you a little bit about how I roll. Cleanly, that’s how. The only time you’ll find me not showered is when I’m lounging on my couch eating cereal and watching Saturday morning cartoons. I don’t even go out of the house without three coats of mascara and an extra stick of lipgloss. And when I say “house,” I mean my apartment above the Gap in downtown Seattle. Because I’m a city girl. An eco-friendly, earth-loving city girl, but a city girl, nonetheless. I don’t camp.
Yet somehow I found myself asking Grist staffers if I could borrow camping supplies. A hardy, outdoorsy bunch, them — I got offers of sleeping bags and massive backpacks, tarps and tent poles, and a “deluxe model sleeping pad.”
Our production fellow piped up with, “Well, you do have a headlamp, right?” A what-huh? I’m not coal-mining. I’m C-A-M-P-I-N-G. He reached in his bag and pulled out a small blue flashlight with a retractable head strap. I took it and thanked him, but inside I was laughing. Yeah, I’m gonna wear that. [Cue eerie foreshadowing music.]
After hauling the borrowed gear back to my apartment (and feeling pretty bad-ass for carrying it all the way), I decided the next step would involve some heavy-duty pavement-hitting. After all, my wardrobe was seriously lacking cute camping clothes.
A few quick shopping jaunts later, my confidence was boosted. I could handle sleeping in a tent. I could live without my hair dryer for four days. I could … carry around my own toilet paper? I suddenly realized just how much stuff had to fit into that now-not-so-massive backpack before I could even attempt to wedge my wardrobe into the side pocket. Forget the adorable, bronze-glittered cowboy hat I had gotten on clearance — how would I fit clean underwear in there?
Somehow I managed to stuff the pack to its brim without leaving too many essentials behind. And I made my way to the airport. As I shuffled through security, I thought to myself: Self, how come you’ve never camped before now? How is it that you’ve never set up a tent or slept under the stars?
I never went to summer camp — no canoe lessons or craft-making or Camp Wannamucka for me. And my family never really got into the whole scene, either. It’s not as if we never saw nature: we traveled through the Shenandoah Valley, along the Blue Ridge mountains, even to Yellowstone. Oh, we saw nature alright — from inside our air-conditioned vehicle. (Hey, we were still roughing it. I mean, these were the days before cars had DVD players!)
Speaking of travel: After two long flights made longer by the absence of salted nuts (what is up with these tiny bags with five measly pretzels?), an hour-and-a-half bus ride, press-pass check-in, and a hitched ride in an “artist transport” van, I finally made it to Manchester, Tenn. At 10 p.m. Guess who wasn’t laughing anymore as she pulled out her headlamp.
But Operation Tent Set-Up was much easier than I’d expected. And ease was a theme that followed me throughout the weekend. Perhaps it was the showers, sinks, and mirrors in the trailer near my campsite, the air conditioning in the press compound, or the lack of bears, campfires, and every other scenario that characterizes “true camping.” But I like to think it was because I’m more hardcore than I thought.
I didn’t even mind the dirt, which was good news considering there was a cloud of it everywhere. Sure, I thought it was a tan for the first two days — until it washed off in the shower. But seriously, for a chick who carries Shout wipes with her wherever she goes, living in Pig-Pen’s world for four days could have been a traumatic experience.
And I found that after the first night, waking up to the rising sun was kind of nice. Oh, wait. No it wasn’t. It was damn hot. And it only got hotter as each day progressed. How it can be hotter at 5:30 p.m. than at high noon is beyond me, but Tennessee manages. Dirt, meet my pal Sweat. Now, make friends and stick together.
Despite the oppressive sun and the dirt-tanning, the trip was a success. I never did make it to the beer tent or a funnel-cake stand. Instead, I had solar-cooked pizza, organic salad greens, and fair-trade coffee. I talked to a lot of people. Some hottie, some nottie. (And I will say this: armpit hair? Not the best look for some people …)
So after surviving all four nights in my tent, conquering the ol’ stuff-the-sleeping-bag-back-into-the-case trick, and flying back to my comfy apartment in Seattle (still no peanuts … the inhumanity!), how do I sum up my trek to report on ‘Roo? Uh, it rocked. And my story ain’t half bad, either. Looks like Giller picked the right man hardcore camper city girl for the job.
Though the way I see it, he still owes me a funnel cake.