This weekend, I had the chance to go camping in New York State, at Skinner's Falls, 38 miles north of Port Jervis.
Our plan was fairly simple. We had a campground reserved for 3 days, from Friday to Sunday. We could arrive at our lesiure, with each person responsible for their own sleeping bags, tent and alcohol. Otherwise, the organizers, Craig and Taya, bought food and we split those costs.
I left Hoboken on Friday at 2:45pm. Jason decided to carpool with me because his wife had the car and would be joining us after she got out of work. I figured that at 2:45 I could be up at the campground in about 2 hours and by 5pm and get my drink on.
I was so wrong. It took us 30 minutes alone to get from Hoboken to the NJ Turnpike. From there we got on 80 and it was a parking lot. Four miserable hours of driving later, I roll into the campground. The campground was a large field, roughly the size of two football fields, surrounded by trees on the east and west sides. The Delaware River ran along the eastern edge of the field. There was a small shop that sold ice, basic food and soda along with a bathroom and shower building a few yards away. There were plots of land that were zoned as a camp, with a numbering system that went into the hundreds. Jason and I drove around looking for Craig and Taya, and the camp was about 30% occupied, with the majority of campers towards the northern edge.
After a bit of searching, we found Craig and Taya. We were able to park our car on our campground, we reserved 3 campgrounds to provide us a good bit of space from the other campers. We told Craig and Taya about our trip up there and immediately started to drink some ice cold Coronas. It was 7pm, and Craig advised us to get our tents set up before dark.
I pulled out my gear from the car and was excited to try out my new "toys". Craig was the camping expert, and since I was a newbie, he showed me how to set up my tent. I set it up, put my sleeping bag in there and then commenced to try and relax.
Sitting around the campfire, and observing the other people around us I came to the stark realization that this really wasn't "camping" as I imagined. This was more like a tailgate, like you would have at a concert or a sports game. You had people with all their cars around them loaded up with a ton of gear. People were blasting music, and it had the same atmosphere like an Eagles game - except no one had to worry about getting in trouble for getting too drunk. To the west of our campsite was a group of 20 Staten Island/Brooklyn types who were playing Beer Pong and listening to Top 40 music. To our east, near the river, was a group of 10 Russian tourists, listening to hardcore trance/techno or John Mayer covers in Russian. To our north was a group of foul mouthed pre-teen kids who said "Fuck" in every sentence while their parents watched on. To our south, was a quiet family of Philippinos who kept to themselves and were friendly.
It was fun at first. During the night a few other people from our party joined us and by 10pm we had 8 people, including myself, and a Rhodesian Ridgeback named "Fenway" at the camp site. We shared some stories and drank a bit. I brought myself some Captain and Coke.
I also realized another thing about camping. Do you think people would like camping as much if you didn't have a campfire? I don't think so. I think the #1 reason why people like camping is the campfire. Maybe it is their inner pyromaniac, but I asked everyone there would they want to go camping if they couldn't build a campfire (but could subsitute it with a heater or a grill) and they all said "no". I also agreed, I think the campfire is what makes camping so special to everyone.
We grilled up some food, and everyone got sleepy around midnight. I wasn't that tired, but I figured after a long day of driving that I would wake up early on Saturday and spend the day sucking down drinks and enjoying the Weather Channel's forecast of 83 degrees and partly cloudy.
Well, like I wrote, this wasn't really camping, it was more like a tailgate. The "rules" of the campground is that it is quiet time from 11pm to 8am, but I don't think anyone read that sign. The Russians decided it would be a great idea to keep the techno going all night, and to get their truck involved, by opening up the doors and blasting their music. The fratboys from Staten Island upped the ante by SCREAMING and CHEERING all night long at their beer Pong games. The fresh mouthed kids had an acoustic guitar that they played at 3am.
My sleep was skittish at best. The humidity was also very high, so this didn't lend to a comfortable night for me. I tossed and turned, but managed to sleep a bit better than everyone else at my camp. I woke up at first light, by 7 am. I'm the kind of sleeper that if any light gets into my room I can't sleep. Next time I go camping I will buy a sleep mask and ear plugs. Upon waking up we discovered that during the night someone stole half our firewood. We weren't really angry at the cost, since each bundle of firewood costs about $3 per bundle. It was really the principle, it is kind of a honor system up there and to think that your neighbors are scoundrels, was a bit unsettling. We woke up tired from the noise, and pissed at our firewood misfortune.
But we kept our spirits up by making breakfast. We ate and started the campfire again, chatting about how much we hated our neighbors. Heck, we get out of Hoboken for a refreshing change of pace and what happens? DRAMA follows us up to the campground.
What else follows up to the campground is my luck with weather. All week I was sitting at work reading each day weather forecast for the weekend - 83 degrees and sunny with a 20% chance of rain. Saturday was overcast in the morning, with the sun peeking in and out of the clouds. It was warm, humid and sticky. In the afternoon a few people decided to go tubing, but I declined. It wasn't really nice tubing weather. I decided to take a nap after lunch and we played some bocce ball in the later afternoon. A few more people joined us from Hoboken when we first started to feel the first raindrops.
At 5pm it started to rain. We weren't really prepared for this, so we quickly ran over to the store and bought some large tarps for $10 each. The firewood was moved to a lean-to, to an empty campground to the east of our site and the guys started to channel their inner McGuyver. We quickly built a fairly good rain structure with tarp, rope and an upright standing picnic table at the empty site. We were wet, but the firewood was dry and we were able to get a modest campfire started.
The rain was alternating between showers and hard rain. We sat under the tarp, drank a bit and cooked some hot dogs. It wasn't miserable, but it wasn't really that fun to camp like that. The only upside is that the rain kept our Russian friends from making that night "Club Lenningrad". The frat party was a bit subdued but I was impressed that they basically had no shelter from the rain and had an very large raging campfire going. They must have killed about 20 oak trees with the amount of wood used. The dumb ass kids to our north were quiet that night.
Around 11pm most people turned in. I discovered that my tent had some air vents that weren't fully covered by the rain tarp, and it let it a bunch of water. My sleeping bag was a bit wet, but it was designed for this. It was wet on the outside, but inside I was dry - whew! I slept a bit better that night, but not by much.
When Sunday morning rolled around, I was up first again. I was laughing about this because anyone who knows me knows how I sleep in Hoboken - I love sleep. Sleep is my friend. I was up and breaking down my campsite with an energetic pace. I cleaned up the tarps, put away a lot of my gear and other people's gear. I didn't want to be "that guy" - the guy who leaves a campsite and doesn't help with his chores so that everyone bitches about "that guy" who jets early without helping. I specifically made sure that after my car was loaded that most of the other gear was moved from the riverside campsite to our field campsite about 20 yards away. By that time, everyone else was up and I say my goodbyes and hit the road by 7:30am.
My drive home was much better compared to my drive up. I took some time to get some pictures of Hawks Nest, and some other cool shots I saw on my drive up. I will post them later this week. I was in Hoboken by 9:45am, and asleep by 10am. I slept for 4 glorious hours in my air conditioned room and woke up after 2pm, feeling refreshed.
Thinking about it for the last 24 hours there are a few things that I really didn't like about the trip:
1. Next time I go camping, I don't want to be so close to other campers, for the reasons I detailed above.
2. The weather on Friday was fine, Saturday was terrible. I don't think anyone can do anything about weather in the hills, but when all week I was expecting 83 degree weather and sunny it really pissed me off that the weather wasn't so great.
3. I have a foam mat that I can sleep on, but it was designed for a sleeping bag. Next time I have to get a mat the same size of the tent or an air mattress.
4. Headlamps rock. I gotta buy one.
5. Why did I even bother bringing a change of clothes? The same outfit I wore on Friday is what I drove out wearing on Sunday. Yes, I was a bit ripe but it's CAMPING. Maybe if I was there with a girlfriend I would be a bit more worried about things like that, but in retrospect I could have packed lighter.
What I did like about the trip:
1. Campfires are fun. I know what people did before electricity, television and radio - they watched campfires and sat around talking to each other. Now, I don't know what that would be like for 30 days straight versus 3 days, but it was a good time.
2. The stars were awesome. I so wished I brought an astronomy book, it was constellation time and I could only pick out about 4 different groupings.
3. Interactive games are so fun. Bocce ball was a lot of fun and I will hazard to say that I was the guy to beat out there. I claimed my half-Italian heritage game me the edge. I did wish I remembered to bring the polish horseshoe game I bought!! It would have been perfect for car camping.
I would absolutely go again, just next time i'd like to pick a more isolated campground and not during a hot August night. I wondered how it would be in late September or early October. Of course I have to pick a weekend when the Eagles aren't playing - like Sept 29-Oct 1, when the Birds play Green Bay on Monday October 3rd.
I had a good time, I think Craig and Taya did a wonderful job organizing it and hope we do it in the fall or next spring.