Like a Virgin: Camping for the Very First Time

I am an ‘indoor’ girl. As much as I like to imagine myself as being one with nature, I have definitely been conditioned (or conditioned myself) to be more in tune with modern comforts and amenities like food delivery, air conditioning, and flushing toilets. So, when our good friends, Dan and Ruthann, broached the subject of a group camping trip last year, I was hesitant to say the least; though, Logan had been slowly priming that pump for years. “Maybe you would like camping…”

What’s my hesitation, you may ask?

  • Well, to start, I would say I have a slight phobia about pooping in the woods. Even a ‘Number 1’ fills me with dread. I’m just not a skilled squatter. A porta potty is about as rustic as I’m willing to get. Toilets are a necessity. Period.
  • Also, how does one who wears contact lenses camp? How do you stick a grubby finger in your eye and not get a raging infection? And I don’t care what anyone says, hand sanitizer is not the same as clean hands.
  • And finally, are we just going to ignore bears?! My friends and family think I’m crazy when I suggest that getting eaten by a bear is a possibility. But it does happen. And a tent is about as much protection as a candy bar wrapper.

So, after some negotiation, I agreed, and our group Labor Day camping adventure was planned. My demands? Drive-up car camping (I’m not bushwhacking into the woods with a tent on my back), running water, toilets, and showers. “Done!” They exclaimed. I thought for a moment that I should have demanded more… but since we had almost a year til the trip, I had time to prep both my essentials and my attitude.

Logan gave me carte blanche when it came to choosing my camping supplies. His theory was the more comfortable and happy I was with this adventure, the more likely I would go again. (You know, happy wife, happy life.) We supplemented Logan’s existing gear with a nice new tent, lantern, inflatable sleeping pads, and a super-plush sleeping bag for me. Logan acquired some posh cooking gadgets including individual coffee pour-overs, campfire popcorn maker, and “pudgie pie” irons. The pudgie pie – essentially a ‘Hot Pocket’ with sweet or savory filling in a bread crust that is toasted over a fire – was a new concept to us, but Ruthann endorsed it as a must-have for campsite cooking.

When the day finally came, we stuffed Ruthann’s Subaru to the gills. Her unwavering optimism while packing the car was inspiring. “It’ll fit!” she’d shout, every time we found something more to add. Finally, packed like sardines, our journey began. Here are just a few highlights from our adventure:

Gooseberry Falls

We arrived at our campsite in Gooseberry Falls State Park after dark. To my surprise, setting up was pretty quick and easy. We had the tents up and a fire roaring in no time. Our fire pit was alarmingly close to trees and brush, but no one else seemed concerned about the park burning down, so I let it go. The loveliness of warming yourself by a fire, enjoying tasty food and drinks while laughing with great friends cannot be overstated. 

The next morning we had a delicious breakfast of strong pour-over coffee and pudgie pies stuffed with fried eggs, bacon, and cheese. Insider Tip: We learned real quick that it is wise to cut the bacon into bite-sized pieces before it goes into the pudgie pie. Otherwise, in one bite, you pull out a long, sizzling strip that inevitably slops down your chin, burning it with cheese and grease.

Since we were moving to another campsite that afternoon, we decided to pack up the car and explore the state park. You may remember that Logan and I visited Gooseberry Falls once before on our Duluth Mini-Moon back in April. The crowds were polar opposites this time around. Both the visitor’s center and trails were packed and I couldn’t even take a photo without tourists in it. We hiked away from the crowds at the Falls to the shore of Lake Superior.

Temperance River State Park

We spent the next two nights camping in Temperance River State Park at an amazing spot right on the lake. Logan and I woke up each morning to watch the sunrise from the rocky shore and although all the campsites were full, we never encountered another person. Later, we all explored the hidden falls of the Temperance River as it spills into the lake. Dan and Logan felt compelled to do a little cliff diving into the frigid waters earning substantial admiration from onlookers. {Logan here: Frigid is no joke… in August, this was the possibly the coldest water I’ve ever been in}

While the hike itself is not too strenuous, be aware that the rocks are uneven, wet, and slippery, so good hiking shoes are a necessity. The landscape was absolutely gorgeous and Logan took what is quite possibly my favorite photo of all time:

And that was the last we saw of Dan…
Lutsen Mountains

Both Logan and I grew up skiing and we had our doubts as to what constituted “mountains” in Minnesota, but I must say we were pleasantly surprised by the scale of this ski resort. It has a very “Swiss Chalet” feel about it, with a gift shop and a few dining choices. We rode the gondola up to the highest point and hiked around a bit in the creepy abandonment that is a ski resort in summer. A small bar and grill on the peak offered a spot to sit and enjoy a drink and a snack with epic, panoramic views. Terrifyingly steep double black diamond trails with names like “Free Fall” and “The Plunge” seemed to drop right off the face of the mountain. In the future, Logan and I would love to go back and explore the resort further, perhaps even dust off the old skis!

Grand Marais

Grand Marais marked the northernmost stop on this trip and provided a little city experience to balance out all the wilderness. After some shopping, we enjoyed the rooftop views, beer, and fried cheese curds at Voyageur Brewing Company. We finished the day with a little walk around the harbor and some frozen custard at Sydney’s.

Duluth Grill

On Labor Day morning, to reward ourselves after the successful weekend, we stopped at the Duluth Grill for brunch on the way home. Dan and Ruthann raved about this little diner, and we waited more than an hour for a table (another thing I normally never do). By the time we were seated, we were famished and it was closer to lunch, rather than brunch time. TOTALLY WORTH IT! We ordered everything from a classic Reuben sandwich, spicy mac’n’cheese, and farmhouse burger to medieval gyros (named so for the giant bone-in lamb shank). We drank coffee from hand-painted mugs, I indulged in a mimosa, and we finished the whole meal off with key lime pie. Every bite was phenomenal. The Duluth Grill’s farm-to-table, fresh ingredients and eclectic menu guarantee you will find an option to your liking. Do yourself a favor and get a side order of brussels sprouts. They are life changing. I’m pretty sure indulging in post camping brunch will become a tradition.

Ruth going ‘medieval’ on gyros.
Final thoughts…

I think the only downside to my otherwise stellar camping adventure, was not showering for three whole days. Now, to be fair, that was my choice. Both of our campsites were very close to fairly nice toilet and shower facilities. So I never had to face my fear of pooping in the woods. But, they were still public facilities and I didn’t feel compelled to shower with other random campers. Plus, other than my very greasy hair, I didn’t feel that disgusting. (Logan may disagree.) That may have been due to the perfectly lovely temperatures and low humidity levels. Either way, my face revolted at the lack of proper washing and I had a substantial acne breakout upon return. In the future, I may take advantage of campsite showers, but until that time, a good face scrubbing and a baseball cap will conceal most evils.

All in all, my first camping experience was truly phenomenal. It absolutely helped that my controlling and nervous nature was tempered by my three easy going, experienced, and calm companions – not to mention the lack of bears. In fact, we had ZERO wildlife encounters, with the exception of a fat mouse we affectionately named Franklin who constantly begged for food by the fire. And while I am glad that I didn’t become a bear snack, I was kind of hoping to at least see some raccoons.

I learned the joys of simple and creative campsite cooking such as pudgie pies and ‘Campfire Surprise’ (a.k.a. tossing all remaining food items in a skillet to create an exciting goulash of sorts). There’s a simplicity to camping that forces you to abandon your technology and examine your ‘essentials.’ Logan is fond of saying that his influence has been slowly softening my harsher edges, and it occurs to me that bonding with your loved ones over a campfire and mildly competitive yard games is precious time spent indeed. I might just be a convert. My indoctrination into the world of camping was a success and I will definitely go again. In fact, I look forward to it! (Just keep that plumbing close!)


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