I suppose that, if you asked Jessica or me to describe “camping,” we may well have said that it is an activity that requires one to stay in a hotel that has fewer than three stars so, when Francesco and Colleen suggested that the four of us rent a camper and do a ten-day tour of Europe, it was not without some trepidation that we said yes. After all, we had picked up and moved to Italy without fear. How risky could camping be compared to that?
The trip started early on a Saturday morning, early since we had to be at the camper rental place in Rimini by noon and that meant a 6-hour drive. The real drama, however, began the night before when we packed our car for the drive. You see, camping, as I soon discovered, requires that you not only pack the clothes you’re going to need, but all of the bedding, kitchen equipment and enough food to get you through to a grocery store run. When Colleen and Francesco arrived the night before our departure to put their things together with our things and pack them all into the car, it was instantly clear that there was no way we were going to achieve that objective. The triage process resulted in the creature comforts remaining and only the necessities of life (iPads, phones, multiple chargers, BlueTooth-equipped speakers, etc.) making the trip. Somehow, the four of us and our stuff made it into the car and safely to Rimini.
The idea of camping was just that until reality kicked in and we arrived at our first stop: a campground on the shores of Lake Garda. It was at this point that the camper and I became familiar with one another. I checked out the bathroom in anticipation of a shower only to find that it wasn’t even big enough for Superman to change in. Plan B was the communal shower at the campground. My inspection trip found an unheated, concrete block building with antique showers, no toilet seats and a distinct lack of toilet paper. You might infer from the fact that it was autumn in a place not far from the Alps, that it was cold and you would be right. I returned to the camper and proceeded with an attempt to shower there. About 14 seconds into it, the water turned cold at which point I made the fatal error of dropping the soap. The confines of the shower being what they were, I had to get out of the enclosure in order to retrieve the soap so that I could finish the shower which I did very quickly since the water was frigid.
Drying my wet-self off in the bathroom of the camper proved no more successful. My elbows were bruised and discolored from banging against the sides of the enclosure and there were places on my body that would just have to remain damp. Then came the tricky part: getting dressed in a way that would preserve my modesty and our friends’ emotional well-being. I left the bathroom wrapped in a towel, clambered up four feet to the bed big enough for one person that I would be sharing with Jessica for the next ten days and, while lying on my back in the corner of the compartment (the only place not immediately visible by anyone in the camper), I proceeded to dress myself. Bruised, still chilled from the cold shower and looking disheveled, the concept of camping was beginning to take on a stark reality. And we hadn’t even slept in the camper yet.
I knew the night had not gone well when I awoke to find that the window shade meant to keep prying eyes from seeing inside the camper was down and that my butt, duly pressed tightly to the glass, was in full display. The 13-inch wide bed in which we were “sleeping” simply demanded that I be in some kind of contorted position and, so I was. At the same time, I suppose that I was letting my fellow campground denizens know what I thought of them.
I apparently didn’t sleep well that night, though I don’t remember much of it. I do recall having to answer the call of nature in the wee hours and the terror I felt at the thought. In order to pull this off, I had to get myself into a sitting position without banging my head on the shelf above the bed, roll over so that I was on all-fours, put one leg and one arm over to the other side of Jessica (but not too far or I would go straight off the bed and fall four feet), somehow get my other leg and arm over her while still keeping all four limbs on the tiny bed, at which point I could drop my leg over the side until it hit floor. Of course, I then had to get back into bed.
In the morning we began the “pas de quatre” that would last for the rest of the trip. As we went about our routines, we would frequently find ourselves in each other’s way in the tiny can that would be our home for a while. As Colleen made coffee, I would make my way to the bathroom to brush my teeth, requiring her to leave the stove, sit down at the table and allow me to pass. Jessica would have to get something from the cupboard above our bed and Colleen would have to retreat again to let her pass by. Then Francesco would return from the communal shower and want something out of the refrigerator at which point Colleen would have to sit down again. Then I would come out of the bathroom and… well, you get the idea. I think we went an entire day saying nothing but “excuse me” and “sorry.”
I think it was the first morning when, having awoken in the fetal position, performing a “pressed ham” for all the world to see and with a backache that recalled my first olive harvest, that I began referring to our trip as “cramping.” But the truth of the matter is that it wasn’t the camping’s fault. It’s that mine is not the age at which one starts camping. I am past the point where going outside to find the bathroom or showering in an unheated facility is fun. The camping experience reached a low point for me the night before we reached Venice, our last stop on the itinerary. We found an open pizzeria in the town of Gemona, Italy and, after a nice dinner there, we parked the camper in a quiet section of the parking lot and spent the night there. I remember saying to Jessica that night, “I haven’t slept in a pizzeria parking lot since, wait, I’ve never slept in a pizzeria parking lot!” I watched Francesco and Colleen enjoy the camping experience and I admire them for that but, for me, though the trip was an incredible one as we saw some of the wondrous places on the planet (more on that later), I will leave the camping to the more adventurous than I.
Next: Our Second Olive Harvest