An experiment camping and commuting in Bemidji

I woke early this morning in a 6-by-8-foot tent with a park employee shouting at me.

“Get to the bathrooms,” he said, really projecting through the paper thin nylon. “A storm’s coming — 70 mph winds.”

My wife Emily and I reached the bathrooms at 2 a.m. A group of campers was already there, lounging on bathroom counters with e-cigarettes.

They puffed steam as lightning lit the sky.

“We could be in our bed at home right now,” Emily said.

This all started a week ago when my wife decided we were watching too much Netflix. Both of us work jobs that involve looking at screens. When we get home we make food and look at more screens.

She said we needed a break from our indoor lives. So this week we’re living in a tent in Lake Bemidji State Park. We still go to work — still look at screens for 8 hours a day, but now we smell like wood smoke.

We’ve been commuting to work from a campground for five days now and here’s what I’ve learned so far:

I am a woefully unprepared camper. The blowtorch I use to start fires developed a leak on our first night in camp and turned to a fireball in my hand. Now my hand is totally hairless.

The next morning I opened a can of corned-beef hash with my pocket knife because we forgot the can opener. This made my knife so dull I’ve been chopping vegetables with a hatchet. I could go on describing my incompetence, but I won’t.

Nothing is ever totally dry. In the morning anything touching the floor or the walls of the tent is damp. That includes the clothing I wear to work.

Escaping technology is harder than it looks. Lake Bemidji State Park has super-fast free Internet access. Netflix — it’s hard to avoid.

Camping is still pretty great. Right now I’m at my desk in MPR’s Bemidji bureau office. I’m tired and my clothes are wet from this morning’s rain.

We could have spent last night at home, as my wife pointed out, but I’m glad we didn’t. I might be tired, but the sleep was lost to a midnight sprint for shelter. I’d take that over a late night Netflix binge any day.

  • Paul

    Cutting olives with a hatchet? You’ve got a knife right by the cutting board. Even if it is dull olives shouldn’t be a problem for that knife.

    Lighting fires with a blowtorch? Get some cottonballs and Vaseline. Work a dollop of the vaseline into the cotton ball. You now have a foolproof firestarter. Pull it apart slighty to expose some fibers then light.

    Download some guides onto your tablet dude.

    P-38 can openers are cheap, compact, and light. Just about any multi-tool or swiss army style knife will have a can opener. A sharp blade is an important tool, don’t waste it when you don’t have to.

    • MrE85

      I agree with Paul, these tenderfeet are hapless, but so was I went I first started camping. There was the time we went camping and remembered everything…except the tent.
      For those wondering, P-38s are minimalist, folding can openers the military developed to open C-ration cans. I’m just old enough to eaten C-rations, which tasted as bad as you might guess.

      • Paul

        You didn’t have the advantage of having google, stack exchange, eHow, and wikipedia at your fingertips.

  • chris

    Hi. You don’t have to turn the TV on at home. Camping is fun though, but not the only way to break the TV habit.

  • John

    Good Job John.

    “Camping is still pretty great.” That just about sums it up for me right there. Even if it isn’t a full break from technology, it’s a reduction, and that counts for a lot. One of my struggles as a parent is in trying to keep the amount of TV that the kids watch under control. Netflix makes it too easy for them to lose 3 or 4 (or 12) hours. When I was a kid (cue old timey music), you got what was on TV. By 10 AM on Saturday, your choices were the news or fishing shows. That’s one of the reasons we started camping with the kids a few times a year. It’s a break from technology for all of us. (It’s also full attention time – no work disruptions, no household projects beyond the immediate, etc.)

    Enjoy the last day or two of your week in the campground.

  • jill

    Camping at Fenske Lake experience 23 years ago was somewhat similar.
    We grabbed an old Boy Scout Pup Tent and didn’t bother to check it for leaks, some pillows, blankets and that was about it. We arrived at the site, set up the tent which was mighty puppish for two who were just friends and nothing more. Rain broke out. We ran for the car. We slept in the car. The next morning my co-camper screamed bloody murder because a mouse decided to sleep with us or rather him.
    We decided to go home.