Go camping? Me? This was way out of my comfort zone and my Leisure and Recreation professor had just announced a part of our course work would be an overnight camping trip. If we absolutely, positively felt we could not make the camping trip, there was an alternative. I leaned in to hear his every word. The alternative would be a lengthy and very detailed paper on a subject of his choosing. He promised it wouldn’t be easy, even for those who enjoyed writing.
Camping had never called my name and I knew I had not called out to it. I didn’t like the possibility of snakes that I imagined hanging from every tree. How was I going to get out of this? I wasn’t into roughing it in the woods and especially with people I barely knew.
Right after class, I meandered through the rows of empty chairs to my teacher and jumped right into making my case for why I should be excused. My reasons sounded lame, even to me.
He was a young guy with a PhD behind his name and I was a mid-forties adult just now finishing up what I should have completed long ago–my undergraduate degree. Friendly and polite he was—and unyielding. It looked like I had better start rounding up a tent and bedroll.
We would be camping at Fort Pillow. Though Fort Pillow is a state park, all that came to mind was the state prison bearing that name. This wasn’t getting better. I would be hanging out with snakes and prisoners.
A friend, quite amused at my plight, loaned me his tent. I found my daughter’s old sleeping bag and tossed it in the trunk of the car, alongside the tent. Next went my cooler, and, as instructed, “a minimum of personal needs.”
When I made the second turnoff to Fort Pillow Camp Grounds, I caught a view of the prison looming strong and fierce. I told myself should anyone escape, they would not be looking to share our camping experience but getting far away from the prison. That gave me some comfort.
When I got to the spot our professor had chosen for us, I was wide-eyed with unexpected glee; there were bathroom and shower facilities in easy walking distance! Things were looking up.
That night, as we sat around a campfire and listened to a student strum his guitar, I felt myself beginning to relax. This camping thing wasn’t so bad. Nothing like I had expected, in fact. Neither a snake nor prisoner had appeared so far.
Much to my amazement, I slept well on the hard ground and the occasional night sounds didn’t spook me. I awoke to chirping birds and the smell of coffee and feeling more relaxed than I had in a while. A peek outside my tent showed a fellow student cooking breakfast. I set off toward the restroom facilities for a nice hot shower and the offer of fresh coffee on return. I felt my every resistance to camping beating a hasty retreat. I had stepped outside my comfort zone and lo and behold, look what happened! I discovered I could really get used to this. (As long as bathroom facilities were close by, of course.)
Our Fort Pillow camping trip turned out to be a great adventure for the experienced (there were some) and the greenhorns (fewer of these). It was so successful, in fact, that someone suggested we do it once more before the end of semester. The teacher agreed and off we went into the woods one more time. Camping had turned strangers in a classroom to friends around a campfire sharing stories, songs, and food. And the one who suggested we return for another night of camping? You guessed it. It was me.
Helen Keller said “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” And I especially love what writer Rachel Cohn said: “The reward is in the risk.” What about you? Are you staying safe in your comfort zone or “daring adventure”? If I were doing life over, I would definitely take more risks.