OUTDOORS: Real camping produces many great memories of the outdoors

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By Jeff Lilly

Any campers out there?

I mean real campers. Not those of you who load fresh towels and toiletries into a 40- or 60-foot long recreational vehicle and hit the road for places unknown or maybe known.

Whether you know where you’re headed or not, the “RV thing” is not camping.

I do, however, think that one day I may rent an RV and take Leigh driving cross country to places we’ve never been. It seems like the older we get the more the RV thing seems more hospitable than the true camping angle I started this month’s column with.

I can think of three examples of what I call true camping that I’ll never forget in my lifetime.

Camping, like most outdoor adventures, always seem to produce memories that whether good or bad are never forgotten.

Growing up through the late 1960s, 1970s and into the early 1980s I recall many trips to Beech Bend Park near Bowling Green.

Mom and dad took Keith and me every July 4 weekend for many years and we always camped out as close to the banks of the Barren River as we could get in the local campground. We had a campfire every night and enjoyed roasting our supper as well as trying to catch fish from the Barren River, which seemed to me to always be muddy.

Muddy is something that any true camper knows well. Muddy is second only to getting wet while camping due to the fact that the wet typically is what causes the muddy part of camping to start with.

Brilliant, huh?

We spent many July 4 weekends camping, fishing and enjoying the nearby Mammoth Cave and of course the amusement park itself. We also looked forward each year to the Figure-8 racing on Saturday night and the big fireworks show afterwards.

Sunday we always made our way to the Beech Bend Drag strip for an afternoon of dragster and funny car racing and the always coveted red, white and blue snowcones before breaking camp and heading back home. We were always worn out from a fun-filled weekend and more memories than I can write about in one column.

Ahhhh, memories.

I actually talked Leigh into going to the Great Smoky Mountains for a camping trip during one of our spring breaks while at Murray State University. We packed my little Mazda GLC hatchback full of camping and fishing gear and headed to east Tennessee for a great time in the wilderness. We pitched camp next to a nice trout stream, cooked a little supper on the ole Coleman stove and crawled into our little tent for the evening. We awoke in the night to our breaths freezing to the top of our tent. As I tried to unzip the tent I noticed it sagging quite a bit and the door zipper stubbornly resisted my attempts to extract my half-frozen girlfriend and myself from our frigid cocoon.

After some rather vigorous work on the frozen door zipper I was able to peak out into what appeared to be a spring break winter wonderland.

During the night several inches of thick, wet snow had covered our tent, fire and everything else for several miles.

I was able to get the old faithful Coleman lantern fired up to provide some brief heat for several minutes at a time so Leigh could get some sleep. Always remember to never sleep inside an enclosed space with a lantern. Fire and or carbon monoxide poison are both very real possibilities if you do.

Long story short we managed to survive a couple of days of the unexpected blizzard and daily skunk visits before we retreated to Gatlinburg for hot showers and a hot meal we didn’t have to cook.

Ahhhh, memories.

Just a few years ago, Hunter, Suzanne and I got together with several other friends on a canoe trip down about a 12-mile section of the Green River. We made a weekend of it by launching near Munfordville on our voyage and planned to finish inside the Mammoth Cave National Park boundaries. The day started out beautiful with sunshine and warm temperatures as we launched all five canoes loaded with tents, sleeping bags and lots of camping gear that never fare well when a canoe turns over.

Trust me, canoes on most any trip turn over at some point. It’s typically not if they will turn over and dump you in the drink, but when. That means everything from people to that stash of toilet paper gets wet without prior planning. Always prepare by placing anything you would prefer stay dry in dry sacks or at least tightly tied garbage bags. Don’t forget to tie the items you’re carrying with you in the canoe to the vessel itself. Not doing so can lead to lots of items sinking to the bottom, floating all over the surface or simply washing ahead of you downstream.

The Green River on that hot early May weekend was barely a trickle as we had not had much rain. This required a lot of paddling to cover any ground throughout much of our trip. After most of the day paddling to cover at least the first half of our planned trip (there was no turning back at this point) we were soon forced to the banks of the river by one of the most thunder and lightning intense storms I’ve ever been caught outside in.

We were absolutely drenched with rain for at least an hour as we huddled under tarps we had brought to place on the ground under our tents. After the storm passed we gathered ourselves and realized how far six miles of paddling is and how tired it makes you getting that far. With at least six miles to go the next day we attempted to pitch camp just before dark on a muddy bank just up in the woods. We were able to get a fire started and cook us some supper and tried to settle in for some rest before the next day’s six miles presented itself.

The next morning was another beautiful day and we peeled the worn out kids out of their damp sleeping bags and broke camp, packed up and headed out. As I watched the early morning mist rise off the smooth river’s surface I thought to myself, this must be how the American Indians or our frontier forefathers felt as they lived and discovered the lands that may never had seen a human before them.

Anyway, hours and miles later, we arrived at our planned take out point much to everyone’s relief. It was a much longer trip (we later guesstimated it to be closer to 15 miles) than we had originally anticipated. Looking back, it was worth every mile. Ahhhh, memories.

Looking back, now that I’m quite a bit older and hopefully wiser, that RVing thing doesn’t sound like a bad thing at all. I’m not sure I can hold up to the “true camping” memory making like I used to could.


Take a kid hunting or fishing (or camping) soon!


See ya outside!


Jeff Lilly is an outdoors columnist for The Anderson News.