After a few nights of sleeping at rest stops, we were all ready to see less cement and fewer trucks. Excited about the prospect of getting back in touch with nature, we headed to a KOA deep in the Pennsylvania Mountainside. I had my tent, my bug spray and my obligatory gross moldy shower bathroom flip flops – one of the more useful lessons I learned at summer camp.
The next events are hazy because I had passed out from lack of sleep a few hours before and didn’t really ever regain coherency before the next morning… but it must have gone something like this: we pulled into the campsite where we were greeted by a large toll booth. Behind it, where a tiny camp store or rangers station might have been, there was a giant convenience store. Fancy. We were assigned our site in the middle of the night, so we parked in the dark and went to sleep.
I woke up early, fully rested and ready for some outdoor adventure. The sun was still low in the sky and everyone in the camper was fast asleep, so I made my way silently through our maze of filming gear and household goods and out the camper door.
The sight that met me was nothing like the memories of camping from my childhood. It had fewer trees than the rest stops and Wal-Mart parking lots we had been frequenting, there were RVs and cabins the size of tour buses everywhere and there was not one visible tent. Maybe camping RV style was going to be a little bit of an adjustment.
First stop on the schedule was the camp bathroom. Our RV does have a bathroom, but there is something about peeing within five feet of three guys in a box-sized room next to a door that seems to amplify sound rather than contain it that makes even a sketchy camp bathroom seem appealing. In the distance I could make out a wood cabin with a giant “restroom” etched flawlessly on a placard. This building was fancy – like the mass-manufactured log cabins you find for sale on the side of I-95. Nothing like the cement cottages and porta-johns from my early camping experiences. The prospect of not having to hold my breath while peeing sounded very appealing.
I slung open the heavy wood door, and looked around. The space was anything but scary. No cobwebs, warm grey water funk, horror movie lighting or gross cement floors greeted me. In their place I found, a roomy cabin with beautifully maintained wood floors, vaulted ceilings, lined vinyl showers with adjustable heads, and pleasant lighting. The term that came to mind was “cabin sheik.” I could definitely get used to this kind of camping… Hell, add a couch and I could probably have lived there for a year and never thought better of it.
I walked back out into the park to see what other wonderful advances had been made in the world of camping while I was away. The campsites were all set on sleek grey rock. The back side of the lot was still surrounded with woods, but in front of them a giant metal cord held signs that said “Keep Out.” I must have been at the back of the site. I took off in the other direction.
The main road was lined with campers of all shapes and colors. Our 1985 Minnie Winnie was clearly the ugly stepchild of the bunch. Most of these campers were new, sleek, and took up as much space as your average 180-wheeler. They had a variety of different porches and verandas that extended from them. Most of the campers seemed to have fancied theirs with little accomidations. The first one had a few camp chairs and a little stove, the second, a pretty hanging flower pot and a picnic table with a giant grill. It seemed a little excessive for spending a week in the outdoors, but I guessed that some people must take grilling seriously enough to make it worthwhile.
The next cabin, however, seemed to be pushing the definition of camping to its limit. They had a veranda that extended more than 10 feet from their trailer. Under it, 4 padded reclining chairs sat on a giant rug, each angled carefully towards a giant flat screen TV. It looked like someone took their living room and transported it outdoors. There was nothing natural about it, unless you count some of the tones in the brown rug. I tried not to pass judgment on someone’s idea of fun, but I was pretty sure that camping was not a good fit for them as a family pastime. I wondered if I had a moral obligation to tell them about the wonders of hotels.
I rounded the corner from the outdoor suburban living room and ran smack into the middle of a mini-amusement park. There were several carnival rides of the spinnining nature, a ferris wheel, and a massive tower that looked like, when in service, it allowed for some form of controlled bungiiing. In the distance, I could see a mini put-put course and a rustic looking building that read “Movie Theatre.” The campground seemed to, at some point, have had a serious identity crisis.
Although the idea of carnival rides was more than a little appealing, I was determined to find at least one nature trail somewhere on the premises. I headed toward a giant building that shared the role of restaurant, bar, camp store, and ice cream. I just needed to be pointed in the general direction of nature and I was good.
I came upon a small water park, complete with a water slide and rain umbrella. Standing poolside, I found a well tanned lifeguard staring off into space in the general direction of two small water-winged children.
“Could you tell me where your trails are?” I asked. His eyebrows furrowed, as if I had just asked him to solve a long division problem. “We have segway tours at 10 am.”
I stared back at him, equally perplexed. “No, like nature trails. For hiking… Wait, you have segway tours? He nodded and pointed to a sign on a near by activity board. There were flyers for various activities- movie night, paint balling, carnival activities, karaoke and, sure enough, an advertisement for Segway tours, complete with a mulleted man and his two kids beaming happily from the back of a flock of the bizzare vertically balanced vehicles.
I was in the camping twilight zone. I had aimed for a nature adventure and ended up smack in the middle of nature’s doppelganger – the KOA campground of urban amusements. The only thing that set this site apart from a Jungle Rapids (or some other form of small-scale amusement park) was the mountains in the background, but I was pretty sure they could capitalize on the same niche with the help of a canvas backdrop of trees.
“I think there may be some trails over at the state park” the boy said, trying to be helpful and not quite oblivious enough to miss the look of horror onto my face. He pointed to the left of the campground.
” Thanks” I told him. I t turned to run in the direction of the distant trees. Deep in thought and unsure my mind could handle any more camping revelations, I didn’t notice the herd of Segways sailing toward me.
“Pay attention” a woman yelled at me as I narrowly escaped the path of her front tire. Her tone of anger was probably less about me and more about her fear of permanant segway injury. She was as off-balance as a one legged pirate in a sea storm. I held up my hand in silent apology. Her children trailed behind her, riding their segways with the deft agility of a spider monkey – like all children seem to, as we older generations flail about with the grace of inadequately tranquilized zoo animals.
I ran across the quarter mile cement pad that acted as the campground’s entryway and down the paved road. In about a block I came to another road. It was gravel and dirt with deeply ingrained tire tracks, hardly less maintained than the campsite flooring, Its sign read “State Park.” I took off down the road, searching the surroundings for trails as I passed. I made it to the end with no such discovery. Tired, sweating and genuinely freaked out. I headed back to the campsite.
Camping had clearly moved on without me some time in the past 10 years, and I wasn’t so sure I could make the adjustment, much like my mom and her inability to navigate computers. As much as I loved modern amusements, there was something unsatisfying about the removal of discomfort from the camping process. I would gladly brave a few moldy cement shower stalls for some quality time with the great outdoors.
When I arrived, the guys were lounged outside the trailer on our sites picnic table, staring at our camper’s welcome packet.
What’s up? I asked.
Taylor pulled out a menu from the pile in front of them and handed it to me. “Did you know that our campsite delivers?”