You only need to travel a few hours outside of the city to remember that very little of Canada is like Toronto.
For last summer’s annual #PalmersGoWild camping trip, we hit up Port Burwell, Ontario, a small community of just over a thousand people and home to a lighthouse; the Simply Scoops ice cream parlour, and Port Burwell Provincial Park—the place we’d call home for a week in late August. Found just under three hours west of Toronto on the north shores of Lake Erie, it’s the perfect place to go if you want to slow things down a little—the kind of place you can let your kids roam free sans worry.
But I’m starting to understand that it’s not for everyone.
Whenever anyone hears we’re going camping, we generally get one of two responses—nostalgic memories from the people who’ve done it, or good luck wishes from the ones who haven’t. And others fall somewhere in the middle, whether scarred from a bad experience or had a nice time, but too intimidated to go out and try it again on their own.
But let me tell you this as someone who didn’t take a shining to camping at first—if you’re unwilling to get out of your comfort zone and take the world as it comes, you’re missing out on so much of what it has to offer.
Once Upon a Time, a Long, Long Time Ago….
But my story doesn’t start with me—we’re all products of the generations that came before us, the environments around us, and the decisions we choose to make. The things we learn in our formative years firmly shape how we’ll see the world for decades after, so to best understand my journey, I think we need to go back to Jamaica in the ’50s.
My father’s one of the most impressive people I know in my life. Though the details are hazy, I do know he grew up without two pennies to rub together and built himself up with his own two hands ’til he became a business owner with the means to successfully support his family.
But with that struggle comes a viewpoint very different than the one I had as a kid growing up wanting for nothing. Like how sometimes sleeping under the stars was a circumstance, not a choice. Or that dining by fire was more about keeping warm than about building family memories. There’s a lot from my Dad’s past that he didn’t want his sons to have to endure as well, so he worked hard to keep a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. He took pride in what he’d built for us and had no intention of looking back. So I didn’t grow up with camping.
But camping wouldn’t give up quite that easily, and while it’d take sixteen years until the opportunity arose, in the summer of 2000, I found myself with a number of my classmates in Killbear Provincial Park, coming to understand what this pastime was all about.
If At First You Don’t Succeed….
Now it wasn’t a great trip, blindsiding me with shifting social circles and gear that wasn’t quite up to the task (there’s only so much a family who’s never camped knows about gear). The trip convinced me of something most Black people have believed for ages: camping just isn’t for us.
And so it would be for the next ten years.
It’s not like I felt I was missing out—there was plenty to keep me busy in the years following that trip, whether it was travelling across the Atlantic to backpack in Europe, or it was pursuing my ambitions as an artist, working with my peers in Mississauga to build some legitimacy into the craft. But in that time, I also started dating Sarah, someone who grew up with camping in her life and wanted very much to keep it there. So under her tutelage, I started learning about the great outdoors.
What’s So Great About the Great Outdoors, Anyway?
Like in our first summer together at the family cottage in Bouchette, Quebec, which took seven hours to get there, and—of course—another seven hours back, but would become a staple for summers to come ’til they sold the place some years later. Or coming nearly face-to-face with a black bear a year later, protected only by the cabin’s screen door that kept the bear out and a number of us in. But it’d be 2010 before tent living came back into my life with trips to both Algonquin Provincial Park with a bunch of guys for my buddy’s bachelor party, and Turkey Point Provincial Park with Sarah and a handful of her high school friends, armed with some gear and the four-person tent we borrowed from her parents.
The same tent that did its best imitation of an enclosed pool when our double-high queen-sized air mattress proved too large for it during seventeen hours of torrential rain.
So, yes—by this point I could’ve given up on camping and said to hell with it. There was little evidence in my twenty-six Earthly years that camping was the right fit for me, but Sarah’s stubborn to a fault. She loved spending time camping every summer and wasn’t willing to admit surrender, so armed with the knowledge of what didn’t work, we went at it another way.
Nature: 1, Casey: 0.
Let’s leave the story there for now, though, because there’s much more to tell, but I’m not about to keep you here all day. Make sure to come back for the second part of the story, where we look at where my camping track record turned around and how it only took 12,000 kilometres to appreciate just how good we’ve got it here in Ontario… but let’s get to that next time.
But how about you? Did you give camping as much of a chance as I did, or was it one and done for you? Is there anything that’d change your mind, or is camping a write-off? Let me know your thoughts and we’ll be back with For the Love of Camping, Part Two—A Man and the Mountain that CHANGED Him!
We’ll see you then!
Until the next, I remain,