Bring on the wind

I don’t think anybody in my old neighborhood in Chicago ever went camping. At least I never heard about it. A few guys went to Boy Scout camp in the summer, but they stayed in cabins. As far as I knew, an ordinary person would sleep in a tent only if nothing else was available.

For my mother’s people, the purpose of life was partly to stay the hell out of the country. Getting to a big city like Chicago must have been a kind of success for Negroes in the 1920s and ’30s, especially if you were getting away from the Deep South. Voluntarily sleeping outside on the ground when you had a perfectly good bed inside your own house seemed like a sign of insanity. My mother thought my quitting my job at the Post Office was a sign of insanity, too.

In my 20s some friends persuaded my girlfriend and me to go camping with them and another couple in Wisconsin Dells, a beautiful tourist trap in, as long rumored, Wisconsin. They were experienced campers, and I had enough fun to understand why they—and the hordes of others at our campground alone, much less everywhere else—did it in spite of the toilets being way over there and full of other people’s execrable excrement.

That sissified camping weekend was the extent of my experience until I decided that a life without bicycle touring wasn’t worth living and started out from Minneapolis with a loaded bike and a loaded trailer, at least one load more than necessary. A month later I had learned to weigh everything I used and found I loved sleeping outdoors. I still do.

On the road I rode alone and didn’t see or talk to much of anybody for days on end. Last week I camped on the ocean with my wife and four teenage young men. I still didn’t talk much, partly because the permanently howling gale snatched my words away as soon as I got them out. I’m all for nature doing whatever she wants and whatnot, but if stopping the goddamn wind would have thrown Gaia so far out of whack that Congress and the White House would be swallowed up by a Halliburton-size sinkhole, I’d’ve thrown the bones to make it happen. The wind. Mother. The Supreme Court, too.

The wind was much stronger and colder at the shore, so we went often. We had camped near the shore intentionally, and our time there seemed to me a kind of communion. Being conscious of all that was reassuringly belittling. I love being awestruck.