by Yerika Reyes
AFO Content Writer
Note: My partner, Sandra Bailey, is helping me write this piece and I would like to acknowledge and thank her for her contributions.
This will be a three part series. First I'll start with my personal experience and some reflections in order to give context for why this is something I want to write about, but more importantly the issues that it helped me see things I had previously ignored or not been privy to in that past. It forced me to do research beyond my own experience and this something I want share with you.
Camping Part 1: First Experience Camping
Camping in a tent. I never thought I would do it of my own volition. However, my partner craves nature; an escape from our busy city lives in Chicago. I grew up in Chicago where a few parks filled with trees and grass was enough for me, but my partner grew up with woods, snapping turtles, hawks and even deer right in her own backyard. My partner had just finished a stressful two years of graduate school and wanted a break from the business of day to day life. The city life is fun but can be draining and fast paced.
We decided we would go camping together. I searched for a site but since we only planned about three weeks out, a lot of the camping parks nearest us were fully booked. My partner wanted waterfalls and when I typed in a Google search for waterfalls in the midwest, The Porcupine Mountains State Park was the only place that still had campsites open - to my disappointment all cabins were booked. So, we got a spot for a tent/campsite.
I was. not. ready.
I had mentioned to my boss, an avid camper, a few months back that I would at some point go camping but did not have any gear. She has books filled with different trips taken by her entire family and it's inspiring. She offered her gear to me and so when the time came, my partner and I went to her apartment. She explained a lot! We were able to take her REI tent, chairs, a stove, all her cooking supplies and kitchenware. It was a true blessing. Just like many of the videos and websites I had researched she had everything organized in storage bins ready to go. I could not have gone camping without her support and knowledge.
We loaded our car with all her supplies, our sleeping bags, and coolers of food. The food was one of our main priorities. My partner has many dietary needs, so we cooked meals that would be prepared to cook ready-made on the portable propane stove. It was surreal as we embarked on our eight hour drive from Chicago to the Upper Peninsula.
We made a schedule. We did not stick to it. But here it is for anyone interested in seeing our unrealistic expectations of what we would do and when.
Being able to take days off of work to go camping for four nights, have all the equipment we needed, have a car to head to a location that had waterfalls, have enough money to fund our gas and food expenses; the amount of privilege it took to do this was very apparent to me from the beginning.
My boss had let me know that she grew up camping because it was oftentimes one of the least expensive forms of vacation for her and her family. Although this makes sense to me now, an upwardly mobile but broke one-year out of college 23-year old - it is not something my low-income family of six could have ever afforded while I was growing up.
When we arrived to the UP, I was terrified of the two lane roads but the views of Lake Superior were awe producing. When we arrived to our campsite we were excited to be out of the car and were not at all prepared to set up our tent (we had not watched the instructional video as suggested by my boss) but we were excited. We arrived to the visitor center where we were greeted by friendly white male staff members with heavy midwestern/canadian accents. We drove to our campsite.
We painstakingly fiddled with the tent poles. We groaned as we waited for our phones to connect to the internet to watch a video on how to set up a tent. As this was happening, I was always acutely aware that my partner was the only black person and I the only Latina on the entire campgrounds (which had 100 campsites). I was afraid to not be by her side. I did not want anything to ruin our trip. I was so afraid someone would say something or snicker, or stare at us. We were the only people who were younger who were not with families. We were the only two people who both happen to be women. Did people know we were queer? Could they tell? Did we read as couple of friends? How much affection could we display, if any? There were so many questions that arose during and prior to our trip.
On our way to the bathrooms we saw a big United States flag posted in front of a large camper (I meant to take pictures of it, but was honestly too afraid someone would see us take it and read that as hostile in some way). I took note. So did my partner. She later told me she was honestly relieved it was not a confederate flag. It was hard not think of the movie Get Out. We barely had signal. We were embarking on an experience neither of us had really done by ourselves before. It was terrifying.
This was the first day of our trip. Already we had seen a displays of patriotism. I was experiencing isolation and uneasiness around safety because no one around us looked like us. It was jarring to know that we were so far away from anyone we knew. Our growling bellies interrupted us from these thoughts. We struggled to set up our small propane stove and were grateful we had already cooked all our meals and just needed to warm it up.
We cooked dinner and promptly went inside of our tent to relax for the rest of the evening. It was the only place I felt safe from the whiteness that surrounded us. We had plenty of room, since the tent was tall enough for us to stand and meant for four people. We talked about our drive, our plans for the time we were there, and how exhausted we were. We listened to the waves of lake superior as they lulled us to sleep as the sun went down.