Adventure-ing: Callie and The First Grown Up Vacation

The first time I ever went anywhere with Kamel was to Yosemite. It also happened to be the first time I ever knew for realsies I loved him. The first time we ever went on a real (read: a trip that wasn’t wrapped around visiting family) vacation together was our honeymoon. Traveling with someone can either have amazing results or dire consequences. Callie of Write On! contacted me after the balloon post when she saw my request for other adventure-ing stories (big or small). Her adventure is all about taking a risk, a leap, but at the same time it’s about doing something that’s both what you love and a little bit scary. I think those are the best types of adventures. And remember – having an adventure has nothing to do with spending gobs of money or going on extravagant trips. For Callie it was about wild horses, camping with her man, and so very man stars.

I don’t see many stars in Virginia, so close to D.C., but when the sky is clear and I see those few distant suns whose light is bright enough to break through the urban light pollution, it feels like the sky is out of focus. This is because I remember last September, on vacation with Jonathan, gazing in amazement at the multitude of stars in the sky. I would look at the dark spots between stars, and there would be more, slightly fainter stars. In the dark places between those stars, more stars.

“I never realized it really is a gradient,” Jonathan said.

We were sitting on an island beach beside the Atlantic, sipping wine and getting lost in the sheer beauty and overwhelming quantity of stars studding the night sky. It was one of those moments that you think only happens in film and is much, much too cliche to happen in your life, and if it did would probably be trite and lifeless.

It was the perfect ending to the first day of our first vacation together alone, which did not go entirely as planned. It was our first big adventure together with nobody else: Jonathan and Callie versus the world. Spending days upon days in the constant company of the same person is something that, in the wrong company, is draining. But it can also be terribly affirming of a friendship or any other relationship.

It was not our first time camping together, but other times had included my sister and her then-boyfriend, or our friends. Generally speaking, our feelings tend to be more muted in company. This would be our first time without the company of others to keep emotions from springing straight to the surface.

I thought camping on Assateague Island would be a good toe-dip into the waters of couples’ vacationing. Due to Jonathan living in Chicago, where he is attending school, and me living and working in Virginia, all of our vacation plans are cost-limited by airfare, so we tend to do something nearby one of us or the other. I already had a tent and most of the camping paraphernalia. The campgrounds near Jonathan that I’d wanted to visit (dunes near Lake Michigan) were already fully booked. But a couple of my friends had a reservation for Assateague Island they weren’t going to be able to use, and the price was right.

I’d been captured by the romance of Assateague.  Camping on the beach by the ocean! Island! Wild horses!

What I’d forgotten is that whenever we go camping, we always forget something critical. So we ended up spending too much money at the camp store for insect repellant, assorted food items, and matches that ended up completely not working. We also bought firewood, which we hadn’t forgotten: it’s irresponsible to move firewood because that can spread invasive insect species, so we were stuck paying the prices they charged for it.

Anyway, we got our firewood, we got our matches, and we got out the firestarter brick that I’d brought with us, anticipating our typical fire dilemma: that we can’t get the damn fire to start. Unfortunately, despite our precautions, the usual problem hit again. We were hungry and tired and grumpy about having to buy so much stuff. I was extra-grumpy because my careful planning for all possibilities had proved a failure so early in the trip and also because Jonathan’s mood affects mine. As match after match was extinguished by the low-blowing wind or straight-up failed to light, Jonathan was getting frustrated, applying more and more pressure and accidentally snapping more matches than he was managing to light.

A meteorologist camping nearby took pity on us and got our fire going, probably with meteorology magic. He’d gotten one going for his work buddies and his pregnant wife, and he was genuinely happy to give us a hand. I was embarrassed by our predicament and was awkwardly civil. Jonathan, as is his wont with strangers, instantly struck up friendly conversation and got firelighting tips and an invitation for us to “come on over” and join them later.

It’s the sort of thing that happens all the time. Jonathan rolls with life as it happens much better than I do. He’s the one who strangers approach; I prefer to approach people after I’ve analyzed a situation and decided what action to take. He’s a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants & take-the-world-by-storm type; I’m a planner. Even when I do something that seems spontaneous, it’s usually planned at least to some extent.

I want to know what to expect. I want to be prepared. I want travel plans and reservations made a month or more in advance. I want nothing to come out of left field. Jonathan never seems to be worried about being prepared for adventure; he is very much an adventurer. He’s always saying we should go parasailing, or mountain climbing, or bike a century, or road trip from the bottom to the top of California, or bicycle tour through Europe. I’m the one who worries I won’t be able to keep up or I’ll hate it or we won’t be able to afford it. But this vacation was, unusually, my idea. An opportunity came up, and I jumped on it.

Happily, even with those personality conflicts that I think must always arise between two people, it ended up being a trip to remember: both the good and the bad.

We had a marvelous time playing in the ocean. I got painfully sunburned, which you have to expect, no matter how much sunscreen you use, when your skin is so pale you can actually see the blue veins underneath. But Jonathan was a total sweetheart about putting the aloe vera on my shoulders about six or eight million times, even though it is sticky and totally gross.

It was freezing and uncomfortable at night, because sand is probably one of the hardest and most uncomfortable surfaces I’ve ever slept on as well as being insidious. (I had to hose down and vacuum my tent the next weekend. I literally ran a vacuum cleaner inside the tent like I was vacuuming the living room carpet before company came over.) But despite the discomfort of sleeping on sand, there’s something enchanting about the sound of the ocean at night, the sheer number of stars, and waking up and realizing that you are on a beach and everything is beautiful.

We succeeded in lighting our own campfire, and we made killer campfire food. We spent a few lazy afternoon hours sitting under umbrellas, drinking beer with the fire-starting meteorologist and his coworkers, and chatting with his very pregnant wife. We rented a canoe and paddled around the bay side of the island. We took pictures of wild horses and birds and tried to take pictures of tiny fish.

There was one big minus to this trip to Assateague Island: I had previously sworn I would never again camp anywhere that didn’t have bathrooms with sinks and flushing toilets. I got sick on a previous camping trip and have nightmares of it happening again and possibly having to puke in an outhouse. (Which thankfully I have not had to do.) The only thing more miserable than being sick while away from home is being sick while miles away from a flushing toilet. Worshipping the porcelain gods? Try worshipping the wooden-shack-with-a-deep-hole-and-a-crappy-plastic-seat gods. I’ll take a pass on that.

So. I want a campground with modern bathroom facilities, even if they are a bit of a hike. Assateague didn’t have these amenities, but we snuck into a no-shirt-no-shoes-no-service restaurant with one pair of flip-flops between us, surreptitiously trading them under the table in order to take turns using a real bathroom and a real sink with running water and soap and a mirror.

Our final day, we were up early. It was dawn, so the sky was light but the sun had yet to rise. We were leaving early in order to meet Jonathan’s sister for lunch near her law school in Philadelphia and then continue on to Penn State for dinner with our recently-married friends. It was a road-trip kind of day. But first, we sat on the picnic table by our tent and watched the sun rise.

I was surprised at how fast it moved, once it peeked over the horizon. I suppose that the speed of the rising sun, like the number of the stars, was simply something I had never bothered to notice before. It was a good set of experiences for our first vacation as grown-ups.

This space has been a place for me to chronicle feelings and relationships and stories (the ridiculous and the sad and the funny), it’s been my way of providing a time stamp to major life events, and it’s been a place of advice and discussion and feedback (which I’m incredibly grateful for). But now begins a new chapter, this space will also be a celebration of adventures, of personal triumphs, of doing things we never thought we could, and to cheering each other on. If you have an adventure (big or small) you’d like to write about, please email me at betterinrealife at gmail dot com.

Two years ago I wrote a letter to my 20 year old self. Most of it still holds.

2 thoughts on “Adventure-ing: Callie and The First Grown Up Vacation”

  1. I love this 🙂 Very cool story about the ups and downs of camping, and relationships. The picture of the horse is absolutely breath-taking!

  2. I find it so interesting how travel impacts people’s relationships. Forrest and I agreed early on that travel was something we want to prioritize in our life. And somehow, for us (and perhaps only for us….) travel winds up being EASIER than everyday life. I hope that you and Jonathan were able to grow together during your trip–it’s something that can certainly be made easier by stars over the ocean!

    Here’s to more adventures and travels for you guys!

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