Long, long ago, I was conceived in a tent somewhere outside Sutton, Ontario. (Don't hold your breath waiting for the commemorative plaque. I'm not.) The pastoral location of my reincarnation may explain my mixed feelings about sleeping al fresco. On the one hand, camping seems like an arduous ritual of bodily relocation. On the other, it suggests all sorts of erotic potential - provided the smell of bug repellent mixed with wet sleeping bag gets you hot. It's also helpful if, as in my parents' case, you want to start your breeding engines in an exotic yet not-too-distant location. And so it is that instead of feeling a deep connection to the Arc de Triomphe, I have inexplicable, love-hate erotic responses to damp canvas, Coleman stove fumes and canned potatoes.
Early in any "serious" relationship, you're almost always grilled about your feelings about the great outdoors. It's a question often popped over drinks on a downtown patio, usually between smoggy gulps of chilled gin in mid-May. And it's usually phrased thus: "So, how do you feel about camping?"
A loaded question, to be sure - one with a right and wrong answer depending on who you're dating. The urbane reply is "If it involves a Holiday Inn, fine. If not, no way." The other possible response, infused with a hint of mild dread or apology, is "I'd be into it with the right person." (Translation: If we must, baby. Other possible translation: I love camping but I'm ashamed to admit it.)
Camping is an opportunity to commune with nature (and each other) that sounds idyllic, even sexy, in a citronella-flavoured way - until you actually try it. But the likelihood of any two Toronto adults seeking out a patch of rented grass for the purpose of getting it on beneath the stars is slim.
Mention your cottage in Muskoka and she's all over you. Allude to camping and she may very well bolt and never return. Yet you may still find yourself at risk. Secret camping fanatics lurk around every corner - they come in many guises. You may find yourself part of a naive, lovey-dovey downtown twosome that decides to explore this specialized brand of masochism in the interest of having sex away from home. Canadian Tire becomes the Ikea of aspiring outdoor lovers.
You buy a tent, sleeping bags, an air mattress (do opt for the more expensive one, lovers), a flashlight, some Off. You grab one of those mesh bags of firewood and a cooler, all the while nudging each other, asking the double-entendre question, "How hard can it be?" As you'll soon find out, the "hardest" thing at your camp site will likely be the ground, that rocky surface upon which you'll sprawl, pretending to sleep after awkward, air-mattress-flattening sex beneath the stars. That's if sex actually happens, of course. So much depends on the weather, your tolerance for filthy, bug-bitten hump- 'n'-bumping and the too-close proximity of Bible-thumping fellow campers whose car stereo blasts What A Friend We Have In Jesus from morning till night.
Some couples do thrive on these types of adversity, and the more challenges, the deeper their orgasms. Even if this isn't the case for you, camping can still be a bonding experience. For example, one of you may be spooked by every twig-snap in the too-dark night, because dark in Toronto doesn't come close to what dark means up north. The truest test of love is reacting cheerfully to the words "Honey, I need to pee again" at 4 am, when the so-called toilet is 300 pitch-black yards away. Are you willing to accompany her to hold the flashlight? Well, you remind yourself, it was sort of sexy, the way she rubbed her smoked-out eyes with her fists across the fire pit, then growled at you to join her in the tent - immediately. And, hey, the taste of concentrated bug spray and wood smoke on her neck and knees was almost erotic.
To be frank, I'd never thought of camping as sexy till very recently. Maybe it was the new smell of the tent, the whisper-thin nylon proximity of our fellow campers - so naughty. Maybe it was the way the previously undetected tree roots ground against my spine just so as she fucked me. Most likely, it had something to do with my tentmate, whose sense of humour, sheer sexual talent and adaptability led us to heed "the call of the wild" (over and over) while the other members of our group sang themselves silly round the campfire till the wee hours. In summary: we had the hottest starlit, buggy sex of our lives.
At breakfast next morning, we avoided knowing gazes and reluctantly declined an invitation to stay on for another night. "Time to get back to the city," we muttered, knowing full well we'd be pitching our tent in the backyard very, very soon. Who knew the smell of Off could be such a turn-on?
B.B. Brooklyn is the pseudonym of a Toronto fiction writer and heretofore ambivalent camper.