COLUMN: Camping on the boondocks | Reporter Times

As a teenager, I went camping on the farm. One friend in particular enjoyed the outdoors as much as I did, so she came with me. Our camping was a true definition of “roughing it” in the boondocks.

Current times have redefined the pleasure of camping. Most often it’s a little more glamorous. In fact, many call it “glamping.” The first time I heard that term used was infield camping at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the night before the ‘500.” People do the darnedest things for fun.

Many folks prefer camping vacations since the coronavirus numbers keep rising. People fear a stay in hotel rooms and resorts. Camping is basically living in your own cooties while away from home. I hear the camper and RV sales are booming this year because of COVID-19, another way for families to make memories together.

In my teenage years, it was a novelty to go camping. I had been to Shakamak State Park for 4-H camp near Jasonville. We slept on cots in cabins. Meals were served in the mess hall. So it wasn’t really a “camping” experience.

My friend Sandy P and I loaded a wagon and hitched it to my dad’s Farmall-H tractor. I drove it to the creek bottoms to find a choice campsite. We found two trees fairly close so we could tie a rope between them about head high. Then we threw the farm tarp used to cover grain on the truck over the rope. That was our tent. If we had another tarp, we used it for the floor of the tent; otherwise we slept on the bare ground.

When one is in the woods far away from artificial or city lights, it is black dark. If the moon and stars are shining, that helps but usually you can’t see your hand in front of your face.

We never had sleeping bags so we took quilts and blankets for bedding. The ends of our ‘tent’ were open. Of course, one end is where we built the campfire a few feet away. One time, Sandy brought some “Shasta.” Shasta was a new soft drink of the time and had a variety of flavors. We teased our friends telling them Shasta was alcohol.

One night we camped just beyond the field east of the pole barn down on the ridge point. Brother Philip told us to watch out for bobcats. What? Bobcats? I never saw any bobcats, ever. At bedtime we snuffed out the fire and were settled in our tent for the night. As we attempted to go to sleep, all we could think about was sneaky bobcats coming to get us.

Philip and one of his friends knew where we were camping and came by before dark to see if we were doing ok. Long after dark, they crept back to our site. Ten feet in front of the tent they got on all fours and made noises like a bobcat. Sandy and I were terrified. Suddenly, they swiftly crawled growling and scratching into the tent and gave us a horrendous scare.

Their laughter was mixed with pain as they pummeled across the hot coals of the campfire burning their hands and knees. Sandy and I sprinted to the house while the boys finished the night at the camp.

Another rite of camping was to carve our initials in a tree by our campsite. If we were sweet on anyone, we put our initials and theirs with a plus sign in the middle. Sometimes we carved a heart between. Should I go for a walk in the woods to see if I could find those carvings? With time, landscapes change. After 45 years, I probably would never find them.

My friends, Debbie and Ken have a new Airstream camper. Oh my, one could live in that fancy camper year round. It has all the comforts of home and is definitely not like camping in the boondocks. The Airstream is fully self-contained like most luxurious campers these days. Every feature runs by a button. They even ‘hotspot’ their flat screen TV’s in the bedroom and living room. Now that’s glamping!

When my girls were just babies and toddlers, we tent camped often in northern Pennsylvania near Dubois. It was cheap entertainment and we had the energy. Only this time the tent was fully enclosed. This is while we lived in Pittsburgh for four years. We made many lasting memories.

I still have a tent, sleeping bags, camp stove, lantern and cots in my attic. It is unlikely I will use them, as it seems like a lot of work at my age.

However, I might just give it a whirl. For at times, I can still hear the boondocks calling my name.

Phyllis (Dow) Bex is native of Morgan County, who grew up on a farm west of Paragon. She presently lives in Greenwood. She can be reached at

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