Camping at Orchard Beach

The Beach at Orchard BeachSpring term wrapped up at the end of last week, and Annette and Will and I took off for a camping trip on Saturday and Sunday night to Orchard Beach State Park, right outside of Manistee, MI. I just got done uploading a set of pictures to flickr; it’s right here.

This is only the second time we’ve been camping (see here for time #1), and once again, we managed to pick some less than ideal weather. The first night, we had a minor hurricane come through; conveniently for Will and Annette, I left them at the camp while I was running an errand that turned out to be a waste of time. Needless to say, they were just thrilled with me.

But hey, things picked up. Our tents didn’t completely collapse, a surprising amount of our things did not get soaking wet, and we were able to roast weenies and marshmallows and all was well.

Undeterred by overcast skies, low 60’s temperatures, and gusty winds, we hit the beach Sunday morning. As this 1:11 video demonstrates, we were going to enjoy it, damn it!

After beaching for a while, we all got cleaned up (after all, this campground did have showers and flush toilets and the like) and headed into Manistee for a lunch that turned out to be far too expensive for what it was. Manistee bills itself as being a “Victorian port town,” suggesting cute little shops and touristy stuff, but it reminds me a great deal more of the town where my parents grew up, Algoma, Wisconsin. Actually, Manistee is quite a bit bigger– they have many stoplights for example, whereas I think Algoma still has none– and Algoma is perhaps a bit more touristy nowadays with a winery of sorts and at least a bit more in the way of touristy shops. Either way, there really is no reason why you would go to either town as a tourist.

Then we went back to the camp, hung about, etc. Among other things, Will went and poked at a hole that had a mouse in it and I cooked stew in the dutch oven by the fire. We had a beautiful sunset (see the current masthead here, and/or this picture, for example) and okay but not great stew. We got cleaned up and packed up Monday morning, and then went on a lovely but short hike on one of the paths across the main road from the campground before leaving for home. We should have done this the day before instead of going into Manistee so we could have taken one of the longer hikes; live and learn.

So I think it turned out we had a pretty good time, but I also think all of us learned a bit more about ourselves as campers. The big thing for me is I’m not that interested in camping merely for the sake of camping, merely to get away. Unlike our previous trip to the Pinery, where we were in an area with other tent campers, we were surrounded on this trip by campers with, um, campers– big towing rigs, pop-up campers, and these amusing folks in a gigantic motor home. For me, camping is about “roughing it,” at least a bit, about getting out with family and friends, and about doing something to “connect with nature” in some tangible albeit vague way.

But it seemed to me that for most of the camper campers around us, camping meant simply getting away to a “home away from home.” Our outside TV watching neighbors were far from the only ones who were tuning in; in fact, it kind of felt like we were the only ones who weren’t watching TV. As far as I could tell, most of these folks could be camping just about anywhere– a park with a lovely view, a parking lot, etc.– and the experience would be about the same. I’ll bet that less than 10% of these folks ventured across the road to the hiking paths.

Next summer, I’d like to take a family and friends camping trip to someplace a bit more secluded, something for tents only, and some place a bit more “out in nature” than Orchard Beach. The problem is that these kinds of campsites also tend to be “primitive,” meaning there’s no showers and either an outhouse-styled bathroom or nothing. And while I am okay roughing it a bit and I am all for getting out into nature, I am less okay with pooping in the woods.

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