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Camping novice learns about 'roughing it'
The sun sets on Lake Allatoona in Woodstock. - photo by STEVEN WELCH

I’ll be the first person to admit I’m not much of an outdoor person.

Lately the only stars I’ve found myself sleeping under are 4 and up and usually owned by Hilton or Marriott. It’s nothing personal; it’s just as I’ve grown into an adult I’ve been the type of person who chooses fun indoor activities as opposed to “roughing it” if you will.

But I’m also the kind of person who believes in experiencing as many new moments in life as I possibly can. So a weekend spent surrounded by nature with old friends sounded like a fun way to blow off some steam and have a new adventure.

As I started making the plans for the weekend, I found myself waxing nostalgic for some of the camping trips I went on as a child. It was on those trips — the last one being when I was in middle school — that my late father taught me how to fish in a river with a shiny new fishing pole I picked out all by myself. I remembered the morning dew on the tent and waking up to the smell of the Georgia forest as the new day started. Memories I had long since thought I had forgotten as I went through the motions of life. As these memories came back I found myself getting more excited about the trip, yet still a little hesitant about how it might end up going.

Luckily it was better than I ever thought it would be, even with my limited experience in dealing with the outdoor world. Needless to say, my trek in the wilderness taught me a few things I feel I must share.

Bring the right people

As with any group outing, a lot weighs on the people you surround yourself with. In this case, survival in the woods was a lot easier because of a couple of my friends’ experience with the Boy Scouts. They came in handy when the Georgia weather decided to go from 70 to 40 in less than 12 hours, and I ended up learning the correct way to build a campfire. FYI, it doesn’t involve just throwing the wood in a pile and dousing it with lighter fluid — apparently that’s dangerous.

Along with the practical reasons for having certain people come along, being surrounded by good friends allowed us the opportunity to reconnect with one another and legitimately let loose. The weekend was full of laughs and reminiscing at 5 a.m. about all the adventures we have had together. Trips like these are a good way to solidify the bonds we have worked hard to maintain over the years. It is something everyone should experience.

Bring the right stuff

While the people are an important part of any good trip, I quickly realized how important it is to be prepared when leaving the comforts of home for any extended period of time. For camping, make sure to include the essentials: a sleeping bag, a couple of blankets, a reliable tent, as well as the instructions on how to put the tent up.

Setting up a tent based on the pictures on the box or from old memories will turn a 10-minute task into an hourlong expletive-filled event. Luckily with a little duct tape and some trial and error, our 8-person tent eventually stood tall among the trees and wildlife.

The right kind of food can also make or break any camping adventure. In going back to how important the right people are, one of my friends happens to be a professional chef, so his cooking skills were put to good use very quickly. I myself would have never been able to cook hash browns and roasted turkey sandwiches in the middle of nowhere, but now I can safely say I’ve seen it done.

Unplug and enjoy the outdoors

Too often we find ourselves controlled by our digital devices, barely able to put our phones down to actually sit and talk with friends. I learned how important it is to just forget about the emails waiting in my inbox for just a little while and focus on the world around me. When you take the time to look around, you’ll realize how much beauty there is to be seen.

The colors of the sunset over the lake don’t need an Instagram filter to be amazing, they’re pretty perfect just the way they are. And they’re easy to miss if your head is pointed down toward an iPhone.

My time kicking it with Mother Nature turned out to be quite the weekend. I still can’t remember how many marshmallows I ate or the number of hotdogs I grilled over the fire, but I have a new appreciation for the “great outdoors” as someone once called it.

As fall continues and the last remnants of the summer heat start to drift away, I encourage everyone to get in touch with their inner survivalist and get outside for a couple of days. Have some laughs, watch the sunrise and tell stories over the campfire; you’ll be amazed at what it will do for the soul.

Steven Welch is a copy editor at The Times. He can be reached at

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