While camping seems like a rite of passage for many, I have somehow managed to avoid the ceremonious event for most of my life. My anxious brain tends to associate camping with being eaten alive by bears and swallowing spiders in my sleep – both, things I usually try to avoid. We had a trailer when I was a child but we would only park it at my uncle’s lakefront cabin with unlimited access to running water, a bathroom and a shower (really roughing it). When I was 12 or 13 I spent one night in a tent with a friend and her family and couldn’t get the zipper open fast enough in the morning to call my parents and beg them to come pick me up. After that, I swore off camping for good.
My camping boycott was going as planned until the summer before my accident. We had a few friends who were doing a lot of camping with their kids and everyone seemed to be having such an amazing time. I finally conceded to the fact that I was being a bit of princess and decided, against my better judgement, that we would give it a try – the next summer. Yes, the next summer we would go camping. But then life didn’t go as planned and by the time next summer came around, I had a spinal cord injury. Out of all of the ways life changed on me, I wasn’t sad to see camping move over to the list of “things I will no longer do”. Not only that, now it felt like I had an excuse. Nobody was going to question my dislike for camping now that I was in a wheelchair. Camping boycott resumed.
Fast forward three summers, the personal realization that a spinal cord injury isn’t much of an excuse to say ‘no’ to anything, a group of friends who don’t let me forget it and a slight case of FOMO (fear of missing out), and you will find me on my first real camping trip.
Ok, I don’t want to mislead you. We weren’t exactly hauling tents into the wilderness and taking our chances with the bears. We stayed in a campground with yurts and had access to shared – but clean and indoor – toilets. Our yurt was considered accessible (which really just meant it had a ramp) and it even had a heater. However, we didn’t know about the heater the first night and it got quite chilly which I feel gives me extra ‘roughing it’ points.
Regardless of the little details, it felt like camping to me. We were all sweaty, dusty and greasy by the end of it which is how you determine it, right? And while it may have been my first camping trip, it was also my first camping trip with a spinal cord injury. I thought of a few things that might be useful for anyone else with an SCI who is considering their first camping trip.
- Bring extra supplies and a ‘just in case’ bag. I’m glad I brought extra wipes because I used a lot of them to clean my son’s dirty feet one night and also to clean the blood off of my husband’s head after he smashed it pretty good on the beam of the bunk bed. I was also happy to have extra catheters as in my haste to get back to the fun I may have dropped one or two in the toilet (oops).My ‘just in case” bag stayed in the car but had things like gloves, an extra cushion cover, tampons and more catheters. I know we always hope our bodies cooperate when we go on trips, but it’s good to prepared in case they don’t.
- Bring something to sleep on. When you have a spinal cord injury, you typically lose sensation in certain areas of your body and become more susceptible to pressure sores. I purchased a sleeping mat from an outdoor store that I bring with me whenever I’m unsure of a sleeping situation so that I know I have extra padding underneath me. I’ve used it on pull out couches and I used it on this camping trip for peace of mind. Make sure you check your skin often, especially after a new experience.
- Bring extra blankets and know what works to regulate your own body temperature. Temperature regulation can be tricky when you have a spinal cord injury. My injury is low enough on my spine (T-11) that I don’t get some of the temperature issue that people with higher injuries get, but my legs get very cold when I’m outside at night and when I lay down, that blood starts to circulate and creates ice in my veins. I was freezing the first night. The second night I wore lots of layers while we were outside before bed and kept my legs nice and warm. No temperature issues on night two. Trust what you know about your own body and be prepared.
- Bring your sense of humour and an open mind. Like all adventures with SCI, it probably won’t be perfect. After freezing that first night I bundled up on the second. But with so many layers on, I didn’t feel like going to the bathroom. That wasn’t really an option so I told everyone with us to stay out of the bathroom so my husband could come help me peel off and on all my pants so that I could pee. If I’d have done it on my own I would have been in there for half an hour! Not ideal, but funny if you let it be.
We had so much fun with our group of 25 but two nights was enough for me. I don’t think I’ll become a die-hard camper anytime soon but I would definitely do this trip again. And I’m proud of the fact that I tried something new when trying new things is just a little bit trickier than it used to be. If you have an SCI and are considering a camping trip, you should do it! Plan ahead and be prepared and you will have a great time.
Have you gone camping with a spinal cord injury? What are some of your tips and tricks?