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Illustration by Chelsea O'Byrne

Camping is a rite of passage if you grow up in Canada. It’s a child’s first taste of what living in the wild really means. To many, it is the go-to summer activity and is even considered a cheap vacation.

Well, I grew up in Canada, too. But nothing felt more exotic to this brown-skinned goddess than camping. Camping felt like something people did on TV and then a game show host would give them $1,000,000 for surviving. It was white people’s nonsense. My parents who immigrated here from India would never allow their children to be subjected to such nonsense! They did not “make it” in Canada just to have their children sleep on bug-infested grass outside for a night. They came here to sleep with a roof over their heads and a lock on their door. Camping was out of the question for me and my sisters growing up.

As an adult, I kept these strong opinions. I’d often say “Ewwww,” when my friends would tell me about their upcoming camping trips. They would joke about taking me, all the while knowing I wouldn’t go near a tent if my life depended on it. Honestly, I was just opposed to nature. I simply didn’t understand why so many people were so obsessed with mother nature when the comfort of your home existed. Give me the heat, give me the TV, give me gourmet meals. My parents didn’t make it in this country for their daughter to spend time in dirt!

Then I turned 26 and something like a quarter-life crisis hit me. I had started to try new things, such as hiking, working out, daily walks. I had been experiencing mental health issues for quite some time and I discovered being out in nature helped me calm down. I loved watching the leaf colours change and felt lucky when I spotted a blue heron or an owl.

My friend Alyssa picked up on this and suggested a night camping. She wanted me to put my phone down and get away from the rat race. Just take some time for me. Alyssa was the ultimate nature girl – constantly backpacking and hiking trails that I only read about in books. She promised me she would figure everything out, all I had to do was show up. I cautiously said yes.

The night before the trip I was quite excited. Then I overheard a conversation between my father and mother. “Why does she have to do this? Doesn’t she know she can just stay at home?” my father asked. “This is what Canadian kids do, it’s okay, she’ll be fine!” my mom explained. My parents had no faith in me surviving one night in the wild. My excitement quickly turned into doubt.

When Alyssa picked me up in her car, my mom called out: “You’ll be okay Raman, just remember your mom grew up living like this so you can do it for one night!”

Alyssa had packed a bag for me, we stopped for groceries on the way. Since she knew I was still a princess, she brought a stovetop for cooking. I wasn’t about to go camping and not have a hot dog. I was told the campsite had no running water so I clipped all sorts of water bags and bottles to my bags and belt. I felt like I was about to topple over with all the stuff that I was carrying, but I was doing it. This would be my Survivor moment, and I was going to impress Jeff Probst with my tenacity and killer smile. He was going to give me the $1,000,000 cheque.

We went on a ferry and walked a few kilometres to set up shelter – a.k.a., the tent, sleeping bags and sleeping mats that we blew up with our mouths. Alyssa kept repeating this was glamping but to me this was roughing it. Once it was set up, I was asked to hammer in some pegs with a rock! I thought, what in the heck am I doing here?! But I did it and even broke a nail. Note to self: don’t go camping with a fresh manicure.

As the day went on, we ate, we lounged by the water, we saw a blue heron and we met our camping neighbours. Time felt like it slowed down, life felt gentler and easier. I was doing it. I was CAMPING … and dare I say, enjoying it? As the day turned into night the stars came out and I was in awe of all the twinkling lights above me. A group of dads and their sons were camping next to us and I offered to take a picture of them among the stars. They then took a photo of Alyssa and me. They told me all about Jupiter and how you could see it with the naked eye on that very clear night. At that moment I realized I was experiencing magic.

I won’t lie, I had the worst sleep of my life. It was lumpy and uncomfortable, but I was camping! Morning came and I was up and at ‘em, ready to make breakfast, coffee and tea. I didn’t even realize I was sad to leave until we started packing everything up. Another camping neighbour was a solo camper named Grace who knew it was my first trip. She had come out here to find some peace. Before leaving she gave me a rock she’d painted the night before which read, “Choose Your Own Adventure.”

I wasn’t just leaving having accomplished something I never thought I would do. I was leaving with a real sense of community. A real sense of appreciation for what the great outdoors had to offer, and a completely different outlook on an activity that disgusted me for so many years. It made me realize the beauty of Canada wasn’t in the things we did but the community we built.

Will I camp again this summer? No clue. Did I win the $1,000,000? Still waiting on it. Will I always be grateful for a quarter-life crisis and a friend who pushed me to try something new? Forever, and always.

Ramandeep Sanghera lives in Victoria.

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