Sometimes, there comes a moment when you have one of those epiphanies, a sudden realization that Things Have Changed. Mostly for me, these tend to be small, the big ones being few and far between.
Let me share an old one ...
As a boy and young man, I did a fair amount of camping. This was back in the day when this meant you'd hike into a site carrying everything you needed for the trip roped to a pack-frame–hatchet, cooking gear, sleeping bag, tent, spare socks, food, whatever. Once there, you'd unpack, set up a tent, roll out your sleeping bag, gather firewood, and do things like trenching, digging a latrine with your folding shovel, hanging your food bag from a tree so the critters could get it, like that.
I wasn't exploring the Amazon rainforest or anything, but a ten-mile hike into a wood was not unusual.
If you didn't feel like pitching the tent, you could just roll out your sleeping bag, usually with a canvas ground cover, because you needed to keep the cold and wet from seeping up into you. Lather up with mosquito dope if it was spring-to-winter, and enjoy the great outdoors.
Winter camping, you'd sometimes wake up with a pot of water you'd left warming next to the banked-fire frozen solid, but at least the mosquitoes didn't bother you ...
Somewhen in the early-to-mid-1980s, another writer and I made a trip from Portland to Colorado. There was a writer's conference in Telluride he wanted to attend; I had a friend in Boulder with whom I wanted to hang out. We drove in my Volvo, packed a tent and sleeping bags to save money camping instead of motel-ing–it was a two-day trip if you hurried, about eleven hundred miles one-way, the route we took.
I dropped him off, went to Boulder. We stayed out our respective destinations for like five days, had fine old times. Done, I swung back by Telluride, picked him up, and we headed home.
On the way back, we ran out of steam at a little town called Snowville, just inside the Utah border with Idaho. It was late, we were tired, so we parked behind the volunteer fire station and didn't bother with the tent, just unrolled our sleeping bags.
It was summer, but the town was at maybe four thousand feet or so, and it was chilly.
Two things stand out from that night. First, I cannot ever remember being as cold and uncomfortable as I became lying in that bag on the ground. I had on a watch cap, my extra shirt, but I was chilled to the bone, and I wound up pulling the bag over my head. Maybe I'd asphyxiate, but what the hell.
Didn't help much. I was so tired I didn't have the energy, nor the brain-power, to get up and go to the car, where I could have cranked the heater.
Second thing was, about two in the morning, a large, white owl landed on top of the fire station, which was a pre-fab metal building with a metal roof, as I recall. When I say, "landed," I mean that the bird's arrival sounded like somebody had dropped a bowling ball onto the building.
Scared the crap out of us. Neither one of us was armed, save for my pocket knife. What makes a noise like that in the woods?
"What the fuck was that?"
"I don't know, it sounded like somebody dropped a–oh, look, it's an owl."
Relieved, we drifted back into our fitful, cold sleep. Dragged our tired asses up before dawn, packed, and headed for Oregon. Took turns driving so we could get some sleep. I remember waking up on a freeway and realizing that my buddy had the speedometer's needle at ninety.
"What are you doing? This isn't Le Mans! Slow the fuck down!"
Now, the point of this story? My realization that my days of sleeping on the cold, hard ground with nothing but a sleeping bag between it and me were done. That hundred and forty pound kid who could do that wasn't me any more. The next time I did any camping, I brought along a self-inflating air pad, we drove to the site and unloaded the car, and even then, it was roughing it.
These days, I prefer the camper, with its fiberglas roof, nice soft queen-sized four-inch thick spongy pad, and an indoor toilet and fridge.
Hell getting old ...