For one couple, camping in the back of a hand-me-down Chevy is the ultimate bonding experience.
Honeymoons are the epitome of sexiness. These postnuptial respites are for bikinis and Mai Tais and macking on the beach. At least, that’s what I’ve seen in movies. Personally, I spent my honeymoon—if you can call it that—spooning a spare tire in the back of a 2006 Chevrolet pickup.
You see, my wife and I are cheap. Like reuse-tea-bags-three-times cheap. And so, when we decided to tie the knot two years ago, there was no talk of wedding venues or invitations. We didn’t bicker over dahlias versus roses, or whether Uncle Robby should sit next to his estranged sister, Aunt Lucy. Instead, we donned our finest Goodwill attire and headed to the magistrate’s office/county jail where hordes of inmates watched us say “I do” through a wall of greasy plexiglass. Charming? Hardly. Cheap? Very.
After sharing our vows with 40 imprisoned party guests, Ashley and I sat excitedly on a curb in the parking lot. We were eager to commence our miserly matrimony. So much love and so many savings, ’til death do us part! But then this wave of awkwardness hit us.
“I guess we should go back home now,” Ashley said tentatively, her voice trailing off. “But that feels weird, right?”
I agreed. Returning to my parents’ house, where we temporarily lived in a low-ceilinged space without air conditioning for $600 a month, did feel rather anticlimactic. But the thought of booking a hotel room—even a motel room—hurt my tightfisted soul. And so, after racking our brains, we finally decided on an inexpensive solution: camping. The only problem? We had pawned our two-person tent the month prior to pad our checking account.
“We still have the truck, though,” my wife reminded, gesturing to the dented hunk of metal parked 10 feet away.
A $1,500 hand-me-down from my brother’s landscaping business, the drab blue Chevy was far from perfect. There were half-inch-deep scratches down one side, fogged-up headlights that lit the way no better than a beeswax candle, and an imposing check engine light that invariably flashed jack-o’-lantern orange when you were at your lowest. But she was, in fact, ours.
“Okay,” I said, giving Ashley’s hand a reassuring squeeze. “Let’s do it.”
Thirty minutes later, we were bumping down Wash Creek Road in North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest with a gallon of water, two sleeping bags, and a rucksack of nonperishables squeezed between us. After a rowdy ride, we arrived at our campsite: a small gravel pad flanked by a babbling brook and a clutch of hemlocks.
“This spot is so beautiful!” Ashley beamed, throwing her arms up in exaltation while stepping over piles of rusty metal, broken beer bottles, and candy wrappers left behind by previous occupants. Meanwhile, a group of drunken men camping two sites over hooped and hollered, revving the engine of their diesel truck for no reason other than to hear it rumble.
Stuff like that would normally bother me, or at the very least make me ruminate on the dangers of tetanus and diesel exhaust inhalation. However, I was too high on a lovey-dovey cocktail of feel-good neurotransmitters to mind. The pile of human feces within smelling distance? So earthy and aromatic! The stale granola bar for dinner? Gourmet cuisine! The militia of mosquitos nursing my ankles? The more, the merrier!
But as night fell and we crawled into the truck bed to prepare for sleep, the blissful bubble burst.
For starters, we had forgotten all about the spare tire. Technically, this emergency wheel should be tucked under the truck. However, the mechanism that’s supposed to hold it there (we refer to said mechanism as the “doodly dondle”) broke five years back, forcing us to store the spare in the truck bed. Alas, we’d be sharing a mattress-sized space with a hulking chunk of rubber.
Then there was the whole sleeping under the stars issue. It sounds romantic, watching the galaxies twinkle and shine as you nod off to sleep. But neither Ashley nor I had ever camped without a thin sheet of polyester between us and the world, and the prospect suddenly felt terrifying.
“Maybe we should just go back home,” Ashley whispered after a long, tedious conversation about how black bears probably don’t crave human flesh. “Sleeping in a house sounds pretty good right now.”
And it did, considering that I was awkwardly stuffed between my wife and a Goodrich tire in what may go down as the weirdest threesome ever. But I just couldn’t imagine letting defeat define our first night together as a married couple. What precedent would that set for future hardships? How would we face something as tragic as sickness or loss if we couldn’t toughen up and endure a night of iffy sleep in the back of a pickup?
I didn’t explain any of this to Ashley. It would’ve sounded melodramatic because, well, it kind of is. Instead, I kissed her forehead and reminded her that the chances of two people being eaten by a black bear are slim. “And I’m, obviously, tastier,” I quipped, snuggling closer to Mrs. Goodrich as my eyes grew heavy.
Since then, Ashley and I have made a habit of truck camping. I won’t lie and say each trip is perfect. We’ve been startled awake by squalling bobcats, sub-freezing temperatures, and a particularly raucous lightning storm that forced us to spend the wee morning hours bunched up in the cab. We don’t have fancy gear—unless you call 30-year-old sleeping bags fancy—so we always wake up with sore backs and stiff necks, and breakfast is always something cold, bland, and prepackaged.
Still, those nights under the stars bring us closer together. They remind us that we don’t need a fancy beach vacation with bikinis and Mai Tais to be happy. We just need one another. Oh, and a rusty old truck.
Cover photo: Courtesy of the author