Let's Get Primitive
We chat to Heather Menicucci about The Urban Girl's Guide To Camping.
Where does your interest in camping come from and what's your earliest camping memory?
Certainly not from my family or my childhood. Growing up an Italian-American princess on Staten Island in New York, I didn't even know anyone who camped. A few years ago I met a former Boy Scout who convinced me I wouldn't be abducted by aliens in the country. After hearing his exciting stories of campfires and canoe trips, I thought camping was something I might actually want to try. But I didn't think I was going to fall in love, I just thought camping was something everyone should do at least once. My first trip was in celebration of my 27th birthday. The car got stuck down a ravine, the lake we were supposed to camp near turned out to be a manmade mucky pond, and it rained all day on my birthday. And yet, I still loved it! That's a testament to the power of camping.
My earliest camping memory is from some time in college when an ex and I tried to rekindle our romance with a camping trip. It rained, and even worse, the tent we borrowed was full of holes. We spent the night in his hatchback and went home the next day. That would have been my first camping experience if it hadn't been a bust.
Where are your favorite places to camp and where was the weirdest, or scariest place that you have ever camped?
My favorite place to camp is definitely beside an ocean. My most memorable, magical trips were in North Carolina on the Outer Banks and down in the Florida Keys. There's very little available shade, the sand is exhausting and works its way into everything, and you have to be militant about sunscreen, but it's all worth it when you get to feel like a shipwrecked sailor miles from civilization.
To tell the truth, I don't think I have any scary camping stories. I do have a super scary hiking story though. One day I set out with two friends to find a secret swimming hole off some trails. It was a winding, steep climb but we finally found this amazing pool at the bottom of a dirt ravine complete with a tire swing. There was a group of ten or so young teenagers already swimming. They were local kids who definitely knew their way around the surrounding woods. We swan with them for about a half hour and then they climbed out the opposite side of the ravine. Once they got to the top they started shouting crazy obscene things at us. We mostly laughed them off and teased them back a bit when all of a sudden they started throwing rocks. Not pebbles, but rocks, about the size of fists. There was nowhere for us to hide from them. My cell phone wouldn't work. And they weren't responding to reason. We just had to wait them out. We were lucky none of us got hurt, but it was truly a petrifying Deliverance moment. Thankfully, it's the only one I've ever experienced in all my time in the country.
What items should someone definitely take on an outdoors trip and are there any items that are a big no no?
My big necessities are bug spray, bug spray, ziplock bags, garbage bags, bug spray, and good food and wine. I'm a firm believer in the idea that beyond the obvious essentials (tent, backpack, water purifier or water, map, etc) your camping list is up to you. I don't even own hiking boots and the first time I brought bandanas on a trip was to make my group look like color-coordinated Power Rangers. I hope this approach makes camping more accessible to folks who would never dream of pitching a tent. As for no-no's, I like the feeling of being completely disconnected, so I leave all the electronics behind. Hell, that's why I'm there! No watch, cell phone, or radio. But that's just me. There's plenty of space in the great outdoors for everyone to fulfill their fantasies. Play at being a minimalist, or sit on a log and read a magazine while listening to an iPod. You don't have to be or look like a certain type of person to camp. Make it your own. Just get out there!
What's your favorite campfire treat?
I love anything eaten or drank around a campfire. But I think my favorite treat to cook over the fire is Fantasy Bananas. I have a recipe in my book, but it's really easy. Just slit an unpeeled banana down its length and tuck chocolate bar squares in the pocket. Wrap in foil and drop in the coals for a few minutes. It's so gooey it must be eaten with a fork, but it beats s'mores any day. I also love making popcorn over the fire. Popcorn is always festive but campfire popcorn is extra special. I make a foil pouch with some oil and about a tablespoon of popcorn. Attach it to the end of a stick and hold it over the fire. Just make sure you leave room in the pouch for the popcorn to pop.
How did the book come about and what made you decide to write a book about camping for girls?
Let's Get Primitive started as a how-to guide for Bust magazine in 2005. I pitched the initial article because I thought there had to be other unlikely nature girls like me out there. I wanted to show them how I became a camper and prove they could too. I was really excited to share my new love with anyone I thought would be too scared or skeptical to go for it. After the article ran I was contacted by an agent and before I knew Let's Get Primitive was in the works. It was really exciting to have a chance to expand on the article and create a complete primer that offers everything camping virgins need to get started.
Do you have any future books or projects in the making?
I'm a video and film maker so I plan to go back to my projects for a while. I loved writing Let's Get Primitive but I do miss video a bit. Right now I'm working on a video about adventures in tasting new foods. Someday I'd like to make a camping-inspired documentary or maybe do another outdoors book about women fishing. I'd like to see creeks and streams filled with women in waders!
For more updates from Heather, head over to her blog and make sure to check out the book Let's Get Primitive for more camping know-how.