Amorous Expectations

"Almost ready?" Megan asked.

"Getting there," I replied while stuffing the tent into my backpack.

"You excited?"

"Of course," I lied. "It will be fun."

My fraudulent response stemmed not from doubt, but from experience. For I knew firsthand that expectations and reality rarely wed during romantic camping escapes.

I learned this several years ago when my girlfriend at the time and I embarked on a camping trip filled with amorous expectations. But instead of experiencing romance in the Rockies, we endured woe in the woods. What I thought were tears of passion pouring down her cheeks were instead tears induced by excessive campfire smoke inhalation, and what I interpreted as a lustful embrace was instead her attempt at warding off hypothermia. Six days later she became the only girl ever to break up with me using the reasoning "you gave me giardia."

More often than not, these amorous adventures are akin to attending a new Eddie Murphy movie-going in, expectations are high, but after 15 minutes you both privately ponder, "What in hell were we thinking?" Relationships are difficult enough without the added strains of mosquitoes, bears, and the absence of furniture.

This is not to imply, however, that romantic camping escapes are incapable of fostering a deeper love between couples, for after all, stranger things have happened (Branson, Missouri, becoming a major vacation area comes to immediate mind), but acknowledgment that participants need to assess the realities before embarking on such outdoor ventures is important.

To aid in this reality check, camping couples should consider the following:

1. Expectations. In the planning stages the mind conjures Hallmark images of holding hands in a grassy mountain saddle filled with primary-colored wildflowers and flittering butterflies and then cuddling at night under a star-freckled sky before a pinon-scented campfire while Luther Vandross, who just happens to be camping nearby, softly sings you tender love songs. If this were the case, the Lifetime Channel would be filled with camping movies starring Donna Mills, North Face would design heart-shaped tents, and Petzl headlamps would replace chocolates as the gift of choice on Valentine's Day. It is only when couples arrive at their site that they realize the imagination failed to account for intangibles such as rain, cold, and sleeping on Therm-a-rests filled with their own foul breaths.

2. The old adage that opposites attract does not apply to the great outdoors. If one's idea of roughing it is slumbering inside a snow cave at 13,000 feet while the closest the other has come to sleeping under the stars was when he or she stayed in a hotel room next to a Texaco sign, chances of the flames of romance igniting are about as slim as Tony Danza's odds in winning a lifetime achievement award at the Oscars. Nothing creates camping tension more than when one saunters comfortably about dressed in Capilene fleece, while the other sits shivering on a log dressed in a Knight Rider T-shirt and Wal-Mart sweatpants while swaddled in a $29 sleeping bag with the temperature rating of a seersucker shirt.

3. If you decide to car camp, avoid any campground that employs the letter K to spell kamp. K connotes kitsch. Outdoor romance is difficult enough without being canyoned between Winnebagos adorned with Good Sam Club decals and enduring hourly visits from the golf-cart-driving campground host inviting you to an ice cream social at the children's fishing pond.

4. Always keep in mind that feeling sexy comes easy while wearing perfumes and colognes with bewitching sounding names such as "Allure," "Desire," and "Passion." Getting "in the mood" requires focused imagination when you're both wearing bug spray called "Off."

5. The same theory applies to clothes as well. Victoria's Secret sounds sexy and conjures steamy images of passionate couples embracing on black satin sheets. But while camping you'll presumably be wearing clothing made by companies such as Marmot, named after a chubby, alpine rodent, and Mountain Hardware, whose very name stirs such romantically charged images as pounding in tent stakes with a frozen Nalgene water bottle and of applying duct tape to blistered heels.

6. Don't try to make every moment seem epically romantic when it is not. Attempting, for instance, to exchange coy glances over plastic cups of iodized snowmelt and foil pouches of freeze-dried beef burgundy while sitting on angular slabs of sedimentary rock is foolish. You'll risk recognizing in each other's eyes the look of "damn, this sucks."

7. Make sure you packed a quality tent. Nothing can dampen the romantic mood more than when discovering that the free tent you received with your Modern Bride magazine subscription collapses every time a moth collides with the front flap.

8. Instead of attending a movie or spending the evening dancing, entertainment will entail foraging for wood during the day and then experiencing a weird compulsion at night to toss stones into the darkness when the other isn't looking and frighteningly ask, "What's that?"

9. Leave the novelty at home. Snuggling in a tent at night deep in bear country is not the time to announce, "I'm wearing edible underwear."

As I was pondering these points and my past romantic camping failures, I began unloading my pack and searching frantically for one specific item when Megan again hurried into the doorway and pleaded, "C'mon Jeff, what's taking you so long?"

"I'm making sure I packed a water purifier."

"You afraid of giardia?"

"No, I'm afraid of us breaking up."

This article originally appeared in Rocky Mountain Sports.