To prevent the spread of COVID, but still allow for a semi-normal college experience, Oberlin College created a three-semester plan. By dividing the student body across three semesters instead of our regular two, the college ensured that less students were on campus. This protocol made following COVID guidelines and safety procedures easier to follow, and also gave the second- and third-years an unprecedented Oberlin summer.
Now, before the fall semester starts in October I’m sitting down to write one of my favorite memories of the summer. Though everyone joked that the semester felt like summer camp with classes, the memory that really embodies the feeling of my entire summer was the camping trip I took with my friends on the fourth of July.
As Fourth of July Weekend began creeping up, I knew it was time to get away from campus and out into nature. My friends and I began planning the trip far too late. We had discussed camping as a fun idea, but as the weekend approached we quickly realized that camping gear, a place to sleep, and other necessary concrete plans had not been worked out. Serendipitously, I found a button on the national park website that led me to a list of parks that accepted immediate reservations. The first one I happened to look at was Findley State Park. On a map, I found that it was only a twenty-minute drive outside of Oberlin, and I had never booked a reservation faster. Suddenly, I had a space set for 8 people and no one was prepared to go. The next two days leading up to the weekend consisted of mad scrambles to dig up camping gear, rent tents and sleeping bags from the outdoors club, and finish all our work so we could be free of responsibilities in the woods.
The morning of the camping trip called for a massive trip to Walmart. We would be staying for two nights and three days, and planned on cooking as many meals as possible over a charcoal fire. Soon, the shopping cart was full of floaties, snacks, silly beach towels, and enough bagels to sustain a small country. The time we spent in Walmart almost became a camping trip in itself, but when we finally emerged in the parking lot, we packed the cars and set off.
Tall trees greeted us as we arrived. A winding road of thin tree trunks and dense green foliage eventually opened up onto the campground. For the next three days the picnic table, fire pit, and patch of grass were ours. This was my first time camping outside of high school trips, and setting up tents and deciding what to do with ourselves without a strict itinerary. We spent the first night setting up tents and hammocks in order with the hope of trying to understand our surroundings. A long road divided us from other campers, but Findley Park was full of families and kids biking past on their way to Fourth of July festivities. By the time the sun started to set we had arranged a circle of hammocks in a wooded clearing behind our campsite, poked the fire enough to heat up some coals, and set up two tents that were stuffed with blankets and sleeping bags.
So our camping trip began! We drove to the lake and lost our breath blowing up the inner tubes we had bought earlier that day. Shrieking echoed across the lake as we discovered the slimy sand that lined the bottom of the shallow part of the pond. We spent nights swimming with no one else around, and days playing cards in the sun on a rug of towels we had collaged together. Together we ate barely toasted bagels and all gasped when Josie was able to make a fried egg with a perfectly runny yolk in a pot meant for pasta that balanced precariously on coals.
The middle day was our full day at Findley State Park, and we were determined to spend the entire time at the lake. By 10:00am we had claimed a spot, put down every book, snack and form of sunscreen available to us. It was then that we also discovered the canoe rentals. The tin canoe I chose was green and could fit three people, one on either end rowing and one in the middle for directions, or moral support. I set out into the lake with Greer and Josie. I think our rowing technique in the beginning must have looked a little weird because we had a few strangers call out words of support from the shore. One woman who was fishing tried to give us directions we couldn't quite understand. Then, suddenly, when we turned the corner out of the smaller swimming section of the water, the lake opened up into a huge body of water, glistening under the sun and filled with little boats. Tall forest grew up on either side of the water, casting shade down into alcoves that broke away from the main stretch of lake. The next three hours of canoeing were beautifully peaceful. We finally gained an understanding of rowing a canoe, and we sliced through water and moss as if we were preparing for the Olympics. We spent a large chunk of the day out on the water, stopping to laze in the shade or watch birds flit around the trees. When we finally made it back we lay in the sun eating popsicles, feeling like we really had achieved summer’s full potential that day.
The camping trip was driving the windy roads back to our campsite with all the windows down and building a fire together with terrible wood and no instructions. We roasted marshmallows on sticks we dusted off from the ground, and woke up early to read books in the hammock circle we had set up. Camping was sitting at the picnic table eating nachos off of tupperware tops and convincing each other raccoons can’t gnaw on human beings, just trash. We played silly loud games of celebrities and charades, and all clambered into tents when we felt our eyelids starting to close. Even on cloudy nights, the stars were bright in the sky, and fireflies made firework shapes in the bushes all around us. We observed all the other campers and they observed us, and at one point a neighboring family with a slew of kids brought over a tub of mint chip ice cream they swore they couldn’t finish.
The Findley State Park camping trip will always remain a beacon of my Oberlin summer. I already look back on it fondly as I prepare for the upcoming fall semester. In moments when it’s necessary to get away from campus and out into nature, Findley State Park is where you might find me, or where I’d recommend an afternoon of canoeing. Findley State Park was also one of my first introductions to Ohio nature beyond Oberlin. If I gained anything from the trip beyond beautiful memories, it was a motivation to begin looking for new camping spots across Ohio.