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Legend (truth) has it that the one and only time my parents took me camping as a kid, I asked the park ranger where the room service menu was. I was 7 or 8, I think. My parents realized it was too late. They’d raised a spoiled diva princess. (They were right.) My idea of “camping” is staying at a hotel that doesn’t have a bathtub or turn-down service. I don’t do well without a place to plug my phone and curling iron into. I want a complimentary bathrobe and someone in a tuxedo bringing me food in bed.

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{This is what the room service guy looks like at campsites}

I don’t do camping. But I do want to be wherever Tony is, and this weekend (and for the past several months, and years), Tony wanted to be in the great outdoors, sleeping on dirt under the stars. I got him a tent for his birthday, and we decided it was time to use it. So, Tony booked us a campsite at Malibu Creek State Park last week and I began to mentally prepare myself and work on a packing list:

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{Tony wrote the last thing. I don’t know what it says, so I didn’t pack it.}

Clearly, I had my priorities straight. The morning after the Kids’ Choice Awards, I made pesto from scratch and threw together a farro salad, because nothing says camping like heart-healthy, gourmet meals! (Tony went to Trader Joe’s and bought steak and s’mores supplies because he is sane.) I gave myself a blow-out in case there weren’t access to outlets (and double checked that I’d packed my curling iron just in case), embalmed myself in sunscreen and kissed the air conditioner goodbye. Meanwhile, Tony packed everything and made sure we had all the supplies we needed to actually survive in the wilderness. Then, we were off! And only an hour and fourteen minutes behind schedule, a true vacation record for me! (Sorry, Tone.)

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I’d gone hiking at Malibu Creek before, so I knew it was beautiful and was actually excited… Tony was on a brief hiatus after the awards show and had offered to take us to Ojai, but I suggested going camping instead. Tony always does what I want to do, and so I was riding the high of selflessness, choosing what he wants to do for once. We were going on an 18 hour vacation ALL FOR HIM! (I am fully aware that I am the luckiest, for getting to marry someone who treats this as an actual achievement and kindness, rather than as the ridiculousness that it really is.)

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{My favorite picture of the entire trip – maybe ever – when Maggie escaped from the car and Tony had to catch her}

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We got our campsite and car pass from the park ranger (I didn’t ask about room service! I brought my own room service because I’m an outdoorswoman!) We drove down the winding dirt road, past people on horseback, families on day hikes and a bunch of young men in military gear doing drills in a clearing. Not a sign for a spa in sight! We were truly roughing it!

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{What a campsite should look like, in our minds}

However, when we rolled up to the campground, it wasn’t exactly what either of us had expected. I’d been envisioning that I’d turn into Reese Witherspoon in Wild for the night, taping my bloody feet and foraging for food while befriending foxes in the snow (even though we were 30 minutes from our house and it was almost 100 degrees outside.) Tony had been expecting something even slightly camp-like. But when we pulled up to our site, we discovered it literally backed up to someone’s backyard and was across from a large family blasting Pitbull from the speakers they’d set up on their car, about 5 feet from our site. We had the option of setting up our tent by the fence of the home in the small clear next to two sword-fighting children, or on the pavement. It was a major letdown.

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{Scoping the rest of the campground out}

Before abandoning hope and joining Mr. Worldwide’s dance party, we decided to drive the campground, see if any other sites were open. And we found this:

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That looked like camping. We sped back past the military guys to the park ranger, begged to switch sites, and landed #53. Camping trip, saved! Bloody feet and foxes, here I come!

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To reward me for my newfound, carefree “I’ll totally take a Purell bath!” attitude, Tony pulled over on the way back to stage an impromptu photo shoot. Then, we headed for our beautiful campsite and got to unpacking. Tony unpacked and set up the tent and a makeshift dog run for the pups:

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I unpacked the hot pink lawn chair with a footrest Tony bought me for the trip, my wedding magazines and a bottle of champagne. I drank it straight from the bottle! I didn’t even pack a glass! I was basically a cavewoman, living off the land!

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When Tony was done with the tent, he grilled steaks and vegetables while I refreshed the fancy salad. After dinner, we took the dogs for a stroll under the stars. Everyone we passed commented on our three dogs; no one judges if people have three kids, but apparently three is the number where you launch from “normal” to “eccentric” and get labeled an “animal hoarder” when it comes to dogs. I didn’t realize one night of camping would have me questioning my psyche, but making your home in nature really gives you the opportunity to study yourself. I ultimately decided I was fine, and probably just needed more champagne.

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We cooked some s’mores, using Tony’s to-be-patented method of grilling the graham cracker to melt the chocolate first. It is as delicious as it sounds. And then, it was bedtime! One of the bonuses of camping is going to bed at a reasonable hour, because there is no reception or electricity. I’m normally up until 1 or 2am writing or stalking frenemies on social media, but here I was, getting ready to go to sleep at 10pm!

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Nature People apparently don’t believe in disease or being sanitary… (There is no soap in camp bathrooms! Some bathrooms don’t even have sinks! There’s not even paper towels to open the door with, to avoid the germs of strangers’ potty hands!) So, there was no way to wash my hands. I reluctantly rubbed a mixture of face lotion, s’mores, dirt and Purell onto my face and tried to will my subconscious not to have nightmares about my clogged pores.

About two hours later, we were jolted awake by our terrified dogs barking their faces off from where they’d buried themselves in our sleeping bags. I heard the stampede of footsteps first, then saw the shadows of running people surrounding our tent. I screamed “We’re getting robbed!” Tony finally woke up from his coma-slumber (he’s the type who sleeps through earthquakes), and told me to go back to bed, it was just the military guys going for a run. Because apparently that’s normal to do at midnight. But Tony graduated from the Virginia Military Institute and didn’t seem bothered, so the dogs and I went back to sleep on our ground-bed.

It was a good thing Tony was in charge of packing, because he uses his brain when it comes to that sort of thing and had the forethought to pack pajamas for our dogs. Good thing, because even though we were roasting when we arrived, the temperature dropped and we were freezing at night. We’d put them in sweaters and long johns before bed just in case, and still woke up to their teeth chattering, wondering what they’d done to deserve camping.

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I, on the other hand, remembered to pack my curling iron (just in case!), but forgot to pack sneakers. Thank god the dogs and I have Tony to keep us alive.

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{Makeshift paper towel rack made from a wire hanger… Tony’s Eagle Scout survival skills in action!}

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While Tony cooked breakfast and I dug through his car to find something I could actually wear, I took in the campsite. A few tents down from us, there was a kid chopping wood while his mom drank some Monday morning champagne. (Not that I’m one to judge. I did the same thing the night before, and was known as The Dog Lady of the campground.) And on the table where Tony was cooking, there was a suspicious looking stain. I found myself asking a question no germaphobe ever wants to ask: “Is that spilled coffee, or meat juice from last night?” (He said it was coffee, but I scrubbed that damned spot like Lady Macbeth anyway.)

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And just like that, our camping trip was over! I conquered some fears, like using public restrooms and eating without washing my hands. I didn’t conquer others, like using public showers or going somewhere without doing my hair. I never did meet a fox or get to tape my bloody feet, mostly because I was parked in a lawn chair for the majority of the vacation. But I had a great time, and loved it even more because of how hard Tony worked to make it fun for me. I may not be a “camping person” naturally, but I’m going to try to become one for Tony. Maybe next time, I’ll even pack sneakers! (And a lot more Purell.)

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