Wednesday, August 13, 2014

(Gay) Camping Ain't What It Used To Be - with additional photos

Our Truck and Camper
Just returning from a five-day stay at Hillside Campground in Pennsylvania where we enjoyed seeing some old friends and joining in with the 25th Anniversary celebration of the Northeast Naturist Society at the campground.

Leon and I used to go to Hillside frequently during its/our heyday – the late 80s and throughout the 90s and even into the 2000s when driving 5 hours seemed like a lark. It’s been five years since we were last there for a camping trip.

Five years is a blink of an eye, but in gay years, it seems like fifty. Five years ago I was already sixty-one, an old man to the eyes of many in our culture, but still feeling like a young fifty. The past few years have been a little rough on me and, as I was to find out, rougher on many others.

Years ago, when we first went to Hillside, when I would still get a flutter of excitement through my body as we drove down the dirt road to the big green wooden gate, it was like going to a new gay country where no straights were to be seen once the gate was shut behind you.

Back then, we slept in the back of a 1983 Ford Econoline Van and thought we were in heaven. What was I, maybe 42, 43 at the time? - Old enough to know better but still largely an adolescent by gay standards, especially considering I was a late bloomer. Everything was exciting, an adventure.

The old Hillside campground, on weekends, used to be packed. There was a waiting list for campsites. The young men and men would stream in on Fridays, the dance hall would be shaking and all manner of goings-on would be taking place in the trailers, tents and woods all weekend.

That doesn’t seem to be true any longer. At least the crowds have dwindled some and the energy is gone. A lot has changed over the years and some of us speculate about what has caused a decline in Hillside’s popularity.

One thing is, there has been a significant amount of competition from other gay campgrounds in Pennsylvania, some with upgraded facilities and nicer amenities.

Another thing is, and I hope it isn’t true, but I’m guessing that most gay young adults are just clueless about anything having to do with the outdoors as most have been holed up in their rooms and connected to the internet since they were in grade school. Camping is not in their repertoire and may even scare some of them. Spiders and froggies and bears, oh my. (Lots of bears. A Sasquash or two. Some abominable.)

I think another factor is that the place has gotten a reputation of being a retirement village.

The campground used to be populated with guys in their thirties and forties, some younger, a few older. Now it seems like there are only old men like me there – as evidenced by a proliferation of poundage, golf carts and even an oxygen tank or two, (although I am still walking and breathing on my own). At Saturday night’s drag show even one of the drag queens was using a walker to exit the stage.

And conversation usually gets onto topics like the benefits of hearing aids, or someone’s last surgery, condition or obituary.

Some of us guys often have little code words to alert our partner or friends to a hot guy in the vicinity. Now I am in no position to make fun. But sometimes I just can’t help it. I’m going to hell, I know.

After seeing the crowd at Hillside I told Leon, “When you see a cute young guy, just say ‘nurse’ and if he’s hot and a little more mature, say ‘doctor’.”

We then got even more cruel and started classifying campers in categories: “residents” for average old guys; “patients” for those who are obviously impaired; “nurses aides” if they’re really young, smooth and fey; “orderlies” if they’re over thirty, have face and body hair, and a bit homely.

I AM GOING TO HELL for this and so much more. But I guess I’d classify myself as a “resident” and on the verge of becoming a “patient” myself. So there.

Yeah, the age thing gets to me.

Over the years, we went from the van to a small camper, then to a larger one, then a big fifth wheel and now we’ve downsized again to a 24-foot tag along, so now it is a challenge preparing meals in a small space, making the bed, getting dressed, doing almost anything in a cramped space that we share with Benni, our 100 pound Weimador.

Doing things now is more of an effort, not just because we have a smaller camper – but just because I’m older. Packing groceries, making sure we have everything we need, hooking up the trailer, setting up camp, cooking, dishes, dumping the holding tanks, having fun. Yeah, having fun is work.

I hate to be trite by saying that having fun is work or to use a cliché, “the thrill is gone”; or the colloquial, “been there, done that.” But perhaps it is time for a transition...And, as much as I fight it, go hiking, mow the lawn, do gardening, build stonewalls, keep active, try to eat a healthy diet, lose a few pounds, I am feeling the age in my bones, in my body, and, worse, in my spirit.

I see age reflected in my own mirror and this past week I’ve seen it reflected, no magnified, in my camping peers as well – even those a few years younger than me and certainly in those as old or older than me – most showing their age even more than I do.

I’m not sure if the past weekend has put things in perspective or out of it.

Things seemed somehow distorted: old guys trying to be boy scouts, talking about ancient conquests (and I don’t mean war stories), moving sluggishly and lugubriously in an environment that used to be so vibrant, so full of activity, so erotic, so full of life. Maybe my glasses were dirty.

Some permanent camps:

Leon and Benni
One of the Younger Fellows


  1. First of all Frank thank you so much for talking about Hillside. I've wanted to go for years now but never got around to it. Mainly because I don't know anyone to go with and I no longer own any camping equipment. I've always imagined an older crowd the way you described it.
    I know how you feel too. I'm about to have knee surgery soon and feel your pain. Literally. I wish I could meet you and Leon because I'm about the same age (63) and feel we could get along well. I can't believe it's mid August already. I dread another winter but at least I'm in an apartment now and don't have to worry about shoveling snow.
    Thanks again for this post and the photos too.

  2. It's hell getting old. And damn, it got here so fast!

    Great pics, btw.

  3. Thanks, Stan for a very warm and inviting note. Too bad we hadn't connected before our trip - would have picked you up on the way. Hillside does have cabins to rent for anyone without a tent or trailer. Good luck on the knee surgery - and wishing you a full recovery - and happy camping. Perhaps we can arrange to meet up sometime. We don't have any plans to be in your area anytime soon, but we'll let you know.

  4. Russ, way down there in Texas, would love to meet up with you sometime too. Yeah, aging is not something we're ever really prepared for - and it takes each of us on such different paths.

  5. The guy in the next to last photo just looks way too plastic for my tastes. I much prefer the photo before that!

    Like you, I don't know if this puts things in any clearer perspective for me or if it's simply depressing.

    I know it's not easy for most people to face getting older and more physically limited, and to see their peers in a different light (and needing different lighting). But I wonder if it's even more difficult for gay men. When I was 28, I remember being told, "Honey, once you hit 40, you're invisible."

    I'm mindful that, at 60, I'm much healthier and more capable than many people much much younger. Clearly your are, too. Getting older is not the only thing that limits us, our abilities, and our activities. My sister died at the age of 29. My best friend at 36. Still, they were young until they died. A very strange thing to think.

    I think maybe it's time for a walk, or a siesta... or a pill!

  6. My best friend through High School died at 27. My partner passed away at 36. It's funny but yeah in a sense they'll be forever young as we remember them.
    I was watching Fast and Furious 6 on cable and seeing handsome Paul Walker forever looking so hot forever. I don't know what this all means but just wanted to get it out there. In the meantime life goes on for the rest of us.



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