I haven’t been home for a Memorial Day in so long, I forgot how much good American fun they can be.

When my buddy Zach — who always seems to have the hook-up for anything fun and outdoors related — invited me on a two-day camping trip this past weekend, I couldn’t refuse. So I stuffed a few things in my truck, packed some food and lots of water, and joined a convoy of manly vehicles heading for Red River Gorge, Kentucky.

Fortunately, unlike the masses camping in the Gorge that weekend, we set up on private property next to a massive pond. The weather miraculously cooperated for the first time this year, and the sun beat down on us with 92 degrees (33C) of glorious heat. I soaked up every delicious UV ray that I could.

15+ fun people, three dogs, a village of tents, one crystalline lake for swimming, and plenty of sunshine = one damn good time.

There are two types of camping: luxurious car camping and carrying everything on your back.

I’ve always preferred to carry everything on my back and “rough” it, but then again, having ice-cold beverages coming from a giant cooler within arm’s reach didn’t exactly make me complain. The problem was getting the cooler there in the first place.

Our secluded spot was only accessible via some rugged jeep trails which would make even the average donkey refuse to take another step. A monster truck driver would have nervously swallowed his tobacco and cried like a schoolgirl. Somehow my ancient Ford Explorer with bald tires managed to lumber down the jagged trails (with gravity helping) and even made it back out two days later.

I have to admit, staring at nothing but sky as my truck groaned back up the hill got my adrenaline going. I kept the victorious high-fiving to a minimum, however, just in case all four tires broke off once we hit the highway.

Much of the joy of camping is simply being hot and dirty together. Getting back to our filthy, primal roots brings people around the world together. An ice-cold waterfall in the woods provided the perfect shower, so stinking was optional; the last time I stood under a waterfall with a bar of soap was in Thailand.

Two docks and even a canoe kept people in and out of the lake to beat the heat. The water was shockingly cold, the kind of cold that knocks your breath out for a few seconds when you dive in. Large bass teased us from the surface, but despite our best efforts, wouldn’t bite on anything.

Luckily, we weren’t fishing for our dinner. Instead, a guy cooked two whole chickens over a fire. Food was communal; I lost track of how many spoonfuls of concoctions people asked me to try. Someone always seemed to be cooking something: rice, sausage, potatoes, hamburger…I made Thai jasmine rice and Indian food. I guess you can take the boy out of Asia, but you can’t take Asia out of the boy?

Around midnight a squad of us men climbed up into a rock shelter — a feat in darkness and flip-flops — built a fire which danced and flashed off of the rusty-colored rocks, and played a guitar. We were even visited by a spider, the largest I have ever seen in the U.S., who could have held her own in Cambodia. None of us manly outdoorsmen made a big deal, but everyone was probably thinking the same damn thing when the beast disappeared from site in our cramped quarters.

Good company and perfect conditions combined to make this one of the funnest Memorial Days in memory. I even got to play with lots of gear which I can’t carry while vagabonding. Hearing the pleasant hiss of my little backpacking stove cooking something is very satisfying indeed.

I came home with dirty fingernails, red skin, and already missing the smell of our perpetual campfire. Now hopefully the spider didn’t hitch a ride in one of my bags. 🙂