One of my favorite summers was the summer of 2004, and I suppose you could say there are many factors that contribute to this belief. This was the summer I had my first car, graduated high school, and even fell in love for the first time. It's likely the age and time period is what made it seem so special. But to this day I swear there was a certain magic in the air during those months, and it seems I'm missing it now more than ever.
It was during this time that I experienced what would become an annual tradition of camping out east in Montauk. For the first time six years ago, my best friends and I all set up our tent and screen house on the beach, delighted by the freedom of it all. I won't lie. I'm not a great camper, and the thought of living in a tent wasn't appealing to me. Maybe it was a clue even then that I was a city girl, as I was having trouble adjusting to the rural conditions. I didn't like how gross you felt at night, and I hated how it was freezing when climbing into your wet sleeping bag, but unbearably hot in the morning. It became obvious pretty quickly I was missing the comforts of home.
But aside from the damp pillows, sweltering hot mornings, and mosquito bites, it's a charming place. We went into town for ice cream at night, and bought groceries at the only humble grocery store in town. We made pancakes in the morning, s'mores at night, and lay on the beach all day. We made bonfires, bought watercolors and even painted pictures one night after dinner. It wasn't elaborate, there wasn't much to do, but we had each other's company and the excitement of beginning college waiting for us.
As the years went on, we always made our way back to Montauk. It seemed to be the one time we could all count on for truly catching up. With being away at school most of the year, living busier lives as we got older and all that entailed, it was harder to spend as much time together. So come every July there we'd be, setting up the site, blowing up air mattresses and making sandwiches for the beach. All of us naturally became more camp savvy, knowing the tricks of how to keep our pillow dry, how to stretch our money, where not to eat, etc. We'd laugh at night, share shampoo at the showers, and get plenty of sun. There was no e-mail to access, making phone calls with the lack of reception was a challenge, and it was perfect. It became the ideal escape, with the most idyllic company.
Perhaps my favorite part of this yearly trip, aside from the people, was the familiarity of it all. Montauk looks exactly the same as it did when I went at 17, and there's something comforting about that. I can always count on John's Drive-in or the pancake house in town just as I left it the year before. The campsite was the same, the smells were always familiar and the scenic train ride out there always made me excited. It became apparent pretty quickly that this place was a way of keeping me sane during the constant changes that we all deal with. No matter what trials or tribulations we had all endured that year, we always had Montauk.
This year I was simply counting the days until camping, since my life feels almost unrecognizable. While all summers prior to this one used to be filled with beach trips and relaxing, I rarely have time to enjoy going outside anymore. With looking for jobs, interning and working, each week feels like a new quarter-life crisis. I couldn't wait to escape to this special place with some of the dearest people in my life. In the past, I'd easily be able to meet them there for a few days, but this year with my schedule, I could only make it the last weekend before they left. Believe it or not, I would've loved to even go a whole week this summer, because I'm much better at being outdoorsy. I remember saying to my friend last year, "I did well camping this year. I'm finally starting to enjoy sleeping in the tent." It may have taken half a decade, but it was true.
On early Friday morning at work, I got a disconcerting phone call. "The weather the last couple days has been crappy, so we're going to pack up the site today and leave." After trying to figure out if we could stay, and realizing it just wasn't a good idea, we accepted what was what. "We always have next year," she said.
At five o'clock I walked out of the office into the extremely hot and humid city. I walked through the crowd to the train with the cool drops of water from the air conditioners in the above windows occasionally dripping on my head. I grabbed my MetroCard and started down the steps. I closed my eyes for a moment and saw the moon lighting up the ocean by our deep blue tent. A new life stage has officially begun.
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