Since the dawn of time, people have been lured into trying things they don’t like by masking those items with things they do like.

Take the immortal words of childcare specialist Mary Poppins, who explained so clearly, “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

It’s the thought behind that bubble-gum flavored medicine you’d get as a kid. I guess grown ups are supposed to be able to discern that the medicine is necessary, even if it tastes terrible.

It’s why we douse broccoli in ranch dressing or cheese. 

And sometimes, that spoonful of sugar helps us discover new tastes and experiences we would have simply written off as “not for me.” 

Stepping outside your comfort zone isn't easy. It takes willpower. It takes humility. It takes being able to laugh at yourself and roll with the unexpected punches. 

And you have to know when to say "Uncle!"

I like to go exploring our beautiful Plateau and the many hidden gems found beyond the pavement. I enjoy hiking. I love watersports. I've even tried my hand at rock climbing and rappelling, though it takes an extra shove to get me over my fear of heights.

But I've never camped. You know the camping I mean — tents and sleeping bags on the ground while the nighttime critters go about their business on the other side of some pretty thin nylon.

I'd felt as though I needed to tackle this last frontier of the great outdoors, but I hadn't found an adventure to go with the experience. If there's no adventure, it's just sleeping on the ground for no good reason. 

The Tennessee Scenic River Association (TSRA), a volunteer organization focused on conservation of scenic, free-flowing rivers, also encourages new paddlers looking to get into the sport and to do so safely. They hold several clinics and classes throughout the year to help paddlers of all levels improve their skills and to feel more confident in the water.

This past weekend, they hosted their annual Whitewater Kayak and Canoe School in Delano, TN, which offers easy access to the Hiawassee and Ocoee rivers. I signed up. The fee included two nights of camping near the river. 

There it was, the lure I needed to get me to at least try camping. 

I set out Friday after work, my tiny car packed full with my cooler of water and food, a little two-person tent, sleeping bag, pillow, and an inflatable sleeping mat that was probably not as thick as the pool lounge rafts you can find at the store. 

I arrived at the campground and looked around. It was getting close to dark by this point. It had rained hard. There was a massive puddle in the middle of the field. The high ground areas were fairly full with tents already, but my tiny tent easily fit on the edge of the camping area. 

I waited 30 minutes or so, and the rain would not stop. I considered sleeping in the car, but it's a very small car. I did not think that would be comfortable. 

There was a hotel not far from there, but I was not going to wimp out, not on the first night. I'd never hear the end of it!

The TSRA is a very friendly group and very welcoming. As I struggled with the tent in the rain, I had several offers of help and before long the structure — if you can call it that — was up. 

OK, time to sleep. Saturday would be a full day on the river, and I needed my sleep.

I tossed and turned on that inflatable mat, unable to get comfortable, and listening to the sounds all around me. I dozed here and there and probably managed to scrape together a few hours of rest.

That's OK. One of the first things we did the next day was practice a wet exit from our kayaks. This meant getting in the water — the frigid Hiawassee water. I was awake!

The class was amazing — I could write volumes about it. But it rained a few more times during the day, heavy popup showers that left everything soaked. When we returned to camp, tired, cold and damp, I looked in the tent.

There was a puddle of water on the floor. 

I called "Uncle!" I packed my tent and drove to the hotel down the road, explaining to the clerk that it was money well spent. I was back the next morning, ready to get back in a boat and try it all again.

I think I could learn to like camping, in better weather at least, but I was thankful for a few comforts of home after that first night.

Heather Mullinix is assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at

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