Columnist Ric Reily, an experienced camping enthusiast, takes readers through Florida’s gay campgrounds

Life is filled with sounds.

Cities rumble with a constant cacophony of planes, trains and automobiles; interspersed regularly, particularly after dark, with a symphony of sirens, helicopter roar and uproarious eruptions of laughter and music. Rural landscapes vacillate with their own sounds of life, the occasional motor roaring down a nearby highway, a train rumbling down a distant track blowing its horn at deserted crossings on vacant country roads and a hum of insects in trees calling for a mate amidst the song of birds summoning evening.

Camping in meadows or under overarching Water Oaks provides a front row seat to the symphony of evening. Even in the country music is an unrelenting undercurrent. Yet, no matter the music somehow the piece works; cicadas, black birds and finches, the distant train and an errant motorcycle rider meld into a peaceful work of art merging the purely natural song with the pseudo natural end of day melody created by man.

Those moments, moments before and after sunset, as each day yields to an encroaching dark, life reaches out its aural tentacles snaring a cocktail sipping campfire sitting gay man or women and their friends merging them into the concert of nature after dark in a gay campground.

Gay campers are more friendly, open and inclusive than campers in mainstream campgrounds. You cannot pass someone in a gay campground and not get a hello, and probably also an offer to stop and sit a while. Passersby, many with dogs on leashes pulling eagerly ahead anticipating the next great news lying awaiting discovery by only a nose to the ground, smile or wave or nod or speak and some even drop in for a moment, a sit, a drink, or perhaps even a hope of connection.

Urban environments provide for the constant stimulation of LGBT individuals. A raucous rush of being serially late for everything from the gym before work to a fundraiser after creates a frenzy some soon simply choose to call a life. Stay busy enough and questions of who you are and what you are doing are easily subverted into a dungeon of ignorance.

Organized events provide a certain distraction. Running a marathon, riding a bicycle for a few days raising money, donating time to worthy causes, making dinner for a late arriving husband or wife before rushing off to an early evening theater can over time allow the illusion of a life fully lived.

Until one day a friend says, usually off handedly, ‘Let’s go camping!’ The declaration often brings eyes to bear and conversations to a halt. Caught up in the urban lifestyle resplendent with its inherent expectations, gay camping had yet to rise to the fore. Which in no way means gay camping doesn’t exist, simply that it has yet to be discovered by many.

Big time alert here; not only has gay camping been discovered it is enjoyed by many on a regular basis. With gay campgrounds in about twenty states and many of those having several, there are perhaps a hundred gay campgrounds in the U.S.

There is no formula for gay campgrounds and the concept would be difficult to impossible to franchise. Each is different in its topography, size, culture, ownership and governing authority. Gay campgrounds range from full blown resorts like The Sawmill near Dade City in Florida, which is a true gay community, to gorgeous Jones Pond, near Angelica, NY, with its generous and inclusive population of seasonal campers, to quiet oasis’ of tranquility like Lizard Landing in southeast Alabama and David’s Oasis near Bisbee, AZ.

There are at least seven gay campgrounds in Florida, from Vitambi Springs and Camp Mars near Lake Okeechobee, The Sawmill and Camp David near Tampa and Orlando and Southern Comfort west of Gainesville near Cross City. Several others are located in the Panhandle.

Gay camping is a freeing experience. It’s about leaving the usual and normal behind and embracing the unknown while meeting new friends, experiencing new things and creating new memories. Get out and get your gay camping on.