Saturday, February 23, 2013


It's the weekend! Time to pack up, gas up, and hit the open road/path to become one with Mother Nature. Sixty hours chocked full of throwing Frisbees, listening to the transistor radio, playing Go Fish, scribbling in the Mad Libs blanks...anything that could fit in a small backpack really. We would hike for miles, drink from streams, pee in the woods, scout out stumps for campfire seats, draw tic-tac-toe grids in the dirt, whittle our marshmallow sticks, and set the stage for that night's ghost stories. We went to bed dirty, slept in our clothes, and woke up to start another day with unkept hair and unbrushed teeth. Chances are we scarfed down a doughnut for breakfast, PB & J for lunch, and a hotdog cooked on a stick for supper (simplicity at it's finest). Throw in a couple hundred mosquito bites, a dozen blood soaked band-aids, a pile of muddy rain drenched clothes,  and an empty bottle of Calamine lotion. Not in a million years, would you ever have been able to convince us that it was anything less than heaven on earth.  

So why have we complicated things by "improving" the camping experience? 

Log seats gave way to lawn chairs. Lawn chairs became folding camp chairs. Now your camp chair has to have a cooler, cupholder, side pockets and foot rest. And, we have led our children to believe that they too need these same kid-size comforts to enhance their camp life. In the 70s, we had "sit-upons". These were created by taking two pieces of wallpaper ripped from an old sample book with a layer of newspaper between them. Holes were punched around the four sides and then yarn was strung through the holes to seal the edges. We threw them on the ground and sat upon them! So certainly you can go two nights without the need for inflatable furniture!

Everyone brought their own prized plastic flashlight, complete with their name magic markered on the side. Did those get pushed aside when headlamps and shoe lights became trendy? Disappearing are our beloved lanterns powered by mantles and fuel. They've been replaced with newfangled rechargeable, solar, LED lanterns that can light up a campsite brighter than a football field on a Friday night. Saddens me remembering that half the fun of camping as kids was not knowing what was lurking just beyond your flashlight beam! 

Coolers became bigger and better. Plain white squeaky Styrofoam coolers morphed into modern day iceboxes...congrats on your $300 Yeti purchase (You could have bought the Lifetime brand for fraction of price). Just a reminder, an overpriced cooler is still not as efficient as a mini fridge running off a "quiet" gas generator. Of course back in the day, we sufficed with dry cereal, warm drinks, fluff sandwiches, peanut butter/crackers, chips, and hoards of other nonrefrigerated foods. I think the only thing that took up our limited cooler space was a block of ice and the hamburg/hotdogs for supper. Do you think many campers drink red wine for the taste...or due to the fact its consumed at room temp? Hmmmm...

Wooden match sticks and matchbooks (remember when they were free?) started vanishing in 1973 when BIC launched it's first butane lighter. Now, campers don't bat an eye at spending $20.00 on refillable windproof flex shaft automatic butane lighters. How about keeping the kids busy with a cheap magnifying glass and some dry twigs. Easy to teach and it's a great skill to possess.  Sadly, I only use my magnifying glass to read the fine print on the pain reliever bottles :-(

The camping Gods have indeed smiled upon tenters in the past couple of decades (as much as I miss laughing hysterically to nightmare stories of setting up tents at midnight). Don't feel guilty for giving your old 100lb canvas tent the heave-ho! Thanks to improvements in designs, even at 2am in pitch blackness, 72.3% of experienced campers can get an eight person tent up in under 10 minutes. But, unless you are camping in Alaska and need extreme, there is no need to spend big money on a deluxe setup. Although they may look impressive, bigger is not always better. Look for quality zippers, windows/screens made for airflow, and a full size rainfly. It is however still going to take you awhile to blow up your air mattress. As teens, we would sleep under the stars with just our sleeping bags laid on beds of fern leaves. I have a bum back, and I definitely use an air mattress, so I bought a handy dandy portable AC/DC  inflator like this. These are 2 "improvements" I definitely approve of.  LOL

Remember how proud (and comfortable)(and content) you felt when you spent the first night in your self contained hard top trailer? A dinette that converted to a bed, and a two burner stovetop changed everything. Now, we got a deluxe apartment in the woods with 4 slide-outs, a dual sided fireplace, smart tv with traveling wi-fi, and a side by side fridge with icemaker. Time to ask the age old question... if a tree falls in the woods, will you hear it from the comfort of your RV's leather armchair? And are you having a better time than the old days?

How ridiculous is it that the expense of nightly s'mores matches or exceeds the cost of your campsite? We ate plain ol' roasted marshmallows and didn't dare think about complaining. And we whittled our own sticks! I'm actually appalled when people spend money on roasting sticks! On those occasions that we were treated to s'mores, you can bet that the Hershey bars were rationed and store brand graham crackers were the norm. Do we really have to "improve" upon this camp tradition by using a Ghirardelli Intense Dark Moonlight Mystique 92% dark cacao bar and a toasted almond coconut crunch marshmallow squished between a Thin-Mint Girl Scout cookie? For the record, I've concluded that its highly likely that O.D. and Ruth McKee (Little Debbie's grand-parents) were campers. Why else would they have developed a whole product line truly perfect for camp snacks. So, don't even try to improve upon those... unless it's to bring the price back down to a $1.00.  

If the cost factor of fireside snacks doesn't phase you, just remember the potential for a sticky mess on your new portable movie projector (another "improvement", in lieu of good old fashioned campfire conversation). How else are you going to keep everyone entertained after your one colorized Duraflame log burned out about a half hour ago. Plus, everyone has stomach aches because you roasted hotdogs over fake logs instead of collecting dead firewood. What ever happened to roaming around the forest to collect free firewood? Yes, some campgrounds frown upon this, but fake wood...outdoors? Not an improvement, ever!

As an adult, there's absolutely nothing wrong with sitting by yourself in the dark, holding an extra chilled martini in your favorite crystal stemware while relaxing in your comfy chaise lounge. Head over to the bathrooms  (or inside the RV) for a hot shower. Blow dry your hair, charge your phone...contemplate tomorrow's adventures.  Chances are, you've earned your "improved" camping experience. But, if you want to instill the spirit of camping in your children/grandchildren.... do them a favor and let them rough it a little. Subject them to old school ways. Share stories, sing songs, tell jokes around a campfire, and send them to bed tired from the days adventures. No one will ever improve upon good conversation, and nothing beats listening to the pre-sleep squeals of kid's in tents with only their flashlights to entertain. I promise you'll only have to yell "settle down in there" five times before they drift off to sleep.

I know people camp, or stay at campgrounds for numerous reasons. Comfort levels, budget restrictions, rest & relaxation methods, vacation needs, health concerns, etc. differ from person to person, family to family. Some campers love the mountains, some the surf. Everyone is different in what they need to camp, and what they want from camping. Through the years, I have tweaked my techniques and perfected my packing list. I've modified my "had-to-have" splurges into mere basics...and I more than make do. Testing your knowledge and capabilities is far different then testing your limits. Also, I'm a hobbyist camper, not a survivalist. I have no real desire to live off the land. Boiling water for instant coffee with powdered condiments vs. grinding beans and percolating coffee to drink with fresh cream is the type of sacrifices I can relate to and the improvements I can deem unnecessary. I started in a tent and through the decades progressed to a park model, testing out various camping units in between.  Now in my late 50s, I'm back in a tent and loving it. I've rediscovered the hobo pie maker, the benefits of wool, foil pack cooking, the art of the whittle...and red wine. For myself, simplicity has been the only improvement I needed. Despite falling victim to the iphone (and every fun and/or useful camping and outdoor app that is out there), I find plenty else to do while in the woods.  Sure Siri's voice is comforting and helpful during my times of need... but it is doubtful she'll be able to warn me when I've nodded off by the campfire and my sneaker soles are smoldering.

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