Some things that really bug me about camping

July 14, 2005|By KEVIN COWHERD

EACH SUMMER, American vacationers divide into two distinct factions: those who like camping and those who think camping is insane.

The campers load up their tents and sleeping bags, their gas-fired portable stoves and water-filtration systems, their freeze-dried foods and industrial-strength insect repellent, and happily head off into the woods to commune with nature, gaze rapturously at sunsets, swat flies, etc.

Meanwhile, the non-campers watch them pull out of the driveway in their overloaded SUVs and monster pickups with the "I Camping" bumper stickers and think: What in God's name is wrong with those people?!

Then the noncampers pick up the phone and call their travel agents and say: "What do you have in a time-share at the Outer Banks?"

For those of us who are noncampers, the main problem with camping is this: We don't want to sleep on the ground.

See, the ground is just too hard for us.

Campers will often bring along air mattresses and foam pads to sleep on, but they're basically kidding themselves if they think this makes a difference.

First of all, the air mattress will always have a hole in it and be flat by the end of the night.

And the foam pad is always so thin that inmates sleeping on cement floors in city lock-ups wouldn't use it.

Now, a word or two about tents.

Campers are always going on and on about their tents, but the fact is, they're all pretty much the same.

For one thing, it's always 100 degrees inside the tent.

And there's always a hole somewhere in the tent that lets bugs in.

(By the way, if a camper and a noncamper happen to be sharing a tent, the hole with the bugs will always be on the noncamper's side.)

Here is the other thing about tents: If you're over the age of 12 or so, you really have no business crawling around in a tent.

The adult body was not made for this.

Most adults have all the flexibility of steel girders and are too riddled with osteoarthritis in their joints to limbo in and out of a tent all day long.

The other drawback to camping is this: once it gets dark, there's really not a whole lot to do.

Basically, you have to go to sleep.

Oh, sure, if it's an adult camping trip, you could have a few drinks by the fire, which, if nothing else, will loosen you up enough to allow you to crawl back in the tent.

But if you're with kids, you're pretty much limited to roasting a few marshmallows, telling a few ghost stories, that sort of thing.

And how long can you do that for?

After a few minutes of that, even the kids will be drumming their fingers on a log and looking at their watches.

So then it's time to go to sleep.

But, of course, there will be no sleep - well, not for the adults anyway.

No, for the adults, what begins now is the longest night of their lives.

For hours and hours, they will toss and turn on the hard ground, or they will lie there on their backs, hands behind their heads, staring up at darkness as the mosquitoes buzz all around them.

Finally, around 3:30 or 4 in the morning, they will pass out from sheer exhaustion, only to be jolted awake 90 minutes later by the shrill noise of the birds, or some creature shooting through the bushes nearby with some other bloodied, wailing creature in its mouth.

Stumbling out of the tent - tired, cold, stiff, with dirt and twigs in their hair - they start a fire with trembling hands to heat their watery coffee and whatever tasteless freeze-dried concoction - oatmeal, chipped beef, granola, etc. - they can force down their throats.

It's only 5:30 in the morning.

The whole day lies ahead.

Providing anyone can stay awake to enjoy it.

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