Jon DeVos: Always camp near the car
August 7, 2014
It's just past midnight on the first night of your long-threatened camping trip. The hissing noise that's been keeping you awake has finally quit now that your air mattress is flat. There's a Florida-shaped rock grinding into your back, suspected grizzlies are circling your tent and you're miles outside pizza delivery range!
Camping is considerably more expensive than your basic 5-star hotel. But if you decide to splurge and hang the expense, be extra cautious with the tent. Many marital difficulties have their roots in putting up the camping tent. It's not just sheer irony that tents and tense are pronounced alike.
Anyway, after the tent, you'll need water coolers, flashlights, batteries, sleeping bags, enough ice to fashion a scene from Doctor Zhivago, pots, pans and a camp stove. Don't forget the air mattress, more batteries that don't fit anything, halazone tablets, hiking boots for looking cool at the campfire, insect repellent, rain ponchos, twice the food you'd normally eat, topped off with two big bags of Oreo double-stuffer's, dill-pickle potato chips and beer.
Campground reservations cost what hotels used to. For your romantic wilderness getaway, you'll travel two hours to pitch a metal-ribbed tent at midnight in a lightning storm. The morning, however, is clear and beautiful as you arise to find you are camped nine feet from the same neighbor who's driven two hours to get away from you.
No free lunch when it comes to government branches, you buy firewood from the Campground Host, a retired aeronautical engineer dressed like Smokey the Bear. You don't even get unpacked before you're scrubbing a screaming child in an icy stream because the little sh . . . youngster whacked a skunk with the cooking spatula.
Camping is fun if you can sleep over the loud sobbing from neighboring campers overcome by their bad judgment. There are feral-toothed animals out there that could claw through a nylon tent like it was plastic. People get bitten by soccer players all the time, think what a hell-bent rabbit could do to a campground full of sobbing insomniacs.
I like camping anywhere. Anywhere within 50 feet of the car. Then, when everyone else is groaning in their sleeping bags I'll sneak home for some real sleep.
Camping is like trying to get comfortable on a rock-filled mattress. Sleep is possible only after an important spinal nerve is severed, taking all sensation with it. You spend the night twisted, trapped and freezing in a ludicrously-named "sleeping bag" with a zipper tab jammed up your nose. Finally just as things could not get worse and you're praying for a quiet death, your bladder shouts, "Hey Mac, any room service around this joint?"
So that's why you were standing there exposing unmentionable body parts in the dark when the just-arriving, mini-van family pinned you with their hi-beams. Faces were pressed against the windshield. You stand there, brightly lit and frozen like a deer but thinking to yourself, "At least things couldn't possibly get worse," only to look up to see a grim-faced Smokey the Bear hurrying over to check out the commotion.
Finally, peace reigns after the family lit out for the next campground, declining to press charges in their haste to get away. Eternity passes as you stare at the dark side of your eyeballs. Your internal clock tells you it's finally nearing dawn. You get up to make coffee. Your watch says 1:14 am. You groan in dismay and your wife screams for help, thinking a wild animal has gotten into the tent.
She's not far wrong.