by Mad Dog
I figure that if we were meant to live in tents
god wouldnt have given us roofing shingles. Or toilets that flush. But if Im
nothing, Im a good sport. And Im willing to try and experience most anything
that doesnt leave permanent scars.
|| This past weekend I went on my first camping trip in more years than I care
to think about and Im happy to report that I not only survived but had a good time.
It might have been the fresh air. It might have been the good company. It could be the
lingering effects of the tequila-drenched campfire sing-along that covered every song
K-tel ever put on a compilation as well as a Flemish version of "The Itsy Bitsy
Spider." But deep down inside I suspect it had a lot to do with the fact that there
were bathrooms 50 yards away.
of us went to Santa Cruz, California and camped at a state park near the beach. This
isnt the type of camping where you carry a knapsack weighing more than you do while
hiking to the middle of nowhere in search of a spot no human has seen since the
Pleistocene days, usually for good reason. No, in our case it meant hauling our things 50
feet from the car to a numbered, reserved campsite. On the downside, it also meant we had
people all around us, making it more of a camping commune than a chance to commune with
Youve probably detected that Im not a camping
person. Its not that Im a priss or anything, I just figure that if we were
meant to live in tents god wouldnt have given us roofing shingles. Or toilets that
flush. But if Im nothing, Im a good sport. And Im willing to try and
experience most anything that doesnt leave permanent scars, especially emotional
Thus, I borrowed a sleeping bag and a tent, packed up my small
city-boy knapsack, and put myself in the hands of people who have done quite a bit of
camping. You could tell because they didnt have to borrow their tents and sleeping
bags. Plus they had good stories to tell.
We did most of the things you do when camping. We sang, we talked, we walked along the
beach, we ate, we made Smores, we remembered how disgusting they really are, and we
|| One talked about
spending a year traveling and camping through India. I recounted childhood tales of
setting up a tent in our backyard in New Jersey, then coming inside to use the bathroom in
the middle of the night and miraculously waking up in the comfort of my own bed. Another
regaled us with stories of sleeping in fields in North Africa. I rattled off a list of my
favorite Motel 6s. I can only hope they got as much out of my stories as I did theirs.
We didnt exactly rough it. We got there late the first night and
set up our tents in the darkokay, so one of us needed help, I said it wasnt my
tentthen decided to go into town and get a pizza. The next day after our hike we
stopped at a Safeway and bought ice, Oreos, and a pot so we could boil water without
borrowing one because, well, even experienced campers cant be expected to remember
everything. But we did rough it in our own way. Im proud to say I didnt bring
my laptop and no one brought a cell phone. Of course if we had we wouldnt have had
to break camp to go into town for that pizzawe could have had it delivered in 30
minutes or less.
But we were far from winning the Lap of Luxury Camping Award.
One group of campers showed up with five coolers, eight plastic lawn chairs, a four-room
tent complete with a full kitchen and a rec room (with a pretty nice pool table, I might
add), and a portable generator for their Play Station. Then they had the nerve to get
upset because they couldnt leave their car at the campsite. I mean, whats the
use of having a satellite dish mounted on the roof of your SUV if you cant use it?
Maybe next time theyll remember to bring a longer coaxial cable.
We did most of the things you do when camping. We sang, we
talked, we walked along the beach, we ate, we made Smores, we remembered how
disgusting they really are, and we went hiking.
It was a short and easy hike until we took the wrong trail and ended up on a 7-hour,
14-mile hike. Lets just say that even now I break out in a cold sweat if they ask me
to walk to the grocery store with them.
|| I like hiking.
Its a good way to get exercise, see the great outdoors, commune with nature, and
push yourself to the limit by actually trying to finish an energy bar. In case you
havent eaten one of them, energy bars are nutritional supplements disguised as candy
bars that are heavier than lead, have a longer shelf life than Styrofoam, and have a
digestive half-life that makes uranium look like a piker. They contain everything your
body needs for a burst of energy and increased stamina but not the first thing your taste
buds need to keep you from gagging on them. To say they taste like petrified bear crap
would be an understatement. And a big opening for you to wonder how I know that.
Dont worry, I have a good imagination.
We had a good hike
through a redwood forest. True, we had to drive to get there, but as I mentioned, this was
far from a purist camping weekend. The hike was about five miles, the scenery was
beautiful, and we got a decent bit of exercise. This is the way a hike should be, unlike
taking one with my brother and his wife, who think no hike is a good hike unless you wear
the treads off your brand new hiking boots, collapse at the end while convincing yourself
that exhaustion equals invigoration, and youve covered more miles than the Mir space
station. Preferably in half the time.
I once went on a hike with them, and once is the imperative
word. This re-creation of the Bataan Death March was supposed to be eight miles and
moderately strenuous because all I had to wear was sneakers. Take it from me, you should
always have the proper gear when you do something like thishiking in sneakers is
like playing football wearing a ski cap. Which is why we picked a short and easy one. And
it was until we took the wrong trail and ended up on a 7-hour, 14-mile hike crawling up
gully washes, clambering over old rockslides that were just itching to act up again, and
walking cliffside paths so narrow the mountain goats were taking out insurance policies on
our lives. Lets just say that even now I break out in a cold sweat if they ask me to
walk to the grocery store with them.
But now, thanks to this past weekend, I can safely call myself
a camper. That isnt to say Im ready to go out and buy my own tent and sleeping
bag, or get a subscription to Happy Camper Magazine. But it would be fun to do it again
sometime. Especially if the bathrooms are close, the neighboring campers have plenty of
utensils to loan us, and the tequila and Hits of the 80s dont run out.
©1999 Mad Dog Productions, Inc. All
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country. Read
them after you get someone to set up your tent.