The other day I got into a spontaneous conversation with two ladies I work with here at the library, about the dubious joys of camping and enjoying the great outdoors. It proved to be amusing and thought-provoking enough that I thought I’d write about it.
My brother and I get along great and have lots in common, including a whacked-out sense of humour and a generally easygoing attitude about most things. But sometimes it’s hard to believe we share the same DNA and parents. Unlike me, he isn’t overtly musical and isn’t much of a reader, but on the other hand, he’s really practical and handy, so even though he’s two years younger than me, I want to be just like him when I grow up. He’s always been a good saver and an early-to-bed type, can build or fix anything – he even has tools for God’s sake – and he’s loved camping as long as I can remember. Everything about it, the freeze-dried food, the Coleman stoves and lamps, the bug-spray, tents, sleeping bags, canoeing, portaging, the whole schmeer. I like canoeing and maybe taking a hike to watch some birds, but otherwise, my idea of a wilderness experience is being in a bar where they don’t know how to make a martini.
Anyway, without further ado, the TOP TEN REASONS WHY I HATE CAMPING:
- Packing the gear. Once you’ve made the ill-advised decision to leave civilization, you have to assemble all the gear you’ll need and pack it in, or attach it to, your car. This means finding the junk wherever you last stashed it in your house, where it has gathered spider-webs and dust-bunnies and taken on the smell of something that crawled out of a swamp. Any missing gear you simply borrow from unsuspecting friends or actually buy, despite being convinced that if all goes as you expect, you’ll probably never use it again. Then you have to find room for it all, which always puts me in touch with some “manly” practicalities that confound me – things like roof-racks, rope, knots and, worst of all, towing hitches. It all never quite fits in the trunk, or your knot-tying skills are so woefully inadequate that everything falls off the roof as you’re backing away, making you say all kinds of bad words your young kids probably shouldn’t hear. So before even arriving at your little patch of “bucolic paradise”, you set off in a bad mood. Yep, we’re relaxin’ now.
- Too many bugs. I hate bugs. Not just mosquitoes, but all bugs – flies, moths, beetles, spiders, wasps. It’s bad enough getting mosquito bites while sitting on your back deck drinking a nice glass of white and listening to some Stan Getz, but actually setting up camp for a few days where they own the joint is, frankly, insane.
- The food stinks. It’s laughable, there’s actually a growing movement among gourmet chefs toward dining “al fresco” – getting a bunch of rich foodies together in the forest and making an over-priced meal of foraged ingredients like mushrooms, berries and God knows what else, eaten at long, sliver-infested rustic tables, accompanied by a band of fake Elizabethan minstrels. But at least if you’re at one of these faux-Robin Hood shindigs, you don’t actually have to make the food, just gum it down. When camping, you’re forced to put a lot of effort into making something that you’d never eat at home, and there’s always some lunatic around who insists that food, no matter what, tastes better outdoors. The only reason it tastes better is that by the time you’ve “cooked” it, you’re so hungry that you’d eat rocks covered in worms and they’d taste good. I’m not a food snob, I love to barbecue over just charcoal and I don’t mind wieners and beans, bologna sandwiches, hot dogs, hamburgers, Lipton Chicken Noodle soup and other camp favourites. Then there are those propane stoves, they’re a treat. Something’s always broken or rusted out on them and half the time you think you’re going to napalm yourself. And no matter what you eat, the animals want their fare share, either of the food, or you. Yessiree, it’s hard to beat the fun of eating crappy food while being eaten alive yourself.
- It always rains. Then what? I love being indoors during a severe rainstorm, it’s cozy and snug, no matter what you do. But how long can you sit in a tent while it pours for hours before getting bored to death? And that’s before before the inevitable leak starts.
- Neighbours. You have even less say about your neighbours at a campground than you do on your street. There’s always some rah-rah Cub Scout guy like Ned Flanders from The Simpsons at the next campsite, who wants to get everyone involved in some outdoorsy games or hunts. Or a guy who owns a guitar, knows three chords and thinks he’s Pete Seeger, singing the most annoying camp songs – “Kumbaya”, “Guantanamera”, “Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore”, leaving you no choice but to eventually give him a “third leg” – which consists of the guitar neck, the body having been shoved you-know-where. If they’re not these “pixie” types, your neighbours look like bikers or parolees, kind of get that gleam in their eye when they see your kids.
- The Tyranny of the Sun. If the sun shows up at all, it’s your only source of light, apart from those infernal kerosene lamp thingies, or a fire, if it’s dry enough to get it lit. This means your day is basically over when the sun goes out, and I’m a little too accustomed to long, active nights that used to last until at least two in the morning. What exactly can you do in the dark for five or six hours? ( I know, I know, there’s always sex, but see point 7 below…). There’s only so many stories you can tell by the fire and reading a book is right out. So you give in and go to sleep, only to be awoken by the inevitable need to pee in the middle of the night. This involves a walk to the local “rest facilities” shack in the dark and on the way, you’re either bug food, or potentially, bear food. Then there are the human critters you may encounter there or on the way, some of whom have some decidedly “Deliverance” touches. “So, you’re from Torronna, are they?”.
- Forget About Sex. You’d think that with so little else to do in such a primal setting, camping would encourage a field day of sex, but not so much, even when you were young enough to care. For one thing, the frustrations of camping usually leave you so mad at your partner that sex is the last thing on your mind and for another, sleeping bags aren’t beds. Beyond that, if I remember correctly, sex involves being naked, which is out of the question because you’re either too cold, or the bugs will bite you in places that, trust me, man or woman, you do not want to be bitten. Then there’s what happened to some friends of mine once, who actually braved sex in a tent, only to discover that a snake had joined them. “Wait a minute Bob, that’s not your…..that’s a snake – EEEEEEEKKKKK!!”. Or the story related to me by another friend, about having sex with her boyfriend in a tent one night, when she heard the longest, loudest fart in history. She was about to express her disgust at this to her boyfriend when she felt herself slowly sinking downward toward the twigs and pebbles; it hadn’t been him at all, their exertions had dislodged the rubber stopper and let all the air out of the mattress. Not surprisingly, her boyfriend’s manhood deflated in much the same way and that was the end of the sex for that evening. And the relationship soon thereafter – oh well, it was almost fun while it lasted.
- There’s no TV. I know there’s a lot of crap on TV and we all watch too much of it, but come on, get serious. Six or seven days without a ballgame, a movie, or any other visual input? No thanks.
- They don’t deliver the papers. I know the idea is to “get away from it all”, but there are some things I don’t want to get away from, like box-scores, crosswords, movie and book reviews. After three days of not being able to find out how the pennant races are going, I get stir-crazy, which is considerably worse than my “normal” crazy.
- There’s no bartender. And the rest of the service drops off too, not only does nobody leave a chocolate on your pillow, you probably don’t even have a pillow, for Chrissakes. I know you can bring your own booze and a cooler, but it’s not the same thing. One of my favourite things to do on vacation is to venture into one of those nice places called bars, with comfy seats and a level surface, where a guy wearing a bow-tie sets down a napkin in front of you and asks, “What’ll it be?” You ask him to make something local and exotic you’d never get at home like a margerita or a vodka gimlet and he puts it down in front of you and you give him money and if you’re good, he’ll let you have another one when you’re finished. Call me crazy, but this is civilized and it works for me.
My favourite memory of camping was when my first wife and I took our kids – they were about four and six – to Bon Echo Park, near my parents’ cottage. The idea was to camp for a few days, then spend the rest of the vacation at the cottage. We had maybe two decent days, then the rain socked in. So we left everything set up, got in the car and drove to the nearest city, Kingston. We found a cheap motel with two double-beds, took the kids to a movie and then dinner, retired to the motel room and watched the baseball All-Star game, which was a dandy. Everybody was happy, for three main reasons – we’d broken the camping rules, none of this was planned, and we had four walls around us again.
So, it’s little wonder I love jazz so much, I’m a big-city boy at heart. Since becoming a musician, my “camping trips” have mainly consisted of going on the road with bands, which involves adventures battling Mother Nature in the form of sound checks, sound men, silly schedules, the joys of airports, bandleaders, jazz festival types and other hazards. But it all mostly takes place indoors, so, apart from the occasional trip to Calgary, it’s civilized.
© 2014, Steve Wallace. All rights reserved.