Woody: Camping ain't for weenies

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I saw a magazine ad the other day for a "Family Camping Adventure."

It showed a gleaming RV parked alongside a pristine stream. Smiling Mom, looking fresh and perky in her Abercrombie & Finch ensemble, was smiling as she prepared dinner over a grill, while Smiling Dad waved from streamside where he held up a big fish. Two Happy Kids played nearby with their Happy Dog.

Who do they think they're kidding? That's not camping.

I've taken my family camping. I've got the divorce papers to prove it.

What you are about to read is true. Every horrible word.

Several years ago when our three kids were small, my wife agreed to go on a camping trip in Canada with me. At the time we owned a big luxury van that would be perfect for the trip, and a fishing buddy loaned me his boat and trailer.

We set off late one night, bond for a lake in central Ontario, some 1,400 miles away. The plan was to drive through the night and get through Chicago before the morning rush hour.

We made it 40 miles across the Kentucky border when the bearings in the boat trailer burned out.

It was clearly a warning, a sign to turn back, but we didn't heed it.

Instead, we left the trailer at a service station, told the mechanic to fix it, and we'd pick it up on our way home. We loaded the john boat on top of the van, lashed it down, and - as Lewis and Clark said - proceeded on.

What seemed like a month later (actually 24 hours in a van with three kids) we made it. We selected a campsite in Whiteshell Provencial Park, unloaded the boat and gear, and got the tent set up. As soon as we hampered the final tent peg a Park Ranger meandered over and said we couldn't camp there. Reservations were required.

He said we had to move to another campsite located down the road in Skeeter Swamp.

We re-loaded, moved, and un-loaded again. Before we got the tent up it started to rain. It didn't stop for a week.

Everything was soaked and soggy - sleeping bags, food, wife, kids.

Our canvas tent kept out everything except rain and mosquitoes. Canadian mosquitoes are the size of canaries and vicious as pit bulls. If you slap one, it slaps you back.

The only way to escape the mosquitoes was to stand over the smudge fire that we used for cooking. Our grilled steaks would be half-raw while we could be well-done from hunkering over the fire.

At night we were kept awake by the cry of loons. And I don't mean the majestic water birds whose plaintive calls is symbolic of the wilderness; I mean the loons who were camped nearby and stayed up all night playing Dixie Chicks tapes at full volume. To this day, the screech of a Dixie Chick gives me hives.

I took the kids fishing but the fish refused to bite. I figure they were scared off by the Dixie Chicks.

After four days of mildewed misery we surrendered, loaded up our gear, and headed home. As we sped through Chicago, the tent that was in the boat on top of the van blew out. We didn't stop. In fact, the kids cheered.

Now, years later, it's fun to look back on the experience and chuckle at the mis-adventures. We roughed it in the Canadian wilderness and lived to tell about it.

We were real campers, with true grit - including grit in our sleeping bags, in our food and in our hair. We weren't like those preening, pampered Yuppies in their fancy RV. Weenies are meant for roasting, not camping.

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Larry Woody
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