Woody: Modern campers miss out on misery

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I was flipping through a travel magazine the other day and came across an ad for "modern camping accessories."

It showed a Camping Dad holding up a prize trout while Camping Mom smiled and waved from her lawn chair in front of a tree-shaded tent, and two Camping Kids frolicked around the manicured campground with their Camping Dog.

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

Or at least it's not camping the way we used to do it.

When I was a kid I used to camp out with my buddies Booger, Scooter and Ralph down at Old Man Wilkes farm pond. Since cows frequented the pond, it was important to arrive before nightfall and clear the campsite of bovine land-mines.

None of us owned a sleeping bag; we used old quilts. And our "tent" was a moldy, mildewed tarp that Scooter dug out of his dad's tool shed. It smelled like we were sleeping inside the laundry hamper in a football locker room.

We didn't have a fancy cooking grill. In fact, we didn't have any kind of grill. We roasted wieners on sticks over the campfire, and fried our eggs in a skillet propped on rocks. The eggs were flavored with bugs and pine needles. When the bugs stopped kicking, we knew the eggs were done.

After supper we lay on our quilts in front of the flickering fire, sipping grape Nehis (pronounced "knee-highs") as we contemplated our 5th-grade classmate Mary Sue Wattabody and other mysteries of the universe.

Around midnight it would start to rain. It ALWAYS rained when we went camping. I assume it had something to do with the atmospheric release of toxic gas from our mildewed tarp.

When dawn finally oozed over the eastern hills we would roll up our soggy quilts and trudge home, skeeter-chewed and red-eyed from the smoldering campfire, burping up half-raw wieners, egg shells, fish scales, fermented Nehi and other effluvia we had ingested.

Now THAT was camping.

Later in life I attempted to introduce my family to the Joys of Camping. I aimed high -- taking them to a Canadian wilderness campground that I and some of my fishing buddies discovered on one of our annual treks.

It was a nightmare. Even without the toxic tarp, rain began to fall as soon as we arrived. It didn't stop for the next four days, which is when the family finally mutinied and threatened to commandeer the van and go home without me.

From the time we pitched the tent until it finally collapsed (around midnight, in the midst of a downpour) we had been invaded by canary-sized mosquitoes, bat-sized flies and bear-sized bears. One night a bear wandered into camp and tried to eat our charcoal grill. I crawled out of the tent and banged on a pan, hoping the bear wouldn't mistake it for a dinner bell.

Our daughter Susan picked up some sort of rash that didn't go away for the rest of the summer. Her kid brother Brian had recurring nightmares about being carried off by skeekers and/or bears (the nightmares varied.)

Soot-smeared Camping Mom didn't speak to me until we were halfway through Chicago on our escape home. That's when the tent and other gear suddenly broke loose from atop the van and blew off in the fast lane of the Eisenhower Expressway. We never slowed down or looked back.

"Good riddance," Camping Mom muttered, along with a few other choice words.

Somehow I got the feeling she wasn't a happy camper.

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Larry Woody
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