Burton on the Bay

 Vol. 10, No. 30

July 25-31, 2002

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What’s the World of Camp Coming To?

Herb, the husband: Jamaal and I are preparing for a camping trip. Want to come along?
Wife: You’ve gotta be kiddin’! You guys don’t have what it takes for me to go camping with you!
Herb: OH YEAH?!? And just what would that be?
Wife: Hotel reservations.
— The cartoon strip “Herb & Jamaal” by Stephen Bentley: July 22, 2002

Sadly, my friends, for many of today’s weekend and vacation nomads, that is what camping has come to.

They can’t hear the coyotes wail along the trail; the portable generator makes too much noise.

Or the cell phone is ringing.

Or the color TV is turned up too loud as they watch programming that their youngsters shouldn’t be seeing in the first place.

They miss the Big and Little Dippers, North Star, all the galaxies. Even the moon is a pale sphere, its nighttime aura obscured by all their campsite lights powered by that noisy gas-powered generator, which also powers the DVD player, the computer (gotta check the e-mail), the blender, electric popcorn popper (a campfire would be too smoky), the battery charger that rejuvenates the kids’ CD players, blow dryers and, of course, the air conditioning.

They miss seeing any delightful wildlife creatures: the raccoons, ’possums, deer and other nocturnal creatures that once entertained campers. Wildlife has retreated back into the deep distant woods where it’s dark and quiet.

So it’s no sights of primeval night; too often no campfire — or stories told around it — and little if any camping experience. As Herb’s wife suggests in that comic strip, why not just stay at a hotel? Or at home!

Then again, maybe Herb’s missus should reconsider. On today’s camping trail, everything at home is available — including the kitchen sink. And the way the Wall Street Journal told it in last Friday’s edition, obtainable are other luxuries that aren’t back at home sweet home. But, of course, for a price — what price you don’t dare ask.

Talk about the Ritz, the Journal told of a woman who, while camping with her boyfriend in South Carolina at one of the uppity campgrounds, dined on filet mignon via “room service” and primped in a marble powder room. After this, she slipped into the tent. Boy, that must have been a big let-down.

The Journal told of another couple who were chauffeured to their campsites in a golf cart to a dinner of tamales with mango salsa prepared by campgrounds staff and eaten in front of a bonfire also prepared by the staff. In the morning, latte was delivered from the campground store. All of this for about $350 a night or $500 for a weekend. Hey, why bother camping?

Whatever Happened?
What ever happened to the real camping experience? Leaky tents, mosquitoes, lumpy ground to try and sleep on, smoky campfire, primitive toilet facilities (cold water showers, if any), a long trudge for drinking and cooking water, raccoons raiding the supplies in the middle of the night, balky Coleman stoves, broken lantern mantles, scouring the area for campfire wood that wasn’t always dry, picnic tables tilted on uneven ground and more mosquitoes — or worse still, those big stinging green flies?

That was primitive camping, a term used today if there’s no VCR rigged to the television or no running dishwater or air conditioning. It must be nice to awaken with the body free of kinks and pain from a big tree root under a sleeping bag.

Now, even to witness the sunrise over freshly perked coffee, who wants to arise early from a traveling bed with extra sleeping pads, pillows and blanket at an investment of $354? Camping no longer takes you away from it all. You simply take it all with you.

Campfire Tales
Makes me think of Henry Ford, who in the early 1900s camped overlooking Muddy Creek Falls at what is now Swallow Falls State Park in Garrett County. He traveled with Model A Fords especially rigged for the adventure and a guest list that included Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, President Warren Harding, John Burroughs and others. You can imagine what that was like.

The entourage stopped at a country store, and Ford noted among the stock a new-fangled Edison electric light bulb, then a Firestone tire. He told the proprietor that Edison and Firestone were in his auto. “By the way,” he said, “I’m Henry Ford. Come on out and meet them.”
When the skeptical storekeeper saw bearded Burroughs, he said “Tell me that’s Santa Claus, and I’ll hit you with a hammer.”

The late Newt Ream, who lived out there, told me that story about 30 years ago when in his 90s. He also told of how, after setting the auto titan up for a few of his Garrett County camping expeditions, he had hoped for a new Model T. Instead, with much fanfare, he was presented with a crisp new 10-dollar bill.

Beware the Motor Home
Me, I prefer basic camping. You don’t have as much — and that includes as much trouble. Like when I was writing outdoors at the Sun, and a big camping manufacturer convinced me to test one of his motorhomes on a family trip planned for Canada’s Bay of Fundy National Park.

What comfort and convenience. But as we were heading home on a tight schedule that would have me tape my TV fishing show early the next morning, somewhere in Connecticut I smelled smoke. The horn started blowing and wouldn’t stop.

I took the first exit from the turnpike. By luck there was a GM dealership, and my unit was on a GM chassis.

But the motorhome couldn’t be looked at until on Monday (this was Wednesday). I pleaded to no avail, so I called motorhome company headquarters in Iowa, which in turn spoke to the dealer. Same response. “Monday.”

Surely, thought I, regional GM headquarters in New York can solve this. They don’t want a big city outdoor writer panning their product. Headquarters talked to the dealer. Again, same response, “Monday.”

I climbed atop the motorhome looking for a horn wire, but the system was built in, closed. I again pleaded with the dealership, for the horn was still blowing and I couldn’t find a way to make it stop. “Oh, it’ll stop before long,” I was told by the service manager, irritated that I had gone over his head.

Once I realized that he was telling me in his perverse way that the battery would soon die, I got to the infrastructure and started yanking wires until the horn stopped blowing. Then I headed the big unit south, not knowing what all I’d disconnected.

I barely made it to Baltimore and the fish show’s taping. The apologetic camper dealer arrived to claim his treasured unit, and I soon thereafter purchased the most basic of tent trailers: no hidden wires, no horns, no batteries, no plumbing, no nothing but a screened pop-up tent and two big fold-out berths with padded cushions.

Since then, my motto has been: Beware. With fancy trailer, motorhome or boat, if anything goes wrong it will be in a pipe, a connection or in wiring that you can’t get to. A patching kit for a tent costs $2.75 — and you can get to all of it. Enough said.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly