We were visiting some friends recently, and the topic of conversation turned to camping. When I asked their eleven-year-old daughter, Kennedy, if she liked to go camping, she wrinkled up her nose and said, “Not outside.” I got the impression she meant it.The attitude some people have toward camping has been a constant source of amazement to me for years. It seems the traditional concept of going on a camping trip has metamorphosized into something else entirely. It seems, and I say this will all possible respect for my fellow Americans, that we have become a nation of big babies when it comes to braving the elements, such as dirt and trees and bushes. We are wimps.As proof of this accusation, I submit a conversation I had with my own brother once, whose name I will not mention to keep him from finding out I wrote about him. He told me he and his family were going camping, which surprised me, since I had met my sister-in-law, and she seemed to have the same general attitude toward camping as Kennedy does. So I asked him if they were going to sleep in a tent.My brother, my very own flesh and blood, said to me, he said, “No, we’re camping in our travel trailer.”Now, just to make sure we’re all on the same page here, let me point out the facts of the situation, for the benefit of Kennedy and any readers who might happen to be my brother – There is no such thing as camping indoors, and there is no such thing as camping in a travel trailer. So there.Either of those activities is akin to shooting a hog while it is incarcerated in a stock trailer, and then claiming you’ve been hunting. Spending a weekend in a travel trailer or motor home and saying you’ve been camping is like finding out your cat had her kittens in the oven, and calling them biscuits. You can do it, but it ain’t right.A few days ago my wife was talking to a friend, and asked what she planned to do during the impending Independence Day Weekend. This friend said she and her family were going camping. My wife asked her where, and this woman, who is intelligent and lucid, and hardly ever drools in public, said, “We’re staying in a cabin at the lake.” Really.Camping used to be the real thing in the USofA. When people went camping, back in the day, they actually camped. They took blankets or sleeping bags into the country, packed what food they thought might keep them alive for the duration, and braved the wilds. They pitched tents if they had them, or strung tarps between trees to give them some protection from the elements, and they slept on the ground, among the ants and scorpions and spiders and snakes. They were feasted upon by mosquitos and chewed on by chiggers. When it rained they got wet, and when it was hot they sweated. Camping used to be what Pat McManus called ‘a fine and pleasant misery.’These days it seems a lot of people have the attitude that ‘roughing it’ means staying someplace that doesn’t have 24-hour room service. So, as a public service, and as a way to come up with another 300 words or so, I am now going to define ‘camping,’ for those whose closest association with nature involves reading the label on a granola bar wrapper.A camping trip, a real camping trip, consists of three things, without these three elements, it is not a real camping trip. You might want to write these three things down.One, the campers have to sleep on the ground, preferrably in an unlevel area containing large quantities of small pebbles, sticks, bumps, and holes. Mattresses are not allowed, except for thin, inflatable camp pads such as Thermarest makes. Air leaks are optional. Campers are allowed to lay their sleeping bags or blankets directly on the ground, or on up to two layers of thin nylon material, such as a tent floor and a Wal-Mart tarp. Any more padding than that and it’s not camping.Second, it’s not camping unless any walls involved can be penetrated by semi-sharp objects, such as pull rings from Beenie Weenie cans, fingernails, and those little hard, plastic things on the ends of shoelaces. Any doors involved must be secured by nothing more prominent than zippers. Roofs must leak if touched from the inside while the outside is wet.Last, and this is very important, any food must be consumed direct from the package, or else has to be cooked by the campers themselves, either over an open fire or a camp stove. Utinsels are allowed, but entrees such as chili, or beans, or chili and beans, are best heated in their own cans. Silverware, napkins, and paper plates are optional, but frowned upon.This Fourth of July, experience camping the way it was intended. Sleep on the ground. Feed the chiggers. Cook your own meals. Wallow in nature. Get dirty. Be a real, honest-to-goodness camping American.And since you’re not going to using that travel trailer, give me a shout. I wouldn’t mind borrowing one of those . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who never roughs it without Charmin 2-ply. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org