Camping . . . what is it good for?

The topic of this week’s column prompted a minor debate among the editorial staff here at the Times. What qualifies as camping, exactly?
Personally, I’ve spent the odd week or weekend at a cottage (or “cabin” as the northerners say) with friends or family on various lakes around Ontario.
Heather says that’s not camping.
I also slept in a tent in my backyard once. Heather says that’s not camping, either.
But apparently I have camped twice in my life, according to her. At the age of about 11, my family joined my aunt and uncle and their family in spending a week at a campground outside Windsor in their RV.
For a couple of nights, my cousin and I slept in a little two-person tent beside the monster vehicle. I didn’t like it much. We were cold—and got eaten alive my mosquitos.
Crystal Green, our summer reporter from Calgary, said it’s not camping if you’ve got an RV. Her vision of camping is a tent, a campfire, and no access to running water or electricity.
Only toilets are OK in her eyes, but she’s a little too hardcore for me.
I gave camping a try again last summer with some friends here. We camped in northern Minnesota and it was even colder than the first time I tried it 20 years before.
We didn’t have an RV this time either, so there was no escaping the cold—or the bugs.
I can’t say I’m in any rush to repeat the experience, but at least I’ve had one real camping experience, according to Crystal’s standards.
Heather’s camping experience is limited to one night up at Caliper Lake with some friends the summer before they all left for university. Having never been camping before, she was excited about the experience.
Not wanting to sleep on the ground, her friend, Tyler, bought two air mattresses, but the one Heather slept on got a hole in it during the night. So she went to bed on a full mattress and woke up on the cold, wet ground.
Yes, wet. There was a huge storm towards morning and they found out later that a tornado had touched down not far from their campsite.
They spent the morning trying to find their bathing suits that had been left on a line to dry but now were scattered in the bushes.
What’s more, Heather was afraid of running into a bear. During the night, she and a friend got up to go to the bathroom. On the way there, they heard a loud growl from another campsite.
Heather scanned the site with her flashlight—convinced she would uncover a bear, but they saw nothing.
Afraid to venture back into the darkness, but wanting to return to the safety of the tent, the girls started their way back to the campsite. On the way there, they heard the growling again, and realized it actually was the sound of a man snoring.
And Heather’s never been camping again.
So as a couple of camping detractors, Heather and I have to ask ourselves, why the heck do people go camping, anyway?
“It’s really not that fun,” Heather says. You spend a ton of money on the equipment (tent, sleeping bag, air mattress, flashlight, cookware) and you drive at least an hour to get there.
Then you have to set up your site—all while getting eaten alive by bugs. And sleeping on the ground isn’t much fun, either.
So why do people do it? Is it just to “get away from it all”—from the stress of daily life?
Personally, I find it a lot more stressful trying to build my shelter for the evening and cook my meal over a fire than opening my front door with a key and popping something in the microwave.
I also prefer to crawl into my soft, warm futon at night than shiver myself to sleep in a sleeping bag on the hard ground.
However, Heather and I both have some fond memories from camping. Like swimming in clear northern lakes, roasting marshmallows over the campfire, and watching loons and other wildlife in their natural habitat.
So I guess camping is good for a few things, but we prefer taking a bath and reading a good book when we want to get away from it all.

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