Twice a year, my wife and I break the seal on our hermetically suburbanized lives to go camping. Since we are as rugged as a cardboard box in a hurricane, we load the Things into the minivan and drive all of five minutes from our climate-controlled, Cat-5 wired, high-def ready house to pitch a tent overnight at the local nature center.
We attended our first of these biannual Family Camp Outs (that’s the name -- honest) two years ago. The parents of one of the friends of Thing 2, our own nature boy, convinced us it was the perfect way to get back to nature without the inconvenience of actual wilderness, such as stowing provisions so as not to attract killer rabbits or playing Russian roulette by grabbing for leaves in the dark when one has to ... you know. For the most part, they were right.
You set up camp just feet from the asphalt parking lot next to the center's "meadow," a field of wood chips generally not favored by the bowel-challenged Canada geese that swim in the adjacent pond. The center's staff grills up burgers and hot dogs for dinner and flips pancakes for breakfast for you right there in the meadow. Come sunset, they build a bonfire and provide all the trimmings for s'mores.
Most importantly, they keep all the center's bathrooms unlocked and stocked with TP.
Essentially, all you need for this adventure is a tent and a flashlight.
"This is like `Camping for Dummies,'" My Love initially observed. She had done the real thing during her relatively hardscrabble Midwestern childhood, but these days she prefers an intimate relationship with her new iPhone and The Wall Street Journal Wine Club delivering six types of cabernet to our front door every other month.
So, we be dummies.
At our first Family Camp Out, a rumbling shook the ground at 5 in the morning. A vicious rain followed, which we could have handled if it wasn't for the accompanying lightning and the sudden realization that we had situated our tent right next to a flagpole. This resulted in a chaotic scramble to get into the minivan alive, followed by a quick drive home, where I ended up making pancakes for us and the family that had conveniently talked us into the outing in the first place.
At the next campout, it rained before and during our arrival. Such perilous conditions moved the event indoors, with us pitching our Sir Edmund Hillary-endorsed tent on the carpeted upper floor of the center's main building, a 19th century mansion turned into a museum and art hall.
However, nature's terror followed us upstairs. The room we slept in had -- only TWO hours before -- been the site of a campout animal lecture during which a black rat snake tried to escape behind a radiator and a large box turtle, while being held in midair, relieved itself on the floor to the delight of dozens of children. So chances are, at some point, I stepped in turtle urine.
This past weekend, though, we came prepared. To avoid lightning strikes, we set up our tent away from the flagpole and in the grass by the center's Otter Pond. To counter the heat and humidity, we hung a battery-operated fan over our air mattresses.
If only we had invested in napalm-grade insect repellant.
Our family of four gave up counting the bites we received from no-see-ums when we reached 100.
Yet the subsequent scratching still has not soothed our itch to camp. Come Monday, I'll be putting in my reservation for the next Family Camp Out, scheduled for October.
I hope to see you there. I'll be the guy in the non-conductive rubber suit with sleeves that tie in the back.