Friday, July 30, 2010

Ugh, Wilderness!

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.

bendel mansion

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.

no see um bites

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.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Good thing you already own one of those suits from your time spent "away" in your youth. I hear the price of these has gone up dramatically. Don't ask how I know that. I just do.

  3. Dropped the younger one off at camp last Sunday. Tent. Old cot. Outhouse. Wash station. Fire pit. Lake. Nature. She couldn't have been happier. I couldn't get to the air conditioned SUV fast enough.

  4. So, not a camper then? Your piece had me in stitches and dreading our own family camp out wherein there is no running water and a composting toilet for 2 weeks.

  5. We've taken the kids, now 18 & 15, camping exactly once. And really, that was more than enough for me.

  6. A camp out? Really? The Nature Center overnight is about as rough as sleeping under the Blue Whale. The Natural History Museum might even be riskier; no lightening strikes but the chance that the whale might fall down on top of you. We're heading into the wilds of West Virginia in a couple of weeks for some real rough stuff (cue up the Deliverance banjos).....

  7. All I know is that those bites and your hair just about undid me... I won't tell you specifically what I mean by that.

    Just sayin.

  8. If I could sell my wife and daughter on the concept of camping without wilderness, I think they'd be all over it. Especially if an English Manor was involved.
    Sadly, the first black rat snake would probably kill it. For all of us.

  9. I took my boys (5&7) camping this year... FULL fledged camping!!

    Where was the Nature Center cooking pancakes when I needed them????

  10. Sounds like it might be safer to go camping in the wilderness!

    And this is the second time in about two months that the subject of turtle pee has come up. Whats up with that?

  11. "So chances are, at some point, I stepped in turtle urine. ", made me LOL.

    I hate camping. I haven't even been camping recently, but have been outdoors a lot, and I am COVERED in bug bites. It sucks! Give me a hotel room and A/C any day. I don't mind spending time outdoors, but sleeping out there - nuh -uh.

  12. And I shame my 19 year old, Dead following self, with that last statement. Stupid slut..

  13. Roughing it for me means taking a cold shower in a motel. However, this kind of camping I could handle, especially since you warned me about the bug bites. :) When I was younger, and my mom wanted to get rid of us for awhile, she sent us to Girl Scout camp. I still haven't recovered. Nature should stay outside and I should stay inside... with the air conditioner.

  14. I hate camping. real camping. your camping is almost obnoxiously not camping. I like it a lot.

  15. We camped a lot when I was a kid--not really to enjoy nature, but just to save money. The climax of our camping careers was when the five of us slept in an old army tent for five weeks on the side of a bear-infested mountain in Montana while we built a cabin so we would never have to camp again. The lesson I learned from that experience was that you should always try to sleep indoors, even if you have to build a house to do so.

  16. I've been racking my brain for something appropriate to put here. A longtime pet who takes ill is a sad thing. I've experienced it first hand. Hope he feels better soon.

    Does he get HBO on that satellite dish he's wearing, or is it just the basic package?

  17. I too have known the joy of waking up to find myself covered in little red buggy kisses. No fun, no fun at all.


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