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A not-so-happy camper

August 12, 2011
By BOB SEIDENSTEIN , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

As heretical as it may sound, coming from an Adirondack native, I hate camping.

I'd like to say this is a recent development, but it's not. My dislike of camping began when my camping career began, 50-plus years ago.

The occasion was a Boy Scout camporee, and the venture was doomed from the get-go.

It wasn't the Boy Scouts' fault; it wasn't anyone's fault - it was just the inevitable disaster resulting from Total Enthusiasm being coupled with Total Ignorance.

My TE involved everything I'd imagined about a camporee: cavorting about in the pure, pine-scented air; the camaraderie of me and my fellows joining in song, belting out such All-American classics as "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" and "I've Got Sixpence"; and dining al fresco on such sumptuous fare as Glazier's hot dogs, Campbell's pork and beans, and of course Campfire marshmallows.

That's what I was enthusiastic about, but what was I ignorant about? It can be summed up in one word - everything. And contrary to the old cliche, my ignorance did not lead to bliss.


Chosen to be frozen

Actually, I liked the campground, singing around the campfire and, of course, eating junk food three, four or five times a day. But what caught me up short - and cold - was how inadequate my equipment was, specifically my sleeping bag. It was so inadequate, it should've been called "an insomnia bag."

Back then, we didn't have access to what today would be considered good camping equipment. We either had army surplus stuff or low-grade commercial stuff.

The surplus sleeping bag was essentially a wool blanket inside a canvas shell. The commercial bag (which I had) was lined with kapok, a soft fiber that comes from Asia. And that's where my troubles lay: Kapok sleeping bags were fine if you were camping in the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur. But they were worthless in the Adirondack wilds, especially if you didn't have a sleeping pad between you and the ground. And since I was Totally Ignorant of sleeping pads, too, I didn't have one.

Something else I was TI of - the laws of physics. In this case it was the law of thermal conductivity, which states heat flows from a region of higher temperature to a region of lower temperature. In other words, when my nice warm tush was lying directly on the cold cruel ground, I warmed the ground and froze my tush.

And there were no exceptions, since the laws of physics, as opposed to the laws of man, cannot be negotiated. There was no way I could hire some sleazebag ambulance chaser to get the cold cruel ground to give me even a little break.

So every night it was the same scenario: I'd fall asleep fairly early, all warm and cozy in my kapok craperoo and then, around 0400 I'd wake up, shivering, shuddering and shaking. After that, I did the only thing I could - wait for the light. And the light I refer to is literal, as in sunlight, not the metaphysical Light. As I waited, I first implored the gods above, then I cursed them, and finally I lapsed into a hypothermia-induced atheism that got me through till dawn.

Not long after first light, my fellow sufferers and I stumbled out of our tents, stiff-limbed and crusty-eyed, and started campfires, which, as I recall, gave off more smoke than heat. However, if nothing else they comforted us with the illusion of warmth, if not its reality.

Finally, the day warmed up, and so did I. Then I'd eat my bowl of Quaker oatmeal and ants, and do my daytime Boy Scout thing, and while thus engaged forgot my night as the world's only living cryonized kid till the next night, when the whole vile scene repeated itself.


The last hurrah

I went to a bunch more camporees - all as miserable - and at age 13 I bid adieu to both the Boy Scouts and camping. And while I never again donned kerchief and campaign hat, about 30 years later I gave camping one more try.

My pal Kookie, who loves to camp, talked me into a March camping trip in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. I was dubious, March being winter, as far as I was concerned. But Kookie, silver-tongued devil that she is, persuaded me that March in Virginia was hardly March in Saranac Lake. This was true as far as it went. See, there's Virginia and then there's Virginia. So March in, say, Williamsburg, is not the same as March in, say, the Blue Ridge Mountains. And it wasn't not by a long shot.

It was pretty darn cold in the Blue Ridge when we got there. But armed with a down sleeping bag and a thick Styrofoam sleeping pad, I figured I could beat the cold night, and I did.

But I didn't figure on something else - rain.

The first day it came down in a fine mist.

The first night it came down in big fat drops.

The second day it came down in icy sheets.

The second night I came down with an industrial-strength cold.

Finally, halfway through the third day, in spite of all Kookie's preparations, ministrations and incantations, the tent flooded.

Then, with our sleeping quarters looking less like a tent and more like a wading pool, Kookie threw up her hands.

"OK," she said. "What now?"

"Are you turning over the command to me?" I asked.

"Yeah. Sure. Whatever," she answered soggily.

"Very well," I said, as authoritatively as only a former second-class petty officer of This Man's Navy could. Then I set about getting everything ship-shape.

First, I gathered all the camping stuff and threw it in the back of the Kook's truck.

Second, I called our friends in Alexandria, Virginia, to see if they'd like a couple of guests for a day or so. As soon as they said yes, we hopped in the truck and peeled out, headed east.

An hour-and-a-half later, we were at our friends'. We took long hot showers, bought enough Chinese takeout to feed the Yangtze River Flotilla, and then sat around eating ice cream, drinking coffee, and grooving on being cozily warm and completely dry for the first time in days.

Finally, overcome by fatigue, egg foo yung and fudge ripple, I crashed out between clean sheets, covered by more blankets than I needed, and drifted off to the best sleep I'd had in years.

All in all, the Blue Ridge Bummer was as miserable a campout as all my others. But the ending in Alexandria more than made up for it.



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