Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Why Do People Go Camping?

My earliest memory of camping was when my family stayed in a borrowed canvas tent in a campground in Yellowstone. I had difficulty getting to sleep in the strange surroundings. Two of my brothers and I shared two sleeping bags that had been zipped together into a single large bag. In the morning I watched a bear wander through the camping area. It stopped to garner goodies from a nearby trash can before a camper chased it off by beating a cast iron frying pan with a metal cooking implement.

Since that time I have camped out hundreds of times in all kinds of weather conditions. Over the past decade I have slept on the ground well over 100 nights. I had a cot years ago, but I didn't replace it when it broke. I'd rather sleep on a cheap foam pad on the ground.

As I prepare to head off into the wilderness for yet another week of Boy Scout camping, I have begun to wonder exactly why it is that people go camping. For me it comes down to supporting scout, church, school, or family events. Despite my camping expertise, I'm not too sure that I would go camping just for my personal enjoyment.

I'm told that one reason for camping is to "get away from it all." I have noticed throughout my life that campers have increasingly tended to bring "it all" with them. Indeed, many campers go to great expense and effort to do so. A coworker of mine recently watched two people paddling a canoe on a back country waterway while media content streamed from their devices through their ear buds to cancel out any audio input nature might provide. And don't even get me started on the camping palaces people haul to campgrounds. It would be cheaper to spend nights in five-star hotels.

Some people say they go camping to get in touch with nature. That may be true for a small minority of campers. By reading the previous paragraph you can tell that I think this isn't so true for most campers. Unless you call screaming around dirt roads on super charged off-road vehicles a good conduit for communing with nature. To be frank, many campers seem bent on destroying the 'nature' they claim to love.

Camping takes a lot of work. From the moment I start preparing for a camping trip to the moment the cleanup is finished, it's work, work, work, work. The packing, unpacking, hauling, setting up, cooking, cleaning, tearing down, gear maintenance, and related activities never seem to stop.

So why do we go to all that expense and work? For the sake of recreation? Sure. Because nothing says 'enjoyment and recreation' like getting your privates chewed on by mosquitoes and horse flies while squatting over a pit toilet, right? Well, except perhaps for climbing out of a snow shelter to relieve yourself while hoping that your warm flesh won't freeze to the latrine ring.

Comedian Jim Gaffigan gives his take on camping in this video clip:

I visited this About.com site for some insights as to why others go camping. The author says that when we go camping we can be rejuvenated by "escaping the routines of ordinary life." I can go along with that. But camping is clearly not the only way to do this.

RONEILL says, "Camping teaches resilience. It builds courage. It teaches us about our strengths and weaknesses, and in so doing, it makes us productive people." This comports with my personal experience. But again, why camping over some other activity that could offer similar benefits?

At the end of next week I will come home with a number of bug bites, probably some sunburn, a few scrapes and bruises, sore muscles and feet, dirt in a few places I'd rather not be dirty, some gear in need of repair, and hopefully a son that has a few more merit badges and is a little more mature.

And maybe, just maybe, after canoeing on the lake, watching the sun rise over the mountain, listening to the birds, watching the chipmunks, hiking the trails, and staring up through 70-foot tall spruce trees at countless stars, I will come home with a better understanding of why I go camping.

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