The great outdoors! Here we see a toughened group of hardy campers filling their days with fun activities and their nights with a general lack of undisturbed sleep. It's difficult to define camping in strict terms since it comes in so many varieties. As such, you'll sometimes hear a debate about what “real camping” is, usually sparked by someone who's form of camping is more “roughing it” than yours. How did this happen?
My best guess is that camping got its start when a group of ancient travelers couldn't quite make it to their destination, deciding instead to stop somewhere for the night and make due with what they had with them at the time. Given the choice of sleeping outside or in a dry, warm house, they would probably have picked the house. I think it would be difficult to explain to that first group of ancient campers that today we sometimes choose to leave the comforts of our houses and seek an outdoor location to spend the night. In the midst of explaining it, you're likely to be interrupted by one of them saying, “Yeah, yeah, back to nature, whatever... can I use your house while you're gone?”
Camping today is more often a choice and not so much a circumstance as it once was. When we choose to camp we're then faced with the next difficult choice of how much house do we leave behind and how much do we take with us. I have some friends that just returned from backpack camping. These are some tough outdoors-men. They take very little house with them. Everything they'll need for the weekend is stuffed into their packs as they march up a mountain to the perfect isolated spot. For them, the extra effort brings greater rewards – quiet, solitude, beautiful scenery, and a sense of accomplishment.
Interestingly, while the backpackers were choosing less house, some of the local wildlife were instead choosing more. When these folks hiked back down the mountain a few days later, they discovered that a mouse had worked his way into their car through the air vents, nested in a duffel bag, and feasted all weekend on a few packs of granola bars. As if to fully explore his rare smörgåsbord of options, every granola bar had a few bytes taken out, but none completely eaten. Now who would you say had the more fulfilling weekend? Was it the rugged backpackers or the mouse that stayed in a 5-star all-inclusive resort? Try to imagine the mouse telling his story to his mouse friends on Monday morning... “Dude, you won't believe where I went this weekend!”.
The decision to bring more house with us when camping is, I think, directly related to how many children and pets live with us in the house. Our backpacker friends have no kids or pets, but our friends pictured here have both kids and cuddly dogs. For them, more house is the right choice. But don't be deceived, this family style camping has its own rigors. For one, there were bears on their campsite, hundreds of them. They were green, yellow, red, blue and gummy. For everyone's safety, the bears were kept under control in a 5-pound zip lock bag. Really, the biggest danger here was overeating in a campground full of Costco-sized provisions.
To mitigate the risk of becoming a brownie by eating forty-three of them, you have to stay active. Fortunately, this campground had plenty of activities. For one, there was a shallow river flowing through it and a general store that sold inner-tubes – a wise business decision by the campground management. I witnessed a frenzied run on the general store when the first kid of the day bought a tube and inflated it using the conveniently located air hose in front of the store, and in plain view of the swimming pool. Within minutes, every inner-tube was sold and a 20-minute wait formed at the air hose. This gave the moms and dads hours of unexpected activity as they repeatedly floated down river and walked back up, performing the occasional water rescue when someone's inner-tube needed more air or got stuck in the rapids.
This campground had one other feature that blurred the lines and fueled the camping debate even more – air-conditioned cabins! “Why not?”, I figured. Some of the families there were wheeling in RVs that were bigger than my first apartment. So instead of buying and maintaining your own camper, there should naturally be an option to rent one when you got there, but upgraded with permanent foundations, full kitchens, queen-sized beds, and showers. Someone in our group of tent-dwellers made the unfortunate mistake of telling a cabin-camper in the hot-flash phase of life that what she was doing was not “real camping”. Besides the gummy bears, this turned into the second significant bear sighting of the weekend. Momma bear didn't take kindly to that observation and quickly set matters straight – she was on a campground, she was camping, and don't anyone dare say different!
Who is going to argue with a momma bear? I wouldn't. In fact, I thought about it a while longer and realized that the cabin had more amenities than the average hotel room. Besides the ambassador suite which I rarely, if ever, reserve, what hotel room has two bedrooms, two baths, and a kitchen with full-sized refrigerator? None, of course, but where are we going with this? Here's what I think... the next time you're at a Holiday Inn or similar hotel, look around your room. Sure, it's just one room with a bed and TV, and there's no kitchen or refrigerator. But you're just passing through, and have to stop here for the night while heading to your final destination, just like the ancient travelers before you. You can rough-it for a night or two. You'll enjoy it, and according to momma bear's reasoning, “it's camping”.