[As seen in this month's CHILL magazine. Available at any Ontario beer store that serves Olde English 800.]
"... and when he walked around the car to open the door for his girlfriend, he saw it; hanging off the door handle... A BLOODY HOOK!!!" A hook... yeah, whatever. Did he remember ice? What about rechargeable speakers? Geeze, I thought this was supposed to be scary.
Okay, so we each have our take on the chilling campfire story; but when the sun sets at Algonquin Park, I'm more afraid of running out of Underjams than I am of vengeful camp counselors with Swiss Army limbs. Speaking of which, where have all the amputee villains gone? In my day, Dr. No, Captain Hook and the one-armed man from The Fugitive were part of a vast pantheon of truncated psychos. In a more politically incorrect time, handicapable loners could easily do the work of five able-bodied nutjobs. By pigeon-holing twentysomething white males, we are robbing the genre of diversity. Where are the semi-transgendered vampires, the olfactorily-impaired lycanthropes. And don't get me started on the dearth of South-Asian power drill killers.
So here we are, knee-deep in summer, and giving serious thought to camping. Nothing else to do except ignore the hedges and concoct even more excuses to buy an iPad. Look, if you're gonna camp, I can't stop you, but let's drop some of the mystique before you pack the mosquito coils.
Myth #1: "Getting away from it all".No doubt about it, solitude and self-reliance are neglected these days—I think Thoreau said something about this in Walden, but I haven't found the DVD yet. Let's be practical. You don't need to "get away" from oxygen and water, right? So why do we feel it's somehow "noble" to abandon Blackberries, HDs and KFC Double-Downs just to prove how helpless we are in the woods? You want to backpack into Pandora with nothing but a shoelace and a shiv? Be my guest. But, remember, if you're bringing a solar-powered Clapper to turn on your Latte-foamer, you've probably missed the point.
Myth #2: Respecting the "Old Ways". Camping is supposed to help you appreciate the conveniences of modern life. After all, Laura Ingalls enjoyed her Little House without the trappings of the internet era. But if you think for a second that she wouldn't have killed Nellie Oleson in cold blood for a copy of Glee, you know as much about women as you do butter churns. The "old ways" suck. Always have, always will. When the Ingalls wanted to appreciate their conveniences, they probably celebrated "Glad-I'm-Not-Being-Burnt-At-The-Stake Week". Then when Sunday rolled around, they dug into to a hearty bowl of switchgrass in front of Pa's hand-carved, widescreen puppet-theatre.
Myth #3: "Fresh" air.Okay. Pop quiz, hot shot: I hand you two flannel shirts. One was worn in the city for a night of club-hopping and shwarmas. The other was worn for a night of standard camping. Guess which one reeks of deet and fear? Bingo.
If I can't sway you, the good news is that there's as many ways to "camp" as there are to remove body hair. It all depends on your pain threshold. At 41, I like things simple and comfortable. The only reason I need a magnifying glass to start a fire is so I can actually read the directions on the Coleman. (Why don't they just print, "After pumping enough times to pop the blister on your thumb, spin the valve anti-clockwise, twist the millimeter-long switch downward, then drive to the nearest A&W.)
The "camp" spectrum goes something like this. (Note: anyone higher than you is a wuss; anyone below, a commie granola-smoker.)
Under the stars: You. A sleeping bag. And lots of things that end in "-pede"
In a tent: Pillow optional. Leave the box-spring at home.
In a trailer: Not exactly Survivorman, but the chemical toilet will make you homesick.
In the hot tub of anyone you can pick up in town, just so you don't frighten children with your girlish shrieking.
I'm somewhere between 2 and 3, and 2 doesn't return my calls anymore. If you've ever changed a diaper during a thunder storm, while your oldest son is having a night-terror about rabid owls shredding the tent roof, you'll appreciate my interest in rudimentary plumbing and roofing.
That being said, here's some quick pointers if and when you decide to rough it:
Sunscreen yourself into a pasty blob of goo every morning. There's nothing worse than stoking a campfire with a sunburn that makes a Redskins fan look like Edgar Winter.
Party trick #1: Wanna dazzle the ladies? Make ice cream. Seriously. All you need is two Ziplock bags, milk, cream, sugar, ice and salt. Google for details.
If you're whizzing against a tree and you see moss, congratulations brother, you are now facing south.
Don't drink any local water. See above.
Bring canned beer. It cools way faster, and the cans can be crushed for a hassle-free load-out. Also...
Wasp issues? Hang a partially-filled can of beer from a tree. The little bastards fly in and drown. Use lime beer and you'll attract more wasps than a Facebook page devoted to Old Navy coupons. (Sorry, wrong WASPs.)
Party trick #2: backwoods "lava lamp". Fill a clear cup with soda water and a few raisins. They'll rise and fall more often than the hopes of Leafs Nation.
Three knots you must master: the "tautline hitch", the "Siberian hitch"... and Don Knots. Once you've nailed your Don Knots impression, you can get a laugh out of anyone older than 35.
Party Trick #3: If you're trying to score 'green' points, bring along some rolled oats (not the flavoured kind). Rub a big handful into your hair vigourously, then comb it all out. Voila. Oil-free coiff.
Forgot your pillow? Use a big bag of Doritos. It's not at all comfortable, but it will take your mind off that escaped lunatic that was last seen near your campground. Enjoy!