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Tom Ouellette

The Tenting Experience
By Tom Ouellette
Jan 26, 2004 - 8:00:00 PM

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I have a friend who recently used one of his vacation days to go to Baxter State Park to reserve a campsite for next summer. To sleep on dirt.

What's the attraction, you ask? Well, for those who don't know the joys of 'roughing it ' in a tent (i.e., those with enough brains to rent a cabin or a lean-to) allow me to present a brief scenario of - THE TENTING EXPERIENCE.

First of all, you have to plan ahead. This means that you must get up at 2:00 am on a cold snowy morning in January and drive 3 or 4 hours through blizzard-like conditions so that you may reserve your very own patch of dirt (which hopefully, by the time you actually go camping, won't be in Wisconsin due to the slow but steady action of plate tectonics).

The actual reservation process is simple; simply stand out in the sub-zero weather for several hours warding off frostbite by having a thermos of fresh hot coffee to pour into your boots. The fees are reasonable, $9 per day per person (which sounds great until you factor in the $1200 of new 'camping gear' you bought at Chistmas).

When summer finally arrives, you stuff your minivan with your 'camping gear', the entire contents of your refrigerator, and enough paper plates and plastic utensils to construct a life-sized replica of the USS Nimitz - Oops! No room for your wife and kids. Good thing your van's got a roof-rack!

At the park, you search out your patch of dirt, using your complimentary topographical map of Wisconsin. You find a nice rock and root-free spot to pitch your tent, but apparently this certain spot resents this intrusion, and will somehow make a new rock or root appear under your sleeping bag every 20 minutes or so, which assures that you will not miss out on one bit of THE TENTING EXPERIENCE by wasting your time sleeping.

By far, the best time of day while camping is the evening, when you sit on a stump and relax to the gentle crackling sounds of your campfire and the constant, almost rhythmic SLAP! - SLAP! - SLAP! as you and 900 other happy campers beat yourselves silly warding off mosquitos which rival vampire bats in size, aggessiveness and the capacity to draw blood. Like you, many of your fellow campers have forgotten to bring insect repellent, which may be just as well, since research shows that there may be health risks involved in saturating your skin with any substance whose chemical name contains twenty-seven or more letters. Luckily, you did remember your 'Outdoor Fogger', which apparently kills everything but bat-sized mosquitos and will create a 'dead zone' around your campsite, possibly for years. (Occasionally, overuse of this product by a large number of campers has prompted the park authorities to issue a rare 'nighttime ozone alert').

Finally it's time to settle in for the night. Contrary to popular belief, you should always leave food laying around the campsite (ideally, on your neighbor's site). This will attract raccoons, which gives the bears something to dine on, instead of them ripping your tent to shreds and hauling you off screaming into the night, which would be rude to your fellow campers, who are cowering in their tents, enjoying THE TENTING EXPERIENCE. A good rule of thumb is, do not attempt to camp in any area where the park rangers have nicknamed a couple of the local bears 'The Ghost and the Darkness'.

Alas, the day comes when you must pack up and head home. At your wife's insistence, you tie enough of your  'camping gear' to the roof rack so she and the kids can actually ride IN the van. Of course, you're not quite done with your wonderful TENTING EXPERIENCE, because when you finally get home you must put your tent up in the middle of your lawn to 'dry it out'. Inexplicably, this somehow changes the flow of the jetstream which, according to meteorologist Steve Mckay, will funnel in a series of low pressure systems daily until mid-December. Good news, the weather will improve just in time to go Christmas shopping for a new tent, since the old one has pretty much rotted away and hopefully contains enough nutrients to fertilize that big patch of grass that it killed.

In closing, I hope that the preceding information will make it a little easier for all would-be campers who have thought about enjoying THE TENTING EXPERIENCE to decide which cabin or lean-to to make their reservations at.

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