Fairly Spiritual: Family camping exercise worth all the fun and toil

“Let’s go camping!” is a phrase in need of qualifiers. One man’s fun family excursion can be another man’s wilderness death march. The difference rests in seemingly minor details such as tent size, mattress thickness, hike distance and mosquito density.

When someone asks you to go camping, make sure you listen carefully to the words they use to describe pertinent details. If they use words such as elevation, snow level, carabiners and REI, then you might as well forget the firewood. By day’s end you’ll be huddled in the dark around a micro stove, trying to warm your hands as you wait for a tiny container of water to boil so you can rehydrate a packet of dried lentils. Don’t worry, there will be plenty of time to set up your half-a-man tent and roll out your subzero, synthetic polyester mummy bag.

Anyway, you’ll need to get to sleep quickly so you can summit before the sun rises. Don’t worry, the nausea is part of the experience. “Isn’t this fun … all of us going camping together?”

On the other hand, if your soon-to-be camping buddy uses words like RV, blue tarp, bonfire and portable satellite dish, well, you are in for an altogether different experience. Let’s just say there is a good chance you are going to end the day eating Doritos while playing a game of well lit pinochle as you listen to the steadily interrupted hum of a high-powered bug zapper. If you’re not a beer drinker, by night’s end you’re going to wonder why not. Particularly because your travel cruiser is parked so conveniently close to the full-service bathrooms.

Most of our ideas of camping fall somewhere between a mountaineer expedition and a recreational vehicle encampment. Even so, we load up the family van and head for the nearest state park. Regardless of the projected length of our trip, we do our best to overload our minivan with every possible recreational probability. “Make sure you bring the fishing poles, and the horse shoes, and the extra cooler, and the raft, and the skewers, and whatever else we can smash with the trunk.”

Regardless of how thorough our list, it is inevitable we will forget a key item. “Did anyone remember to pack your brother? Really … well, I guess we better put him on the list the next time. Fine! I’ll turn back, but it’s going to add another half hour to our drive. And we’re going to have to throw out the trampoline to make room!”

Once we reach base camp we spend hours carefully unloading our tightly packed transport. Mom organizes the food, and dad once again reeducates himself on how to set up the tent.

In recent years, tent sizes have begun to surpass the size of camping sites. Costco is primarily at fault in the proliferation of dome tent square footage. As a general rule, don’t buy a tent that needs a permit to be erected. If it has more than one entrance and more than one level, then it should not accompany you into the wilderness. Unless you want to hold some sort of tent revival or outdoor music festival.

Once camp is settled and dad has apologized for his tent building outburst, it’s time to build a fire. A pile of wood, a propane driven flame, and voila, we have a reason to exist. As we look into the flames we are reminded that very little separates us from our primitive ancestors.

The rest of the night is spent finding things to roast and eat. Corn, hot dogs, marshmallows and anything else we can impale with a stick. Once the stomach has turned against the notion of consumption, it’s time for bed.

What follows has been nuanced by a million different variables. Some see shooting stars, some hear bears, some get sick and run for the nearest tree. Babies cry through the night and grown men sleep like babies … or more like bears; snoring and growling through the night as their children try to sleep during apnea-induced intervals.

Regardless of the story, we make it to morning and use all our strength to validate the worthiness of our excursion. We are

camping. And that’s a good thing … whether anyone is enjoying themselves. We are having fun. At least enough fun to do it again next year. Happy camping everyone.

Doug Bursch hosts “The Fairly Spiritual Show” at 6 p.m. Saturdays on KGNW 820 AM. He also pastors Evergreen Foursquare Church. Evergreen meets at 10 a.m. Sundays at the Riverside High School Theater. He can be reached at www.fairlyspiritual.org or doug@fairlyspiritual.org.