In defense of car campingJuly 9, 2012 @ 9:44 am (Updated: 11:16 am - 7/9/12 )
Is car camping really camping? Bill Radke doesn't think so. (97.3 KIRO FM Photo/Tom Tangney)
I just spent a glorious weekend at Mount Rainier National Park ... car camping with my family.
You know "car camping," right? It's when you drive up to a campsite and pitch your tent a few feet away, between the bolted-down picnic table, a steel-guard fire pit, and the great outdoor wilderness of old-growth forests (but always in view of a community bathroom just across the way.) Most notably, you're also experiencing the great outdoors a few yards away from another family who's pitched their tent between an identical picnic table, firepit and parked SUV. And that's just on the one side of you. On the other side, there's another family, unloading sleeping bags, bicycles, a couple of dogs, and enough groceries to feed an army.
It's easy to mock car camping. Sure, it's probably a purer experience to be "roughing it," to backpack into the high country and pitch your tent as far away from the rest of humanity as you can get, you know, to commune with mother nature on your own, without the convenience of porcelain toilets and such.
But I think car camping gets a bad rap. Some of my happiest childhood memories involve car camping. My parents would pack my 4 brothers and I into the family station wagon and head off for any and all state parks, national parks, and national forests we could find.
Once Dad got the tent up, my brother Steve and I would immediately find the nearest stream or river we could find in order to race random sticks we would name after our favorite hydroplanes ... while the rest of the family would go hiking on nearby trails. We'd cook hotdogs and marshmallows over a campfire, take nature walks with ranger guides, and finally squeeze into our old canvas tent and talk and talk and laugh and talk in the darkness until we all drifted off to sleep.
Sure, it may not have been the purest way to commingle with nature but, just by getting us out of our routine, it may have been one of the purest ways to commingle with family.
I repeated this same car camping ritual with my own kids, adding a few, maybe too scary, stories around the campfire (stories terrifying enough that my now mostly grown kids still talk about them). And yes, I still use the old canvas tent my parents used when I was a kid. My kids complained about the slightly moldy smell, but hey, we're talking family history here!
I've gotta say, I was really heartened when my 19-year- old, home for the summer, said she'd like to go camping again, after all this time... and with her family, no less.
Mount Rainier National Park was packed with family campers this weekend - and yes, we were very lucky to snag a campsite near the great Ohanapecosh River. No, my daughter wasn't interested in racing sticks with me, but we did a lot of hiking in the awe-inspiring forests, and spent even more time at the river .... and we all had great conversations with each other that we wouldn't have had in the big city.
There's something about being in the woods and sleeping in an old canvas tent that encourages good talks and good laughs ... even if your car is well within view.
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