Saturday, June 05, 2004

Living Large in the Great Outdoors

Man has instincts imbedded in his DNA makeup that are as unexplainable and alien to him as the current reading material available in the latest Oprah Winfrey ‘Monthly Book Club’. From somewhere deep down in his dark inner recesses, there is an indescribable urge to occasionally shed all his leisurely and comforting possessions, and take refuge in the forbidding remoteness of the wilderness and be at one with the trees, the bugs, and his Swiss Army knife.

It is a means to test his spirit, hone his basic survival instincts, and to rediscover his fondness for fine alcoholic beverages under the stars. From the toughened Roman Centurion staked out along the remote borders protecting the Empire from the marauding barbarians, to the rugged lonely cowboy on a long distance cattle drive across the dusty prairies, man has been partaking in this “Camping” phenomenon for as long as he has been building elaborately designed shelters to protect himself from the very same conditions and elements that he chooses to partake in on these woolly wilderness weekend getaways.

Camping has been a pastime for almost every generation of man through the ages, and has served as the regular means by which to connect with the ‘Natural State of Being’ in all of us. It takes a special kind of person that can spend an entire night in a small damp canvass tent in the middle of ‘Butt-Fuck Nowhere’, only to awake at the crack of dawn to the sound of distant bear farts and the chorus of a zillion birds all crying, cawing, and screeching mockingly like high-strung carnival barkers on Maximum speed. Mother Nature is a cruel mistress and one must be prepared to deal with all her harrowing surprises, as one must be forced to deal with the inevitable Shelley Long movie.

At first glance however, it is unknown why exactly this out door experience is so popular with today’s spoiled society of convenience. Despite all the spiritual and practical connotations, camping is still basically sleeping on the ground in the dirt with the bugs and snakes. And after all we have accomplished and learned in this new ‘Age of Technology and Information’, it is unclear to me why we would ever want to leave the warm, safe, and sterile confines of our urban sanctuaries in the first place. I worked hard to be able to sleep in the extreme warm comforts of my goose down duvet and feather-quilted Qualifill pillows, as well as to be able to pre-program the settings on my ‘Mr. Coffee’ to begin percolating bright and early at 9:00AM every morning, SHARP! And let’s not forget my climate controlled fuzzy ‘Toilet Seat Cozy’, the microwave able “Quick-fix’ Tupperware dinners, my bottles of Multi and Extra-Multi Vitamins, and the ‘Ultra-Massage’ setting on my hi-tech shower facet. We live for ultimate convenience in this day and age, and to be able to bask in all the rights and privileges that our ancient ancestors no doubt could only imagine in their wildest dreams (back when “The Clapper” was someone you avoided). Why then, would we ever want to give up on all this superbly gratifying luxury, only to return to the rural squalor normally enjoyed best on the Outdoor Life Network from the familiar security of your livingroom La-Z-Boy lounger whose cushioned seat has been specially designed by ex-NASA engineers to perfectly mould itself to the contours of your own ass cheeks?

There must be something more immediately impacted in the actual camping experience itself. Something rooted on a deeper level that keeps drawing us back to Mother Nature in an attempt to master her harsh charms and make her our newly domesticated bitch. We have never been the type of species that is content with our natural order of being, and we are always trying to simplify the most basic of domestic routines and principles these days. And why should the institution of camping be any different? In fact, it would be in keeping directly with our constantly developing mass consumerism values, as well as our profound interest in labor-saving devices, groovy gizmo’s and space age gadgetry that would make Batman cream in his body armor. For all intensive purposes, camping could easily serve as the go-getter ‘World Expo of Rural Fashion and Design’.

As well as providing the obvious excuse to act “all natural” and eat granola, tasteless roots, and bitter berries ~ camping is a “pretty” pastime as your average trendy camper nowadays is probably likely to include the packing of five gay men for their big camping trip into the great outdoors in order to fashionably remodel their tent and reorganize the cooler. As every serious camper knows, it is important to look like someone who is REALLY enthusiastic about eating dew worms and tree roots for breakfast, wiping their poor chafed ass with plucked maple leaves, and has been wearing Ziploc Baggie’s on their feet for days so that you could slice up the foot funk with a buck knife to serve with your Triscuits. And besides satisfying our other unexplainable obsession with canvass, camping is the ultimate playground for the fashionably spoiled modern New Millennium Man.

Before the actual long trip into the remote outback, it is suggested that one must first prepare for every contingency that could possibly crop up in the great unpredictable outdoors. Everything from poisonous snakebites to tsunami-style wetness to surviving in the extreme Bering Strait kinda cold, must be considered before adequate preparation of equipment and supplies can be initiated. Gone are the ancient days of wandering off into the woods alone with nothing more than a loincloth, a walking spear, and an extra goatskin blanket for warmth. Now, we can pack an entire ‘Gap’ Saipan Sweatshop full of consumer friendly and useless doodads, gizmos and whatchamacallits into nylon stuff sacks and carry bags with more hidden zippers, pockets, nooks, crannies, and velour cozies than the Marquis De Sade’s traveling overnight bag. Where, oh where, would Wal-Mart be without the wonderful outdoors enthusiast?

Personally, I still subscribe to the most basic of camping equipment: a sleeping bag, a tent, a suitcase full of Immodium tablets and beer (the very basic essentials that Inuit’s have used for generations). But to get a gander at some of the NASA designed camping equipment and accessories being used today by the more avid of campers, is more like viewing furnished studio apartments in Boulder, Colorado. But hey, I’m not there to look all pretty at my campsite that more resembles the Ground Zero of an Ikea Superstore explosion.

My basic daily concerns do not often go beyond what flavour of tinned beverage I will begin my day with, and what the fuck exactly was that thing that kept clawing at the tent screendoor all night? For others like myself, who are more into the sick masochistic nature of camping and who appreciate the whole miserable experience as a form of self-cleansing personal penitence, I have devised a be-all and end-all master guide for the rudimentary camper. BRING BEER!

Camping without beer is like a day without sunshine to me. Beer is the perfect accessory for every camping excursion and will act as a quick remedy in almost any situation ~ no matter how drastic or unnecessary. With enough beer, the usual assortment of camping tools and fancy technical wizardry is not necessary beyond a manual can opener and a Bic lighter (of course, this saves more room for beer in your packs, sacks, and duffel bags). It’s true; ever notice how cold it is at night or how hot it is in the daytime after you’ve consumed enough tinned bevies to pass out a healthy hippo? NO! Or have you ever worried about getting “the chills” while getting completely drenched in torrential downpours when you're drunker than Kelsey Grammer at a brewery tour? NO! Have you ever noticed that you could count the layers of fur on your teeth when you’ve been sucking back the canned Exports by the cooler full? NO! Everything is warm, chipper, and much more tolerable when you’re blissfully pissed drunk. After awhile, you don’t even mind so much that the indigenous wild animals have been circling the campsite all night in search of tender beer-marinated human morsels.


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