Not A Happy Camper 1

Not A Happy Camper

Not A Happy Camper 2A big black dog, a tent and a fishing pole are the sine qua non of Colorado living and, over the years, I’ve had a number of all three.

Fishing, I enjoy, and scratching the ears of a big goofy mutt is a great relaxing sedative, but it stops right there because I’ve always hated camping. I like being outdoors, but when night falls, to me there’s something unsettling about having nothing but a thin fabric as the only barrier to keep wild animals away from personal appendages. They call it ripstop nylon, but who makes sure that bears are aware of this?

Well, enough of the awful possibilities. Today we’ll focus on only positives. I want to share with you a quiet victory I enjoyed last week when I tricked my wife into selling our tent by telling her I thought it smelled a little fishy.

At our neighbor’s garage sale, it went for pennies on the dollar, pennies I’ve never been so happy to trade for future vacations that involve flush toilets.

Not A Happy Camper 3
Careful of the campfire: open tin cans before heating.

It was a very nice tent with only one flaw: it attracted lightning. Well, OK, two flaws: it attracted lightning and bugs, big bugs with mandibles the size of hedge clippers. No, no, make that three flaws: it attracted lightning and bugs and other tents with wild packs of predatory howler children with eyes glowing in the dark.

The typical camping tent, like the one we sold, was designed by divorce attorneys, only slightly easier to erect than the Space Shuttle (“Damn it, I AM holding the tent stake steady. When I nod my head, you hit it with the hammer. Do you think you can at LEAST handle that? OK, NOW! (loud smacking sound) “OW, OW, OW!”)

My wife claims to enjoy camping, so like the dutiful and loving husband I am, I show my support with enthusiastic sobbing and loud theatrical moans when the subject comes up. I was born in Los Angeles. Camping has always seemed to me like trespassing on some angry bear’s property, miles from proper medical attention.

I was drummed out of the Cub Scouts for blowing up two-thirds of Pack 167 with a live round of pork and beans. I still don’t think the manual was clear enough about opening the can before setting it in the fire.

Street lights were invented for a reason. There are things in nature beyond counting that will bite you without the slightest hint of remorse. So-called tame cows bite people all the time. Think what a renegade field mouse could do. Once a field mouse has tasted human flesh, they always hunger for more.

They’re out there, snapping and snarling in the underbrush, waiting for you to fall asleep — a sleep that is impossible because of a rock shaped like Florida, only slightly smaller, digging into your back.

Falling asleep in the forest is like sticking your neck out at a vampire. Snakes with horrifying names like mambos and boa constrictors are attracted to snoring sounds from hundreds of miles away. Before I was married, I once woke up in a tent with a deadly Brazilian scorpion crawling all over me. Whew! But I lived to tell about it.

Who can sleep in a sleeping bag with a zipper tab stuffed up their nose? Getting comfortable while lying on the floor of a tent only happens when that rock digging into your back finally severs some important nerve and you lose all sensation from the neck down.

Just as your eyelids begin to slowly settle in the west, your bladder yells, “I gotta go look at the stars!” but your arms are pinned in the sleeping bag and in panic you start flopping around like a beached orca. Finally free at the expense of an irreplaceable zipper, there you are stumbling around in the dark, exposing some doggone important body parts to the field mice, which are roaring and pawing up dirt in the underbrush.

Quickly you dive back into your sleeping bag, pausing only long enough to poke the state of Florida through your air mattress. The hissing noise is so loud it’s hard to hear your wife asking what kind of noise a bear makes. Finally, eternity passes and it must be nearing dawn. Coffee sounds good if only to give you the energy to pack the car and head back to a real mattress.

Not A Happy Camper 4
Erecting a tent can cause interesting marital discussions.

You look at your watch: 12:45 am. You groan in despair, causing your wife to shriek, thinking the camp is under attack from marauding field mice. Eight feet away, from the next campground comes a heavily accented, sinister voice shouting at you, “Shut up or I’ll cut your cabrones off!” whatever they are.

So, if you’re the one who bought my tent, happy camping! And, uh, don’t let your insurance lapse.

Jon de Vos, who lives near Fraser, took a one-month job at a ski lodge in Hideaway Park (now Winter Park), after graduating from Arizona State University in 1973. He intended to head for law school in the fall semester. That was 33 years ago. “Colorado saved my life,” he says.

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