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[whitespace] Call of the Wild

Nevermind the rain-- sunshine and wildflowers are ahead. Now's the time to plan great escapes

By Corinne Asturias

LET ME SAY from the start that there was a time when I didn't consider car camping a legitimate practice. A backpacker, I termed this variety of wilderness experience "kamping-with-a-k"--for amateur drinkers, loud nature-wreckers and an assortment of people who seemed to be on the lam.

But a couple of kids and some truly enjoyable road trips to national parks later, I'm willing to say this: Car camping is affordable, and it's a perfectly respectable stage of escapism which falls about halfway on the scale between urban insanity and total solitude.

Car camping is basically playing house in the wilderness. And it involves finding the right balance of creature comforts and spartan challenges and embarking on the ingenuity of making it all work in a place where there are no electrical outlets and no walls.

I've tried hard to explain to my non-camping friends that there's something innate and primordial about setting up a little home base in the dirt alongside a stream, surrounded by trees.

They think it's all about having dirt in your food.

For me, it's about the quality of the light and the dissolution of urban boundaries. Upon returning from a two-week car camping trip, one of my kids remarked when we walked into the house, "I feel like I could bump my head on the ceiling."


The New Bohemians: A dotcom escapee decides to take the money and run--halfway around the world. And she's not alone.

New Economy Nomads: Travel to bohemian lands is affordable.

Close-by Campouts: Getting-away-from-it-all on less than a tank of gas.

Be Reserved: Popular Parks Can Be Booked Online.

Exterior Decorating: Gadgets for the quintessential car camper abound and some are worth the price.

Mission Accomplished: Three missions, one afternoon, a heavenly feeling.

Ready to Run: Training for a marathon is 90% perspiration, 10% lunacy.


THERE ARE RULES, however, to car camping . And on my first car camping extravaganza, I did not know the most basic among them.

So there I was, eating my packet of lukewarm Quaker Instant Oatmeal on a wooden tabletop carved with the initials of folks named Leroy and Dell, when I smelled, out of nowhere, hash browns cooking with green chile peppers and and onions. Then, from another camp, came the scent of fresh coffee, pancakes and a trace of maple syrup. And then came the grand finale, the aroma that torments the underprepared in virtually all campgrounds across America, and the real reason, possibly, that the Indians and European settlers ever fought: bacon.

Suffice it to say, the food mistake was never made again.

From here I devolved into more acquisitions: a more complete set of pots and pans to cook all my great food in, a tablecloth, a decent coffee pot, some mugs, washing tubs, a spice kit, bug-repelling candles. I graduated to chairs, comfortable sleeping pads and the all-important Lantern That Doesn't Create a Miniature Atomic Blast.

The catch, of course, is to bring just enough. To not bring so many possessions and gadgets as to be overburdened (see story on page 29) or unable to utilize the generally superior walk-in campsites.

At one point, I learned to stay away from RVs. There is little that is more disruptive to the tent camping experience than the squawk of television soundbites, the sound of a generator whirring and people who emerge each day wearing matching outfits. Now I seek out campgrounds that separate tent people from RV people, or choose walk-in campsites, where there won't be the coming and going of any vehicles and where people are limited in what they bring by what they are willing to carry.

I learned that there is no worse way to start a camping trip than driving longer than expected, without reservations, circling a campground in the dark looking for the last site, and trying to pitch a tent in the car headlights. It's bad campground etiquette, and pumping and lighting a lantern in the dark can lead to an explosion.

Or so I've heard.

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From the March 8-14, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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