The joy of camping

I have to admit, I didn't really understand the whole camping thing.

When I wed my beautiful bride, she wanted to leave our home and sleep on the ground under the trees wrapped in canvass.

I had been working hard for many years to prevent that sort of thing and now I was supposed to do it voluntarily.

Like I said, I didn't really get it, but because I was in love I readily agreed — and the cooler full of adult recreational beverages didn't hurt in convincing me either.

So off we went, leaving our lovely rented apartment behind so we could sleep on the ground like a wild critter.

The first thing I noticed about camping was how much work it was. You had to load everything you needed into a vehicle, drive to the campground, unpack everything, set up the tent, bedding, cooking utensils etc. only to reverse the whole process a few days later.

And don't even get me started on the insects, especially the eight-legged monsters that haunt my dreams when I am in my own bed, let alone sleeping in a sack of stuffed material on a thin layer of foam in the middle of bug central.

Camping actually goes back to biblical times. Moses did it for 40 years. It may not have been by choice, but he still spent four decades pitching a tent and looking for just the right fauna for personal use.

I get tired of camping after just a couple days.

And speaking of fauna for personal use: where the heck did they find fauna in the middle of a desert in the first place? And if there was no fauna, what did they use?

On second thought, maybe I don't want the answer.

Fortunately, provincial campgrounds have bathroom facilities of some sort and what a thrill it is to make a boom-boom in an outhouse.

The most distressing part of the outhouse was the aromatic essence of the structure. Outhouses have a special odiferous quality that just can’t be described without actually experiencing it.

But young love ruled the day, so camping became a regular part of our summers — wooden toilets and all.

The longer we were married, the more our camping evolved. We went from a small, three-person tent to a 10-person tent that was so large it had room for our queen-sized air mattress, baby playpen, luggage, a full basement and in-ground pool.

The tent of wonders eventually gave way to a tent trailer, and not just any tent trailer, the largest tent trailer ever built by the human race.

The thing was so big we dubbed it The Land Whale. With the wings out, it was 26 feet long. In the right light, it could be seen from space.

What an improvement it was. I was no longer a ground-dwelling barbarian, but had an actual bed to sleep in. Camping was still a lot of work, especially with three little ones, but the Land Whale made it a lot more bearable.

My favourite part of camping was sitting around the fire with those adult bevvies I was talking about while the kids slept quietly in their beds.

But it still took many years for me to really enjoy camping.

The change started when I saw how excited my children were to leave our home and head for the hills.

When my son was 18, he said he can't wait to go camping with us and his own family (when he has one).

In that moment, the importance of family camping became clear. Suddenly, I loved camping. What an awesome way to spend a weekend with the family.

Now, if we could just do something about those bugs.  


Fight with spider Godzilla

We all saw its shadow before we saw it.

“It” was a humungous rock spider that was walking out of the campfire. That’s right, I said walking out of the campfire.

It was the colour of granite with a big round body, huge fangs and a bad attitude.

It cast a shadow from the fire and was calmly walking within inches of the hot embers.

A friend took a stick and poked the multi-legged terror and it reached up with one of its front legs grabbed the stick and slammed my friend to the ground.

OK, maybe it wasn’t that bad, but you could see it pushing the stick down a little bit.

My buddy was stunned at the strength of this thing and I felt a shiver go up my spine that lasted for the next 17 minutes.

I had visions of this Godzilla of the spider realm hiding in my sleeping bag or attacking me from below as I used the outdoor loo.

Any such interaction with the arachnid (especially the loo part) would cause me to squeal like a small, frightened school girl moments before I passed out.

Spider, one; big, strong man, zero.

As we examined the spider he, or she, or whatever it was, took up a defensive pose and would push the stick every time it came near him.

I suggested we nuke the spider, so it would never frighten small children or big adults again.

“Hey, why don’t you put on those leather work gloves, pick the spider up and throw it in the fire?” I suggested to my friend with the stick.

“Why don’t you?” was his response.

“Are you out of your mind? Look at that thing. I’m not going anywhere near it. Why do you think I suggested you do it?”

Four fully grown adults stood trembling in fear over a spider that probably weighed less than my fingernails, but no one was going near it — no matter what.

OK, plan A was a bust.

Plan B involved death from above and a bombing run using a five-pound stone was decided upon as the best way to rid the world of the grey terror that was holding us at bay.

I threw the rock and it kind of hit the spider on his side. He then seemed to bounce off the rock and the last we saw, he was shooting across the hot embers to the other side of the fire.

No carcass was found, so we assumed he had survived the assassination attempt, which sent more chills up my spine (kind of like right now actually.)

This freaked all of us out as none of us are overly fond of spiders or any other type of insect, for that matter.

I had more visions. This time it was of a wounded monster spider hiding in the woods, plotting its revenge, waiting for the perfect moment to attack.

Perhaps it would limp its way up the tree behind me, climb out on a limb and then drop onto my hair-challenged head.

“Eeeek,” does not even come close to what my reaction would be.

Maybe it would die a slow death, but survive long enough to pass on a message of vengeance to its 20,000 offspring.

That would be just my luck — to have a small army of ticked off arachnids hunting me and my kin down to fulfil some sort of insect vendetta.

There were only so many rocks I could throw.

Fearing retribution, I conducted a more thorough search of the area around the campfire, but no sign of my new nemesis could be found.

Sure, we all hatched the murder scheme, but it would be my scent on the rock. I don’t know if spiders can smell, but I do not want to take the risk.

We tried to relax around the fire and laugh off the incident, but deep down every one of us was keeping a close eye out for any sign of the spider of terror.

We have been back to that spot since that fateful night and have yet to be carried off into the woods by avenging insects, so our fears of a sci-fi like rebellion by an arachnid army are unfounded.

My fear of spiders remains, however, as strong as it ever has — perhaps even more.

Watch out for sharks

“When you enter the ocean, you enter the food chain.”

Those words of wisdom came from a buddy who has made several trips to the sunny climes of Mexico and the warm, shark-infested Pacific waters that lap at the sandy beaches.

I thought about it for a second and realized how right he was. Personally, I prefer to be near the top of the food chain rather than another morsel in an ocean smorgasbord.

When you are splashing around in the ocean, you are little more than a fishing lure with life insurance.

The top of the oceanic food chain is the shark, more specifically the great white shark, because the great white is the biggest and baddest the ocean has to offer.

If it weren't, it would be called the pretty good white shark, or the slightly-above-average white shark.

I splashed in the Pacific Ocean when I was a kid and not once did I think of the food chain scenario. But now that I am older, wiser and more of a fraidy cat, I realize just how true my buddy's words were.

I read a story a while back about a swimming competition in Australia that involved some 700 people. It also included a couple of non-competitors in the form of sharks.

One was a hammerhead shark and the story did not say what the other kind was, but I am sure it was not the kind of fish you would want to meet in a dark alley.

One of the competitors had a rather nonchalant view of the whole shark situation.

“I was swimming along and a couple of guys put up the shark signal, I figure they had 700 of us to choose from and they couldn't decide by the looks of things.”

My reaction would be slightly different and would likely involve some type of high-pitched squeal followed by a panic attack.

I wonder if urine would act as an effective shark repellent because there would be plenty of that floating around my general location.

If someone had seen a shark in the vicinity, I would not go in the water even if I was on fire. The last thing I would want to do is provide the shark with not only an easy meal, but a barbecued easy meal at that.

A good friend moved to Australia where he was a high-level competitive surfer. He would talk about what he said were “big sharks” with little more concern than someone saying they saw a guppy at a dentist's office.

I asked what he did when he saw a shark. “Oh, you just try to avoid them and get out of the water.”

Well, no duh. I could have figured that out all on my own. I don't know if it is possible to run on top of water, but I am pretty sure I would come close as I hauled out of the Big Blue.

He made a good point that it is kind of like hiking in the woods of B.C. where there are bears and the occasional cougar, both of which can detract from an otherwise good time.

So instead of bears, he had to watch for sharks. I am not sure how you would do that seeing as how sharks attack from below while a bear has to come crashing through the woods.

When a bear attacks you can play dead until it goes away, with a shark no playing is involved.

I would rather attempt to outwit a bear than out swim a shark, but I've always wondered if urine would act as a bear repellent because....


Beware the Lobster People

One thing I always find amusing about summer is the Lobster People.

No, these are not people with weird deformities that cause them to resemble a delicious and expensive sea crustacean. These are the people who are vacationing in our sunny climes and are as red as a stop sign from too much outdoor merriment.

It helps make tourists easy to spot as they look like tomatoes with legs.

Locals have either already gained a bit of a tan, or they know enough to lather themselves in SPF 4,000 before going out.

But many of our tourists come from a flat part of the country (I'm not mentioning any specific areas here) where summer is typically a couple of weeks in late July, so getting out and enjoying that great big ball in the sky is too much to resist.

So they doff their work boots, jeans and hard hat in exchange for a bathing suit and a floatie, and splash around local lakes as the sun slowly and subtly cooks them.

It is not until the next day they realize the folly of their actions. Then, they grab all the after-burn ointment they can find and cover every bit of bright-red skin they can reach.

I don't even want to think about what happens to nudists.

They are exposing parts of their bodies to the sun that typically don't interact with that big ball of brightness.

I have never been to a nude beach, and the world is a better place because of it.

I could see myself ditching my swim suit to splash around au natural, only to cause the other beach goers instant blindness and nausea so bad not even a six-pack of Pepto would be able to help.

It would cause a mass exodus from the beach as if a land shark was gobbling up people like a fat guy at a Vegas buffet.

In other words, me running around the beach naked would be a bad thing.

I would also like to take a moment to apologize for any mental images I may have generated with the previous paragraphs.

Don't worry, with the proper amount of therapy and deep hypnosis, the image will fade.

I hope.

Having spent my entire life living in the region, I have made a peace agreement with the sun: I will not run around with hardly any clothes on (again, you are welcome) and Mrs. Sun has agreed not to roast me like a pig at a luau.

Besides, even when I was young and in good shape and could run around without a shirt, I didn't because I don't tan so much as turn into a walking, talking mass of human bacon.

I have two colours: pasty white and lobster red. There is not much middle ground.

And, it would seem many of our foreign guests have the same problem.

They are ghostly white when they show up, and devil red when they leave.

But I suspect it may be a little harder to distinguish tourists from locals this year. We had a spring so wet even Noah was complaining about the rain, and that meant the local sun lovers had minimal exposure to the big bright ball in the sky.

And that means they will be pastier than usual when the big bright thing in the sky finally gets to shine – literally.

But at least the locals — well, many of them anyway — know when to get out of the sun.

So sit back, relax and watch the tourists turn red. It's always good for a laugh.

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About the Author

Darren Handschuh has been working as a writer and photographer in the media industry for the past 25 years. He is married, has three children, a dog and two cats (although he is not completely sure how that part happened).

He takes a humourous look at life, and has often said, “I might as well laugh at myself, everyone else does.” 

His writings have been compared to a collection of words from the English language assembled in a somewhat coherent manner. High praise indeed.

Life gives Darren plenty of material for his column, and no one is safe from his musings – especially himself. 

He regularly writes to his blog www.therudemonkey.blogspot.ca.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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