The Burlington Hawk-Eye
The Hawk Eye
Camping Gets To Be More Fun All the Time
August 8, 1966
This year's camping trip was supposed to be last year, but we moved to Iowa instead.
For those who came in late, we are a tribe of nine and no one in his right mind, you might say, would call it a vacation to go traipsing off with a crowd like that. But you get used to it. We have been doing it for a dozen years or so now and, it gets to be more fun all the time. Well, maybe fun isn't the correct word. Maybe exciting might be a better expression.
We have been invaded by bears in the Great Smokies and the high Rockies, have nearly frozen in a wet tent in Yellowstone and sweltered on the blazing sands of Lake Mead; we've been lost in the Lukahukai Mountains and on the Baltimore freeways, have pitched the tent in a raging storm in the Black Hills and in the sodden rain on the Potomac in Washington, D.C.
We've been chased by swarms of bees on Flathead Lake in Montana and battered by the winds on Lake Winnipeg. We nearly lost a boy over the rim of the Grand Canyon and did lose our food once to band of hungry young Indians.
The thing is, my vacation would last about three days, instead of three weeks, if I had to shell out the $20 a day for motel rooms and the $40 a day restaurant meals, which is a fair estimate of what it would take to keep this tribe on the road the conventional way.
So we camp. We discovered that, once you get equipped; it is nearly as cheap as staying home. Lodging costs from nothing to a maximum of $2 a night for the campsite. Food is less than at home because you go strong on hamburger and beans and flapjacks and no desserts. And while you have to buy gas for the car, it is not much more than what you spend in a comparable period at home for car expenses, utilities and other daily incidentals.
The budget requires discipline, of course, such as insisting on iced tea in place of too much pop and resisting souvenirs.
But, while economy may have been the chief reason for starting this, it is no longer the major one for continuing to do it. The camper gets to such interesting places and meets such interesting people. Most important, he breaks away from the old pattern of too much easy living and has to do things for himself.
Moving a force this size is a logistics problem only slightly less challenging than invading North Vietnam. You can't do it in an ordinary vehicle. So we use a Volkswagen bus (and if you car dealers consider this free advertising, remember it has hazards. Before we get back I have some more unfortunate things to say about the brute.)
Even the spacious bus couldn't carry nine people comfortably if they had all the sleeping, eating and wearing equipment each one needs in with them, so we pull a one-wheel trailer which we bought second hand years ago and rebuilt, with compartments designed for all the gear.
If for a period, we are not heard from it could be that the trailer wheel came off, as it did once in Virginia, or the hitch broke, as it did once on the edge of a precipice high in the Rockies.
Sane men can ask why anyone would consider it a vacation to haul such a contraption 4,000 miles or so, pitch camp nearly every night, chop firewood, singe his eyebrows over a camp fire, shiver in a sleeping bag, scream at the kids for getting too deep in the water, all the while wondering whether his travelers checks will hold out.
But that's exactly the diversion an editor needs: to explore new country, get preoccupied with new problems, forget all about Lyndon and Luci and the freeway, not worry about anyone's divorce or marriage or OMVI conviction getting in the paper properly. To have no care, as I ponder the ocean's tide, about whether the paper made it to Fort Madison and Wapello tonight or that all the names in the obituaries were spelled right. To be oblivious to the complaints of advertisers or of patriotic readers who believe they have detected the subtle footprints of Bolshevism across the editorial page. That's a vacation.
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