I passed a lot of campers while driving home from northern Wisconsin last weekend. I don’t mean campers as in “people who wish to camp” – I mean vast, hulking motor homes that look like they should be housing all 22 members of the Polyphonic Spree and their instruments, not a family of four. It’s like someone grounded a cruise ship and figured out how to power it down the interstate. It’s a wonder the earth didn’t crack beneath these monstrosities, leaving behind a sulphurous black hole for my little Hyundai to plow into.
Whatever happened to camping in tents? You know, like God and John Muir intended, getting in touch with nature by feeling how dreadfully hard the ground is when you’re sleeping on it. When a person uses the word “camping,” don’t you immediately picture a tent? And trees and grass, too, not to mention the uncomfortable picnic table and smokey, weak fire glowing in the firepit. What you don’t picture is a semi-mobile mass of steel and plastic resting in a parking spot with some obnoxiously unrealistic name like Lonesome Wanderer plastered across its side. You imagine roasting marshmallows under the stars, not plugging the RV into the electricity box so you don’t miss an episode of “Dancing with the Stars.” It just doesn’t make sense to me – when did we decide to replace tents with vehicular whales?
I imagine the abandonment of tent camping has something to do with good old American laziness. We got tired of the set-up required with tents, the uncomfortable sleeping conditions, the fact that when it rains it sounds like you’re inside a tin can that’s being shot by a nail gun. I get that, I guess. But even in Europe, where RVs were just as prevalent, they were at least a good deal more compact. Instead of mobile apartment complexes, Europeans zipped around in what amounted to utility vans with weight problems. I mean, sure, they skipped the tent too, but at least Europeans could take their vehicle to the local supermarket and fit in the parking lot.
(That’s one thing that makes me especially sad – seeing an RV towing a car. It’s a sign that your primary vehicle is too big when you have to tow an extra car just to get around. It’s like, instead of renting a car to get to your resort hotel, you drive a resort hotel to your destination and take along the car as baggage. It’s especially obnoxious when the towed car is some monstrous SUV. I’ll be frank: When I see people in RVs towing cars, I generally hope Mother Nature provides a series of hailstorms and tornadoes for their entire vacation.)
I guess I just don’t want people to forget about tents. They’re ok! I mean, they’re hot and unwieldy and never quite big enough, but they (generally) keep the weather out and are a good deal closer to nature than being zipped up inside a vehicular sardine tin. If you’re going to bother to drive 100 miles into the wilderness to experience nature, what’s the point of visiting in a television-equipped, air conditioned, exhaust spewing behemoth? That’s no way to experience nature – that’s ignoring it.