Real campers eat pathogens for breakfast

The reason we go camping in the 21st century is to remind ourselves how our pioneer ancestors lived, which is to say: not very well at all.

Deprivation is the key to any successful camping weekend, a cheap and mostly injury-free way to appreciate those things we take for granted in these modern times, things like electricity and dry bedding. If you’re 80 percent uncomfortable 90 percent of the time, you’re doing camping right. Or you’re talking to Gary Busey. Either way, you’re probably looking forward to seeing it come to an end.

Keeping camping real is why my family sticks to tents and refuses to be seduced by those posh camper trailers with their fancy walls and retractable Jacuzzis and their all-night roller-disco parties. Heck no! We’re true tenters, because stiff backs and interrupted sleep are what made this country what it is: cranky.

Look at our neighbours with their fancy pop-up. No, don't! Avert your eyes!

Look at our neighbours with their fancy pop-up. No, don’t! Avert your eyes! Now come join our Circle of Dirt and Smoke…

However, while I relish in my unpalatable Maxwell House instant coffee and allow the dampness to seep into my socks-with-sandals, I do take advantage of campsite washrooms, in part because those close-minded camp managers don’t take kindly to self-dug latrines but also because it’s another way to pay homage to our pioneer ancestors who every day bravely faced the risk of athlete’s foot.

If I’m camping long enough, I will even indulge in a hot shower, especially if the cold has cut off circulation to my extremities. Now, it’s true that our pioneer ancestors made lye soap from wood ashes, and that campsite’s do produce plenty of wood ashes, but despite what you may have heard (from my blabbermouth shrink!) I do not make my own soap. No lye.

Instead, when I begrudgingly treat myself to a shower, I use only the very cheapest travel soaps and shampoos lifted from the slowest-moving housekeeping carts in the dankest hallways of the seediest motels across the land. These are staples of camping cleanliness and, when push comes to lunch, cuisine.

I was surprised, then, this past weekend, while camping in Maine (“O Land of Moose and Masochism!”) to learn while showering that the shampoo I was sternly slathering into my hair was not Best Western’s Bio-Tox. Instead, the wee bottle read as follows:

Peter Thomas Roth
Mega-Rich Shampoo
rich with
biotin B-7
vitamins C E &
pro-vitamin B5
for clean

Too late, I realized that this shampoo was far too luxurious for camp bathing. Not only was it Mega-Rich but it was also rich. That’s rich to the power of seven supermodels! And everyone knows that our pioneer ancestors were led astray spiritually when they started indulging in pro-vitamin B5, and that they were led astray literally when they were lured from their westward trek by the seductive biotin B-7 spas of Moosejaw.

Sure enough, I found myself unconsciously singing “Walking on Sunshine” in the shower instead of the camping-sanctioned Slavic lathering song, “Blustokv Mnzienecki Nyet-Nyet (My Skin is Not Yet Flaking Enough).”

I emerged from the shower with hair that was indeed clean, shiny, nourished, healthy and looking. It was looking all over the place, which made everyone else in the washroom quite uncomfortable.

Before I knew it, I was prancing back to the campsite – prancing, I tell you! Not trudging, prancing! My head was filled with crazed, cushy thoughts like, “Maybe storing raw meat in a cooler filled with melted ice water isn’t the safest,” and “A space heater for the tent sure would be nice,” and “Espresso machine? Maybe? Yes?”

I began wondering whether I was too old to be clambering up trees to install a rain tarp large enough to cover the infield at Shea Stadium.

I even put on deodorant!

Just to show you that high-class travel shampoo is the thin edge of the slippery slope of the mixed metaphor, I found myself eyeballing the trailers in the surrounding sites, yearning for awnings, lusting in my heart for linoleum. I was coveting my neighbour’s Winnebago. This was not the pioneer way! Unless your camper is a Pioneer, which is a lovely model: lightweight, ample storage, chemical toilet…

No! Never! We are tenters, and austere, miserable tenters we shall remain until our dying day – which, another freezing wet weekend like this last one, may be very soon.


About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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67 Responses to Real campers eat pathogens for breakfast

  1. denmother says:

    Last year I insisted we upgrade to blow up mattresses in the tent. Have never looked back.

  2. We didn’t even have communal toilets where we camped – my parents would put a little port-a-potty in the middle of the tent and make you sit in there by yourself until you ‘go’ – and the rest of the family waited outside for you to complete your intense humiliation.

  3. Katie says:

    I’m not a camper… I like my modern conveniences–none of that survivor man stuff for me.

  4. Two pieces of advice to bring you closer to, but not into the deadly thrall of, the Winnebago set: Thermarest makes a very comfy self-inflating mattress that adds only a tiny amount of weight, but a whole lot of comfort to the camping experience.

    Also: dude! camp coffee, made in a percolator on a Coleman stove, and served with “canned cow” (evaporated milk) is one of the very best things about camping. If I had to swill back Maxwell House, instant or otherwise, I’d hang up my tarp permanently. Sheesh.

  5. RFL says:

    Laughed out loud at Circle of Dirt and Smoke. Perfect! This actually made me want to go camping again. We always went in tents as well, but over time my dad bought enough camping gear to fill an entire trailer. Bathing was usually a bar of soap and a bottle of Prell in the river. Fun post!

    • rossmurray1 says:

      The thing is we never camped as kids, not as a family anyway. Boy Scouts, yes, but never with little kids until my own. In other words, I can’t even blame nostalgia for this. Glad you liked the piece.

  6. Fresh Ginger says:

    We fell off the tent wagon a couple of years ago and now have an older model travel trailer. It is schwanky. And, I am never going back to my tent. Camping is a whole lot more fun now, just sayin’ …

  7. Ned's Blog says:

    All I could think of after reading this piece, aside from how great it was, is how uncomfortable it would be to go camping with Gary Busey *shivers* It would like living the sequel to Deliverance.

  8. Melanie says:

    Tent camping is all the rage, especially after it hasn’t rain in, like, decades, and you can’t hammer the tent stakes in with a jackhammer. Pure bliss, I tell you.
    But seriously, Maxwell House? Not good to the last drop. Not even good on the first drop. Unless you are dropping it on the ground to soften it up to get the tent stakes in.

  9. Forrest says:

    Hard to carry a jacuzzi up the mountain to camp by the side of the glacier, though.

  10. trendbytes says:

    Your post cracked me up. I grew up tent camping (unfortunately) and was made to hike portions of the Appalachian Trail as ‘vacation’, replete with crazy little stoves (Sveah?) and freeze dried food. As an adult, I have gone tent camping a few times (under duress) but then we bought a camper…nothing too big, a 22′ Mallard, and I feel like a queen by comparison. There’s no going back for me…waking up damp/wet is for the birds (mallards?), not me! And I bring my espresso machine with me…sorry, some things I can’t live without.

  11. peachyteachy says:

    We use a camping style french press on a daily basis. This excuses me from the obligation to actually camp. At least, more than once a year or so.

  12. Barb says:

    Air mattress all the way. If your mattress is big enough, and your tent small enough, it’s basically a bouncy castle, and who doesn’t like that? We definitely do the freeze-dried wake-up, oatmeal with bits of ash from the fire, not sure who was scratching at the tent all night. It’s awesome. Pathogens are good for the immune system.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      My friend Phil cooks bacon by putting the stove on high and just dumping in the full package. Stir and serve. Camping can be liberating, in a way. I am definitely pro-germ.

  13. pinklightsabre says:

    We were going to go camping tomorrow, but there’s a chance of rain/snow where we were going to go. Snow! I just got back from a week in the F-ing desert with AC 24/7 and dried-up eyes from the hot wind. Now we have a fire going because there’s a low come down from Alaska. WTF Ross? WTF?

    • rossmurray1 says:

      If “WTF” stands for “Where’s the frost?” it’s outside on my lawn. I’m involved in a charity golf tournament tomorrow (running, not playing). I’d rather be camping.

  14. This is hilarious and also making me reconsider whether I actually DO want to spend my summer vacay camping in Maine…I WANT to be a tent person, but I might not be cut out for that lifestyle. I love fancy shampoo!

    • rossmurray1 says:

      If you read the comments, it seems to go like this for tenting: have an air mattress, a French press for coffee, you’re golden. Everything else you can manage.

      • I think I can do that! I’ll sneak my fancy shampoo in a cheap bottle and pretend to totally rough it. Glad you guys had a good trip! Thanks as always for the laughs.

  15. Amanda Fox says:

    My grandparents used to take me camping when I was a kid. The only good thing about it was feeding the chipmunks.

  16. Nic says:

    It ALWAYS starts with shampoo. I’m glad you stayed strong, my brother! Also, I’m loving that this all took place in Maine. Maine is my favorite.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      The very concept of shampoo fascinates me. Toothpaste also. Do you know they add in the foaminess in toothpaste and that it would work perfectly fine without it? Aren’t you just a little bit more cynical knowing this? Sorry.

  17. cafecasey says:

    I used to think I wanted to camp. Then I realized I wanted to hike, run, and do active sports. Then go back to the house or hotel. My husband wants an RV. I don’t think that is cost effective.

  18. I think laura ingalls just lost all respect for you. She wants her loom back.

  19. Laura Lynn says:

    I just made my first reservations for a camp spot yesterday.. Yep.. For Whaling Days.. It’s just as creepy as it sounds. However, you can walk down the street with a beer and that’s nothing to be sneezed at.. Also we are camping near there and SO looking forward to it.. Yes,, the sound of RV generators all night long, the people who leave dogshit all over the place, the ones who hate that you’ve brought your dog,, the ones who stay up and play trance music until 4 am.. The smoky campfires, dirty ashy food, bad coffee the people who leave dirty dishes and open food scattered all over their site so you attract the maximum vermin from small raccoons to giant bears…camping again.I CAN”T WAIT!!!!

  20. Pingback: A Series of Unfortunate Laments | The Mercenary Researcher

  21. Just returned from a camping weekend with the family. You don’t get extra points for being uncomfortable. Maxwell house? Nooooo way. Ground coffee all the way…

  22. ….very amusing piece by the way…

  23. raghul96 says:

    Really funny! 🙂 I get what you mean as well: last year, I went on a desert trek, sleeping on the floor under the stars: awesome.

  24. Camping has been a rich learning experience for me.

    In the 70s, I learned:
    1. When you trade forced scalding hot nightly baths and a creaky twin mattress in the attic for a basin of lukewarm camp water with wood ash floating in it and a musty cotton sleeping bag in a canvas tent, you attain Dirty Child Nirvana.
    2. Finding baby toads under the edge of the tent at dawn is exciting.
    3. Lil’ Smokies cut into chunks and mixed into scrambled eggs and fried potato bits is delicious.

    In the 80s, I learned:
    1. When you trade curling irons, hairspray, and iridescent blue eye liner for limp blonde braids and a hat, you free up nearly an hour every morning but you can easily slide into Teen-aged Girl Appearance Anxiety Purgatory.
    2. Finding a cute, teen-aged boy similarly trapped at the uber boring, no-wake fishing lake resort by his own nature-worshipping parents who offer zero supervision is exciting.
    3. Junk food purchased on the sly at the resort cantina with the saved up baby sitting money your parents didn’t know you brought along is delicious.

    In the 90s, I learned:
    1. After climbing 23 mountains over 14000 feet high in all four seasons (some of them more than once, most of them solo) you attain a Zen expression on your tanned and freckled face, a Buddha-like status among your awed fellow gym rats, and a non-Buddha-like appearance in general.
    2. Finding a hungry-looking 400 pound brown bear in your campsite on your way to commit the morning pee in the woods is exciting.
    3. Smoked gouda gently melting over boneless roasted chicken thighs with a side of seared asparagus resting on a bed of rosemary mashed potatoes, and a nice, sweet Merlot with squares of imported dark chocolate at the end makes the hatred of your camping neighbors delicious.

    In the new millenium, I learned:
    1. Having a cottony-fresh pair of socks, a fluffy old T-shirt, and ratty pair of dry sneakers to change into after a long day of snowshoeing on the sides of an ice cold volcano is a religious experience.
    2. Finding a hiking partner to split gas money with for the long journey to said volcano and back is exciting.
    3. Clinking frosty bombers of oatmeal stout together in victory at the end of the day before a crackling fireplace with that sexy hiking partner exchanging progressively naughty foot rubs is delicious. (This one on order; delivery taking forever.)

  25. Ross,have you met John Pinette, your long-lost fraternal camping twin?

    (“Panda suit” refers to his black and white velour workout outfit that makes him look like a giant panda.)

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