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.
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
vitamins C E &
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.