According to the sadistic manufacturers of camping tents that cannot be repacked into the tiny duffle bags they came in, this couldn't be a better time of year for camping. Spring is here and it's likely that many of you are saying to yourself, "I am just too comfortable sleeping at home in my soft wonderful bed in my beautiful air-conditioned home. I need to sleep in a bag on dirt."
Not me. I took my family camping to an Arizona state park because my old man never took me camping. Every time I camp with my family I consider myself lucky the old man loved us enough not to expose us to the hantavirus or mosquitoes the size of condors. Thank you, Dad, for not taking us camping. He loved us.
Ask anyone who hasn't prepared for a camping excursion and they'll tell you camping is an easy and affordable escape. Add in the helicopter airlift to a nearby urgent care and it's a break-even treat.
With visions of the Donner Party running out of AAA batteries and Cheetos, we set out for the remote wilderness (seven minutes from the nearest Walmart) in a minivan packed with every modern convenience imaginable. Our campsite reserved online, we arrived at Lake Patagonia State Park to find a paved parking space, a fire pit, a picnic table and a duck with a bill. We paid the bill, and unloaded the van.
Watching my kids assemble their tent was an inspiring sight. They fashioned a Christo fabric installation with three poles left over and a zipper injury.
Settling in, I marveled at the beauty of the world around us, including the Ted Nugent beer blimp with a Ted Bundy smile camped three feet away from us, surrounded by fish heads, skinning a yak.
Not to worry! Campers are the friendliest people in the world! Why? Sleep loss.
Since our campground was packed with car campers, trailers and recreational vehicles, you might conclude it was just a parking lot with bear-proof dumpsters. This would be wrong. You left out Tanya's Tucker's "Greatest Hits" blasting the burgers off Mr. Fish Bait's grill two tents away and the array of satellite dishes making the place look like a gathering of scientists searching the cosmos for intelligent life.
The convenient electrical outlet at our campsite enabled my children to recharge all of their digital equipment, which I threw in the lake, claiming to "play catch" in the name of quality family bonding time.
After a short hike, it was campfire time! The National Institute of Faulty Lighter Manufacturers describes how to make an excellent campfire: Stack enough wood to burn Joan of Arc. Throw away the lighter after 30 tries and use a match. Keep feeding the bonfire until a bear in a fire ranger hat arrives to beat it out with a shovel.
Question: What can be more fun than eating charred marshmallows and singing campfire favorites like "I hate this place, I want to go home"? Answer: Crawling into your sleeping bag and doing the "I found a scorpion dance" to the delight of your loved ones.
The American Manufacturers of Flashlights That Do Not Work in the Middle of the Night When You Get Up to Pee issued a study that caught my eye like a hook on a carelessly cast fishing line. Surprise! No one sleeps. Most wonder if they'll freeze to death, 32 percent count the number of hours until they can go home, 26 percent "hear something outside the tent" and 4 percent of the miserable traitors sneak home.
Finally, the sun came up and hundreds of birds, Mother Nature's pterodactyls, bugled reveille in the one ear that didn't have a wasp nesting in it. I emerged from my cocoon with a condition called "Sleeping bag hair". A disheveled and sunburned Outward Bound Beetlejuice, cooked tandoori-style, I started our fire and brewed the worst "coffee" in the world. I then grilled an entire side of bacon, two dozen eggs and enough pancakes to feed Paul Bunyan's tapeworm.
Standing there in the same sweatshirt I've been wearing for three days and chugging propane, I rubbed my tick-infested stubble and felt what the naturalist John Muir called " the great indigestion." At that moment I realized what matters in life: a one-way ticket home to a La-Z-Boy recliner with cup holders.
Yet we're staying. Later in the day we're going to hunt for more firewood, and go canoeing on the lake while the feral children will re-enact stunts from "Jackass 3" and pine for a television.
Last night I caught them with their red noses pressed up against the window of the RV parked next to us. Our neighbors were watching a Ken Burns documentary about the national parks. It was excellent.
Some day they'll thank me.
Email Star cartoonist and columnist David Fitzsimmons at firstname.lastname@example.org