It seems as if everyone has either heard or experienced a version of this story: the perfect camping spot--a meadow, a stream, mountain views, shady trees--invaded by the tell-tale rumble of engines interrupting the sounds of chirping birds and rushing water. Well, the thinking goes, that's okay: it is the perfect place, and there's plenty of room here for other campers to set up. There's no need to be selfish about this, especially out here, in nature, where we, too, are only visitors.
But it's not just another group of campers: it's an RV. It roars into the clearing and makes a 27-point turn to get in the only spot that blocks your every view. A multitude of children come pouring out, armed with bicycles and big wheels and every toy imaginable to keep them occupied and away from the filthy dirt of nature. Another giant RV rolls up, containing the rest of the family. A fence is set up to contain the kids. Generators start up; antennas are raised; televisions and stereos turn on. You go to sleep expecting to wake up to a fully paved suburban street scene, like a panel out of R. Crumb's "History of America."
What has happened to camping these days? Owning a recreational vehicle seems to be the birthright of every baby boomer. National Parks have become parking lots with traffic jams in scenic locales. At many campgrounds, fire pits are replaced with electrical hookups, films on nature supplant experiencing it, and the only reason you see people out walking at all is to give their dogs some exercise. It's become drive-by nature, where everyone stays inside at night, watching TV.
Idaho is lucky to have many campgrounds that still function for the benefit of the tent or car camper. Even so, with the gear available these days, some camps resemble a showroom floor more than a quiet corner of nature. Fellow enthusiasts assemble small villages at their site. There are generators that can provide power tableside. Folks huddle around GPS units instead of campfires.
Now don't get me wrong; I have a trailer that I love to take out, and I have never stopped appreciating being able to stand up when I put on my pants in the morning. No one can play Blair Witch jokes on me, and we can play cards inside until late at night. Still, I wonder; what happened to good old-fashioned camping?
A recent trip to several sporting goods stores showed that there is not much available with the idea of keeping things simple. These days, it's all about comfort and convenience. Even the solar powered gear goes against the basic idea of "roughing it." You can buy a solar shower for 15 bucks, and a shower curtain for another 25. (Who showers while camping? Isn't that what streams are for?)
So here's an idea: instead of seeking out and purchasing the latest and greatest in gear, give the luxury equipment a rest and have a back-to-basics camping trip. Pull out those old scouting manuals and see if you can really start a fire using flint and steel; make your own cook stove out of a recycled coffee can; try your hand at baking bread using a solar box cooker that you build yourself; sleep under the stars or make a lean-to for shelter. See if you can survive for a day or two without all modern conveniences. There are plenty of resources to help you plan your adventure, and a good place to start is your local library. Try it: you just might find that you enjoy these simple pleasures.