There's little room for pretense at most campsites.
Although creature comforts that were unheard of 50 years ago are now common sights at today's campgrounds most outdoor enthusiasts still revel in "roughing it" to some degree.
Sleeping in a tent and having limited access to electricity and water mean that vanity usually goes by the wayside. Men's faces go unshaven. Makeup for women is non-existent or minimal. Jeans that might ordinarily get tossed in the hamper at home are judged to be "good enough." And as far as camp hairstyling goes ... well, there's a reason the Big Right-hander up there invented baseball caps.
The Pendy family of Champlin and their friends sat around the campfire after lunch Saturday at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Campground in Crosslake, sharing stories and laughs. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey » Purchase reprints of this photo.
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Everything is pretty much out in the open at a campsite - a far different lifestyle than the insular world of our closed-up, air-conditioned homes. Wet clothes and bathing towels are strung up on a line for all the campers to see. Men who shave do so with electric razors at their picnic table. Women fix their hair using a pickup's side-view mirror.
Nobody goes camping to impress others with their clothes. T-shirts, sweatshirts and jeans are the predominant style. If Meryl Streep made a fashion/camping movie it would be titled, "The Devil wears North Face."
Until a camping trip near Duluth this month, it had been a few years since my wife and I had slept in a tent. While that's not too long of an absence, I was struck by how much camping has changed from my boyhood memories.
Wet clothes and towels were strung up everywhere, much like Christmas decorations, at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Campground in Crosslake over the weekend. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Back in those days, the tents were heavy, canvas monsters with wooden poles that might or might not stick together come assembly time. Now the tents are lightweight, with plenty of ventilation and collapsible poles connected with some sort of nylon rope.
Our campsite, located on Indian Point along the St. Louis River, was by no means primitive. All the state park sites had filled by the time we made our plans. Many of the campsites at Indian Point had electricity and water for trailers and recreational vehicles. Some of the RVs looked as if they cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. One sure sign that we weren't based at a primitive site was that we kept tripping on a cord on the ground between our neighbor's RV and his portable satellite dish. We considered hanging our towels to dry on the dish but thought better of it.
Old style camping was depicted by Fred MacMurray in a 1967 Disney movie called "Follow Me, Boys!" in which he led a group of Boy Scouts that included a young Kurt Russell into the wilderness. Things have changed since then.
It was a camping first for me this month when I saw someone working their laptop computer at the fireside on a beautiful summer night. Another camper at a different site had his niece check the Montana DNR site to find out if his number had been drawn for that state's elk hunt.
Still, the lure of camping remains the same, even if we can't completely pull ourselves away from cell phones and iPods.
Eleven-year-old Katie White (right) and 8-year-old Jack White (center) of Breezy Point concentrated on getting the hot dogs they were roasting just right while their dad, Steve White, supervised. The family was staying at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Campground in Crosslake over the weekend. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Camping forces us to slow down. Instead of microwaving dinner we wait for the coals to get just right before putting the pork tenderloins on the grill. Campers spend a lot of time just sitting, contentedly staring into the campfire. For families used to a world with too many televisions and stereos it's a precious time when generations can sit together and talk and laugh at each others' quirks.
Sure, there was the jerk who left camp at 6:30 a.m. Sunday and decided to continuously blast his horn as a farewell gesture to the campsite. The obnoxious horn honker, no doubt, was in a hurry to get home and watch his DVD of "Dumb and Dumber."
For the most part, though, the campers were friendly people enjoying the outdoors, the company of friends and relatives and the chance to slow down life for a little while.
Some of the most heartwarming camping scenes our group witnessed:
- An elderly couple quietly sitting in chairs just outside their camper while their dog rested next to them.
Andy Winiecki of Mounds View caught and filleted a fish Saturday at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Campground in Crosslake. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey » Purchase reprints of this photo.
- The little boy whose dad had set him up at the picnic table mixing pancake batter for that morning's breakfast.
- A group of sun-tanned kids running through campsites on their way to the swing set.
- Campers trying to eat s'mores without messing up their last clean sweatshirt.
- The soft glow of several campfires and the quiet conversation and laughter of friends and family joking with each other.
Camping is thought by many to be an antiquated pastime - an awful lot of work just to subject yourself to insects and sleeping on the ground. Yet, despite competition from theme parks and luxury resorts, Minnesota campsites continue to fill each summer. The chance to get a little closer to deer and great blue herons and to get a little farther from fax machines and traffic jams still draws us to the quiet of the campfire.
We're already thinking about where we'd like to camp next year.
MIKE O'ROURKE, associate editor, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5860.
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