Camping’s Out

The long weekend is over, and I’m sitting at my desk, scratching the mosquito bites on my butt.  No, I wasn’t having that much fun out in the bush.  The little suckers were ferocious this weekend, and they bit right through my jeans.

We used to camp almost every long weekend.  Get a bunch of people together, grab a few adjoining sites at a campground in the mountains, and pitch a tent village.  The site in the middle was designated the “main” site, where all the cooking and socializing took place.

If we forgot to pack some critical piece of camping gear, there was always somebody in the group who’d lend us theirs.  The sites on either side provided a buffer zone between us and the other yahoos in the campground.  We sat around the campfire swigging cold beer and shooting the shit in the evenings while the mountains glowed around us.  Occasional bursts of laughter rose from other campsites, but the echoing silence of the Rockies always lay in the background, almost a presence in itself.

As we got older, though, the attraction waned.  The other yahoos in the campground got, well, yahooier.  (Honest.  Parks Canada backs us up on this one.  It has nothing to do with our age.)  The parks started to charge fees for a fire permit and a tiny bundle of soggy firewood.  The campgrounds were so teeming with humanity that the sites got packed closer and closer together, until the neighbours were only a few feet away.  We all attempted to “enjoy nature” while radios blared and children screamed and dogs barked and passing cars raised clouds of gravel dust that settled on us in a layer resembling the ash from Pompeii.

And driving the TransCanada Highway between Calgary and the Rockies was like taking part in a gong-show amateur hour at Race City Speedway.  By the time I made it home from my “relaxing” weekend in the mountains, my shoulders were up around my ears and my language was melting the steering wheel.

So one long weekend, we just… didn’t go.

It was quieter and less crowded in the city.  Everybody else was out there in the campgrounds searching for the elusive “wilderness experience”.  A few years later, we bought a tiny piece of treed property in the country, and we’ve been enjoying our own private wilderness ever since.

I hear there are fire bans and liquor bans in the national park campgrounds now.  I know it’s no fun to lie awake at night wondering if your neighbours are going to burn down the forest (and you) with their giant conflagration.  Obnoxious drunks bellowing at the tops of their lungs at three o’clock in the morning are vastly overrated.

But at the same time, I feel sad that a lot of people won’t have the opportunity to look up at the alpenglow and laugh around a campfire with some cold beer and good friends.  It’s really too bad that the sins of the few have once again resulted in a loss of freedom for the many.

Eh, sonny, let me tell you about the good old days…