Happy trails to you

 

(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published July 8, 2001.)

There's nothing like taking your family on a camping trip-getting away from civilization, sleeping under the open sky, looking up into the heavens and gazing upon an awe-inspiring vista of millions and millions of ... what ARE those things? Bats? Very large mosquitoes? Oh NO! They've taken little Ashley!

So perhaps it's better not to sleep under the open sky. But you should still go camping, because it's the best way to get close to nature, with ''nature'' defined as ''anything that you would kill if it got inside your house.'' Exposure to nature is healthy, especially for children. Kids today spend far too many hours sitting around indoors, watching moronic TV shows such as ''the evening news.'' By stark contrast, when I was a boy growing up in the rural town of Armonk, N.Y., in a house surrounded by rustic woodland, I spent countless carefree hours roaming free in my bedroom, learning to make flatulence noises with my armpit. But I'm sure that if I HAD gone outside and interacted with nature, I would be a much healthier person today.

That's why I say: So WHAT if North America has more than 30 species of rattlesnakes, as well as 60 species of spiders that inflict what are classified as ''medically important'' bites? Let's start planning your family camping trip right now, using the ''Q'' and ''A'' format!

Q. What equipment will I need to go camping?

A. You need a tent. Tent sizes are measured in units of men, as in ''a three-man tent''; this tells you how many men are required to erect the tent if they are all professional tent engineers equipped with Tent Viagra. Even then, the tent will collapse under unusual weather conditions, such as nightfall. You will also need a hatchet, for the spiders, and a credit card, for the motel.

Q. Where should I go camping?

A. The United States has a spectacular national park system with millions of unspoiled acres, where wildlife is protected by federal laws. Avoid these places. You want a commercial facility with a name like 'The Stop 'n' Squat Kountry Kampground,'' where large animals cannot fit through the 6-inch gaps between the Winnebagos.

Q. How much food should I take?

A. A lot. You'll be providing food not only for your family, but also for the entire raccoon community. When I was a boy in rural Armonk, our garbage cans were regularly terrorized by a gang of brilliant criminal raccoons. I recall being awakened at 3 a.m. by loud noises, and looking out the window to see, by moonlight, my father, a peace-loving Presbyterian minister, charging around in the bushes, wildly swinging a baseball bat and saying non-Presbyterian words.

Of course, he did not get the raccoons; you NEVER get the raccoons. The raccoons were safe in their secret headquarters, recording my father via high-resolution night-vision videotape technology that humans would not develop for another 25 years. That particular video is still hugely popular on Raccoon Entertainment TV (''Tonight we present the classic episode 'Crazed Minister in Pajamas' '').

Ten years later, I was a counselor at Camp Sharparoon, which meant that I had to go camping in the woods with a group of boys and a nutritionally balanced food supply consisting of 75,000 small boxes of Kellogg's Frosted Flakes. I tried to protect our food at night via the Boy Scout Handbook technique of suspending it from a rope strung between two trees; the raccoons thought this was hilarious. When darkness fell, they got the food down in seconds, using lasers.

Q. What if I get lost?

A. If you don't have a compass, stand very still, and listen very carefully, until you hear this sound: ''eh-eh-eh.'' That is Canada. Whatever you do, don't go that way.

(c) Dave Barry

This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Electronic or print reproduction, adaptation, or distribution without permission is prohibited. Ordinary links to this column at http://www.miamiherald.commay be posted or distributed without written permission.

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