The fine art of roughing it

It’s almost that time of year, when people with too much time and money on their hands get the urge to live like well-off homeless people. Here are my thoughts on camping and the American version of “roughing it.”

If my wife and kids could spend the entire summer ‘round a campfire or biking through the wilderness, they’d do it.

Not to say I loathe flies in the food, sand in every crevice and giving blood to nature’s littlest vampire, but a couple days in god’s country and I’m an itchy, chafed, nervous wreck.

So when the wife spotted an RV for sale on the roadside, I had to investigate.

After all, it’s not as if I have a choice not to take the family camping, and the wife is certainly sick of pulling up stakes at 2 a.m. because my sobbing is keeping her awake.

The 18-foot, 1983 Transmaster by Georgie-Boy had it all: Bathroom (closet with bucket); kitchen (propane-powered burner); and beds for four (four Ethiopians), not to mention a bargain price by anyone’s standard.

You outdoor purists may scold my lack of frontier spirit, but if you knew of my days spent ‘roughing it,’ you might not be so quick to condemn the purchase.

Believe it or not, there was a time when I wasn’t a full-blown pansy.

And, while I’d like to regale you with tales of father and son hikes through Yellowstone or family excursions to Tahquamenon Falls, the only camping we ever did as a family was the summer of 1986 after we were booted from our trailer home.

The six of us took up residence at a state park in a World War II era tenement the size of a walk-in closet which smelled vaguely of old mushrooms and wet dog. The highlight of eating boof (all-beef frozen burgers made of 90% liver, corpuscles, veins and kidney) patties and powdered eggs by firelight was tempered by being forced to stay in the sweltering canvas coffin while the parents worked—a move done in hopes of staving suspicion from park rangers that young children were unattended 40-plus hours a week. Camping because you have nowhere else to go is the ultimate in roughing it.

I wouldn’t camp again until I was 16 years old, when my friends found ‘Beer Fest,’ a small chunk of state land a stone’s throw from the Rifle River.

Several times a year, for the next decade or so, we would scrape together enough money for booze and cigarettes and pilfer whatever food we could from our homes.

I remember once taking only the clothes on my back, a five-pound bag of potatoes and a bread bag full of well-past-the-expiration-date sausage.

There were no sleeping bags, no pillows, no toilet paper, and after a night of hard drinking, fighting and consuming too much under-cooked and possibly rancid pork, my compatriots and I would pass out in the dirt next to the fire at sunrise.

When you can wake up covered in blood, mud and vomit only to do it all over again, you’re roughing it.

Then Otis, a man twice our tender age, drove up to our campsite, parked and proceeded to fall out of his car.

Let me clarify.

He did not stand up and fall down. He opened his car door and fell out.

I have been that drunk in my life but never while behind the wheel.

He bought us whiskey and shared his contraband in return for some company.

Poor Otis was roughing it when he fell in the fire.

I can still hear the howling and smell the burning hair, but that didn’t stop him from partying on.

He was really roughing it when, later, he dove nose-first onto our chopping block.

Until then, I had never seen that much blood come from anything that wasn’t going to die.

We wrapped Otis’ face in my best friend’s new sweatshirt and rushed the dazed drunkard to his residence in his in-laws’ basement.

Otis’ wife just shook her head and helped her man to bed. Being married to Otis, now that’s roughing it.

Roughing it nowadays is running low on s’mores fixings or trying to use Georgie-Boy’s bathroom, an operation akin to performing deep-knee bends in a pantry.

Between avoiding the sting-happy bees and man-eating Michigan grizzlies, I feel I’ve paid my dues.

So the next time you see a guy in a modern-day prairie schooner hauling a canoe, an SUV and a half-dozen mountain bikes, do not judge him a tenderfoot too quickly, for he too may know the perils of roughing it.