by Mike Corrigan

A friend once presented a compelling argument against the concept of camping, and it went something like this: Humans have endured at least 100,000 years of tortuous social and technological evolution, filled with all manner of physical hardships and psychological terrors to achieve the level of comfort and security we as a species enjoy today. The modern world, he concluded with conviction, was hard-won. And we owe it to those who went before us to fully appreciate our modern conveniences.

I laughed. But, deep inside, I knew he was absolutely right.

Back to nature? What the...? When we spent countless millennia scratching and clawing in filth to get away from nature? Ask yourself this: Would a nomadic shepherd from 5th century Asia pass up a nice, fluffy, fully made-up Serta Perfect Sleeper for a scratchy blanket on the ground? Would a 12th century European monarch trade aspirin for leeches? Would a Confederate soldier turn his nose up at a freshly microwaved Marie Callender's dinner entr & eacute;e in favor of salted meat, stale bread and a hunk of stinky cheese? Hell no. If these primitives could only see the campers of today -- gleefully shunning all mod cons for the dubious pleasure of a night on the cold, rocky ground -- how they would mock us and consider us silly, silly people.

Yet I will concede that there are pleasures to be enjoyed in the great outdoors that have no counterparts in polite society. Primal, visceral pleasures made all the more enjoyable with cocktail hour followed by an elaborate meal. And there is a camping method that lets you enjoy the best of both worlds. After all, while you may not be able to bring the camping experience to civilization, you can certainly bring civilization to the camping experience.

Pack it in/pack it out camping is strictly for masochists and anti-technology anarchists. Car camping is for the rest of us.

What can you bring on a car camping trip? Why, anything you can squeeze into the car, naturally. Once liberated from the weight and dimensional restrictions of backpacking, you are free to let your imagination run amok. Lawn chairs. Boomboxes. Hairdryers. Entire liquor cabinets. Humidors. Telescopes. Stamp collections. Favorite pillows. Beer. Bring them. Bring them all. And food, gobs of yummy food. As much food as you can stuff into a giant ice chest. Or better yet, several giant ice chests. Salads, meats, cheeses, canned delicacies, sauces -- anything that you use to create fabulous meals at home you can bring with you on a car camp. Why not? You're no barbarian. And by God, you've got the room.

In fact, with a little planning, you can eat as good -- if not better -- on a car camp than you eat at home. Some of my favorite go-to, at-home recipes have been perfected in the hinterlands of various drive-in campsites. Why settle for wieners and chips when you can just as easily go gourmet? Dishes I have enjoyed on recent outings with my car camping compatriots include shrimp and sausage jambalaya, chicken fajitas with grilled peppers, fresh bratwurst with onions and sauerkraut, steak and prawns with wild rice and vermicelli with pesto sauce.

And forget cooking it over a campfire. Far better and more consistent results can be achieved with a propane or white gas-fueled camp stove, which will give you a nice, adjustable, clean-burning flame to work with while keeping you clear of scorching, burned fingers and smoke in your eyes.

But what it all eventually comes down to is sleep -- good, quality sleep. There's no way you can properly enjoy any camping adventure without it. It's so fundamental to a good time that all other creature comforts wither in comparison. Without it, you sputter to life at sunrise a grouchy, broken shell of your former self, devoid of the crisp senses and lightning reflexes necessary to avoid certain death in the wild.

Once again, car camping wins.

While you backpackers debate endlessly about which flimsy sleeping pad is better at promoting slumber while preventing rocky protuberances from causing debilitating spinal injuries, I'll be sleeping like a baby, floating high above the unforgiving earth on a cushion of air. My luxurious green velvet air mattress provides more comfort than my bed at home and can go from compact to queen size (via the handy car cigarette lighter-powered blower) in about a minute. And it holds two. When you're with a group of under-equipped campers and you've got this kind of comfort to dole out as you see fit, you'll be amazed at how well you will be treated.

For it is so codified within the community of seasoned car campers: comfort = power.

Publication date: 07/15/04

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