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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Rich Landers says camping is an educational event worth the misery

Veteran KXLY TV meteorologist Kris Crocker came out of the tent this week with a confession: “This is the summer I stop pretending to love camping,” she posted on her Facebook page in a moment of impressive courage and honesty.

As I gasped for breath, I thought this must be a cry for help. It’s as though an Inland Northwest icon woke up realizing she needs treatment for an aversion to huckleberries.

I was gearing up for an intervention until Crocker’s fans rallied with an outpouring of support. Apparently a lot of Spokane folks are irreversibly and shamelessly attached to hotels and hot showers.

“If God wanted us to sleep on the ground, he wouldn’t have invented beds,” a man wrote.

Clearly this is a sickness that needs to be addressed, starting with education on the religious foundation of camping: God did not create furniture. God did create the ground, where campers sleep in order to fully appreciate a bed.

I would never put down people who don’t enjoy camping. It’s understandable that some consider a poison ivy rash unattractive while others may be too selfish to share their jelly sandwiches with ants.

Good campsites would be hard to find if everybody was looking for a place to pitch a tent.

But I feel sorry for people who dislike camping, especially if they have kids or grandkids.

Most people and their kids are confined indoors at work or schools for the majority of their lives. As a parent, I felt obligated to introduce my kids to Nature’s classroom.

Knowing the difference between a wildflower and a noxious weed should be a pre-requisite for the right to vote.

I taught my daughters to how to drive a stick shift and start a campfire – vanishing skills among their generation.

The great outdoors provided the ballroom for countless family celebrations and the classroom for lessons at the earliest ages.

Our oldest daughter was reluctant to give up diapers until we packed a potty chair along for her two-year-old birthday campout. No. 2 became special in every sense of the term when we placed the chair under a handsome cedar in the Kelly Forks Campground and left a tiara and magic wand beside the “throne” of the Forest Princess.

Brook wore a trail to the cedar tree. Mission accomplished.

I can’t imagine bringing up kids who are unenthusiastic about poking a fire or peeing in the woods.

Memories of hotels pale in comparison with campsites, reading books by lantern light, and cameo appearances by whiskey jacks and moose.

Just as parents have a duty to explain the birds and the bees, they should expose their children to a snipe hunt before they’re old enough to go to a summer camp.

The Landers often looked for camping high ground – forest fire lookout sites, for example – in the second week of August so we could fade to sleep on our backs under the stars watching the Perseid meteor showers.

Getting a taste of giardia and a feel for hypothermia are other science activities we studied in detail.

Comfort doesn’t have to be sacrificed at a campsite. I’ve rigged up solar-heated bags for outdoor showers and brought coolers full of crisp salads, fruit and beverages to complement build-your-own pizzas cooked on the barbecue.

Camp cooking itself can be an adventure, especially when you experiment with food-stuffed foil pouches in the coals or baking bread on a stick or fish on a plank.

Only once did anyone in our camp get poked in the eye over the years. Not a bad record. And my wife did pretty well in the crash course on irrigating melted marshmallow from a 4-year-old’s eyelids.

Camping inevitably teaches resourcefulness to kids and parents alike. On one early peaceful morning at Priest Lake, with the kids still slumbering in the tent, I geared up the stove to make my sweetie a cup of camp coffee.

Though I’d forgotten the coffee filters, Meredith indicated that she REALLY wanted coffee.

“Use your bandana for a filter,” she said.

“But I’ve used the bandana, you know, for my nose,” I confessed.

“Boil the water!”

We’ve sipped café in France and other countries, but that bandana brew on the shore of Upper Priest Lake was the best ever.

I like to base around activities that lure the group out of camp for the day. Huckleberry picking is a family favorite. Hiking and mountain biking are always winners.

When the kids were little, we base camped at Hells Gate State Park at Lewiston and pedaled all the paved levy paths. The kids learned important lessons in flat tire repair, thanks to the goat head thorns.

Daughter Brook caught her first bass as I paddled our canoe around Round Lake State Park near Sandpoint. We later hiked the park’s trails and saw nesting ospreys. Youngest daughter, Hillary, got her first yellowjacket sting on the lip that night.

These sorts of memories aren’t made in motels.

In Yellowstone Park, we reserved a campsite and left early each morning for adventures and discoveries. Since park rules forbid leaving food at the camp when unattended, we organized coolers, food and barbecue in boxes in the van.

We’d hike and picnic in the park all day, and at about 5 p.m. other park visitors could be seen driving in droves back to campgrounds and hotels. This is when we would pull into usually empty picnic areas and enjoy barbecued chicken and corn on the cob or whatever. Then we’d drive back in the waning hours of the day when wildlife is most active.

One evening, I had to stop the van to let a grizzly bear galumph across the road in front of the van with no other vehicles in sight. The kids were riveted, and frankly, so were the adults.

“This is the best day of my life,” our daughters’ friend, Elsbeth, announced as the bear finally disappeared.

The bear was cool, but a kid’s reaction like that makes a camping memory worth all the times the tent leaked, smoke got in our eyes or mosquitoes quenched their thirst for our blood.

Give it another shot, Kris. Just get a good weather report first.

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