Doug Lewandowski column: Dreams of camping, past and present

When it’s gorgeous outside, camping is great. When it’s not, well, a nice way to put it is, it’s an adventure.

Doug Lewandowski mug.jpg
Doug Lewandowski

Paging through a National Geographic or the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer creates a yearning for a journey here in the U.S. To my mind, travel is about exploration and renewal with the added bonus of seeing friends and enjoying camping along the way.

The whole undertaking doesn’t need to be an elaborate affair. A tent, something to cook with, a sleeping bag, bug dope and flashlight do well for basics. It is however, important to remember to bring these things. During one canoeing excursion on the St. Croix River years ago, I forgot the tent — not a good plan. It didn’t rain, but there were mosquitoes — a lot of them.

When it’s gorgeous outside, camping is great. When it’s not, well, a nice way to put it is, it’s an adventure. But no matter how you renew or refresh a battered spirit by seeking solace in the great outdoors: tent, log cabins in a state park or traveling in an RV, remember there is always a 50% hit rate on whether or not you get washed out.

When our family grew, tent size went up. The snug, two-person pup tent of Volkswagen Bug days gave way to a larger, framed affair that accommodated a growing family. Larger space in this instance was better, keeping domestic altercations that started in the car on the way to a destination under control, by giving everyone more elbow room.


Kids get cranky about too many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at rest stops during a trip. While a simple, nutritious meal, it wears thin after a few lunches. A break along the highway at any fast-food place can be a treat but an expensive necessity when the menu gets boring. At a campsite, hamburgers, hot dogs and chips will do just fine for most evening meals, and on other days, it can be supplemented with pasta topped off by s’more. Pancakes, eggs and bacon in the morning serve quite well to wake up the sleeping herd by their rich fragrances that glide through tent flaps as the sun comes up.

Time of year is important for camping, also. June is a good month if it isn’t raining too much. July works, too, but August evolves into wall-to-wall campgrounds where getting a good night’s sleep is a stretch. That guy two sites down who likes to play “Blowing in the Wind” on his guitar, again, again and again, will never sound like John Denver.

Then there are times when the family unit tips close to the ragged edge. Overheard on one trip to the Grand Canyon at an overlook years ago, “I wonder if anyone has ever thought of throwing their kids off one of these?” Fortunately, there were no reports of homicide circulating around the area the next morning.

When the children leave home and the dog dies, grandma and grandpa can retreat to a tow-behind or truck camper. Everything has its place in these, and the accommodations don’t change every time you park for the night. The milk and beer stay cold, the coffee perks quickly on the stove in the morning, and when there’s a thunderstorm, there’s just the patter of raindrops on the roof rather than leaking tent seams or floating away on an air mattress in the middle of the night.

With fewer restrictions on our person-to-person contacts, keep the camping checklists up-to-date and the gas tank full. Don’t worry about the chance of rain. If it does pour, roll over, take a nap, and remember — you’re not working.

Doug Lewandowski is a retired counselor, educator and psychologist. Write to him at

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