PAT NEAL: Blue tarp campers shun motorized comforts

OF COURSE IT’S wrong to compare the plight of the Syrian, Sudanese and Rohingya refugees with the blue-tarp campers that survived the sudden deluge that hit the Olympic Peninsula last weekend.

But the surface similarities are obvious. You only have to cruise through a campground in the early morning gloom after a couple of inches of liquid sunshine has pounded the campers into submission to witness from the comfort of your heated vehicle the pitiful sight of soggy tourists standing around a smoky campfire asking the eternal question: Does it always rain here?

To which the locals answer most assuredly: Yes, but usually harder.

While many traditional outdoor activities, like bear baiting, have been banned in recent years, baiting the tourists is still legal.

If you don’t know what a blue-tarp camper is, you probably don’t go camping very much, so you should probably read something else. Named for a particular shade of inexpensive blue tarp that comes in various shapes and sizes, these campers thumb their noses at the ostentatious displays of wanton materialism of the monster McMotorhomes, fifth wheels, trailers and campers.

No, the real true-blue blue-tarp camper wouldn’t want to go camping in one of those tacky tin boxes if you gave it to them.

There are many reasons for this.

You can’t sit by a campfire inside your motor home. You can watch a video of a campfire on your satellite TV, but it’s just not the same. There is no smoke, bugs or sparks burning holes in your clothes.

A real blue-tarp camper doesn’t need one of those sissy tents, either. The typical camper’s tent is a complicated torture device that was designed by someone with a sadistic sense of humor. Many hours have been spent in various attempts to set the tents up.

Many of these structures are designated as so-called three-season tents, which means you don’t want to camp in them in winter when the zippers tend to freeze, trapping the tent campers inside despite the urgent calls of nature frequently attendant with the tent campers’ grub.

Often in a fit of frustration over broken poles, missing parts and self-medication, the tent campers are forced to wrap the tent around them as sort of a three-season cocoon that is anything but comfortable.

Setting the tent up does not guarantee a restful night, either. For some reason in many of these tents, the door serves as part of the wall, allowing a certain amount of moisture inside, where it is possible and even likely to form a nice deep puddle while you sleep.

Tent campers are advised to sleep on air mattresses. Once the tent floods, it’s almost like sleeping on a water bed, but a whole lot colder.

A blue-tarp camper doesn’t need any of that stuff.

They hearken back to a simpler time when you camped by your wits and a woodsman’s skill. With nothing but a bungee cord and a blue tarp, you could rig a lean-to that reflected the light of the fire into the far corners of the shelter. There, to listen to the night sounds of creatures stalking the camp and voices of the river sliding slowly by.

You can’t do that in your fancy tin box.

Blue-tarp campers never have to look for a dump station. This is in itself a disgusting chore most campers don’t want to talk about.

One only has to witness the devastating effects of a burst holding tank on a hot day to make you glad you’re a blue-tarp camper.

It truly is the life.

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Pat Neal is a fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal wildlife@gmail.com.