PAT NEAL: The joy of camping

IT’S THE SIMPLE things that I enjoy most about camping, like the smell of burning driftwood and watching the sparks from the fire shoot up into the sky to join the stars before they fade.

Or land on your tent to smolder as you remember you forgot the fire extinguisher.

Then there are the night sounds of the wilderness.

The distant hoot of the owl, the electric crackle of the bug zapper and the gentle murmur of a 2,500-watt, gasoline-powered generator that tells you it’s summertime and the living is easy.

Experienced campers know you must organize your supplies and prioritize your equipment to maximize your enjoyment of the outdoors.

Life in the wilderness can test a woodsman’s skill. There’s a lot more to wilderness survival than being able to start a fire with just a single highway flare, cauterize a wound with gunpowder or siphon gas.

The first rule of camping is to avoid taking along a lot of useless stuff that you just don’t need.

Still, it’s the little things that can make a big difference between a memorable outdoor experience and a life-threatening disaster that tests the endurance of the human spirit.

I once knew a camper who put all his food in plastic bags to cut down on weight and save space. Unfortunately, he was too busy writing a wilderness gossip column to label the plastic bags.

Relying instead on a keen culinary instinct to tell the difference between sugar and spice, I carefully measured a cup of borax, a type of powdered soap used to cure fish eggs for bait, into the morning hotcake batter. Breakfast was served to the campers without a single complaint.

They must have known. Camp cooks are chosen by a time-tested process where anyone who complains about the cooking is the new camp cook.

After breakfast, there were activities involving a foot race to the restroom facilities. I avoided the shame and disgust of the pit toilet with what could be the most important piece of camping equipment to come along since the turkey fryer — the campers’ portable flush toilet.

When using the campers’ flush toilet, you really should read the instructions and maybe not enjoy the use of this product inside your tent. Especially while leaving an overfilled campers’ espresso maker on top of your 60,000 BTU propane crab-cooker.

After the fire, I wished I remembered to pack the wet-dry campers’ vac.

Instead, I shoveled out the tent the best I could and tried to dry the mess with a gas catalytic heater and a battery-powered ceiling fan. That’s when I noticed my queen-sized campers’ air bed was as flat as a soapy pancake. I tried to find the leak by pumping the air bed up with my campers’ air compressor, but the batteries were dead.

By then, it was time for a relaxing morning shower with the propane-powered hot water heater inside the collapsible campers’ shower stall. Be sure to follow all safety instructions and check the temperature reading on your campers’ shower system or you could get scalded and go hopping around the campground screaming like a singed greasemonkey.

The rest of the day I spent doing the chores that need to get done to keep a camp running.

I changed the oil in the generator and filled it with regular gas. Put white gas in the heater, replaced the batteries in the fan and compressor, and refilled the propane cylinders on the turkey fryer, crab cooker, hot water heater and lanterns.

By then, it was time for dinner — which was hotcakes, again.


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

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via