Call of the wild? Don’t answer

By Mike Murphy

Camping season is upon us, so time to chase the spiders out of your sleeping bags where they’ve been holed up nice and cozy all winter.  While you’re at it, probably a good idea to set up your tent in the yard to make sure you replaced that bent pole.  You know, the one you rammed your head into after tripping over a rock last July while stumbling back to your tent after sitting around the fire drinking beer until 2 AM.

This uncontrollable urge that humans get each summer to venture into the impenetrable forest primeval and grovel amongst the weeds, wildflowers, and dust, setting off an allergy sneezing attack that could trigger an avalanche, is the result of eons of evolution.

I heed the call to head for the hills and spend several sleepless nights camping out about that time in the spring when the first hummingbird shows up tapping on my bedroom window demanding its sugar water fix.

Honestly, I can’t understand how they came up with the name “sleeping bag” when sleep is about the last thing that you’re going to experience in one.  Every time I roll over, the bag rolls with me and I end up upside down, inhaling mouthfuls of flannel lining.  Then if it happens to be a very warm night and the zipper gets stuck you’ll experience what it’s like to be a baked Idaho russet wrapped in foil.

Anyway, since I’m an old hand at this whole camping thing, I felt that the least I could do is share some of my expertise with all you greenhorns out there by providing a FAQ column dealing with bears and other camping hazards.

Q: What is the most difficult part of camping?

A: For me, just getting to the campsite is the hardest part since I apparently have a bladder the size of a pencil eraser and get the urge to go approximately every Interstate mile marker.

Q: Is it safer to stay in an actual campground or seek dispersed camping?

A: Dispersed camping is safe as long as you aren’t awakened on a moonlit night by the sounds of the Manson Family beating on drums and chanting “Helter Skelter.”  Of course, in an established campground you can always get help from the camp host, unless he’s from Georgia and has an eerie resemblance to the kid playing the banjo in Deliverance all grown up now, in which case you should run to the Mansons for refuge.

Q: Should I obey the rule to not feed the wildlife?

A: Yes, but if you should happen to come face to face with a grizzly sow and her cub while hiking you may not have much choice since you will be the main entree.

Q: Experts say to be on the alert for “bear signs.” What do they mean?

A: One sign is bear scat. If you see poop on the trail and upon closer examination notice it contains a set of dentures, chances are they did not belong to the bear.

Q: Is bear pepper spray a good investment?

A: Yes, but use caution.  If attacked by a bear make sure the sprayer is pointed away from you.  Otherwise, Yogi will get a good chuckle watching you blindly running into trees before he enjoys a well-seasoned feast.

Q: How about attaching a bear bell to my dog’s collar?

A: Good idea, but don’t get confused and attach a bar bell instead or your dog will get tired real fast.

Q: Is it safe to sleep in a tent?

A: Yes, but if your campsite has a bear proof food storage locker I recommend just sleeping in it.

Q: How do I distinguish a black bear from a grizzly bear?

A: Easy, a black bear will simply eat you; whereas, a grizzly will first eat the black bear then you for dessert.

Q: Are fishing regulations very complicated?

A: You bet.  For some fish you can only use flies or lures, for some only barbless hooks, and for very rare fish only hookless hooks.

Q: Is it safe to peer down a geyser hole?

A: Ask Freddy Krueger.

Q: Is it legal for a guy to urinate in the National Forest?

A: Yes, as long as you keep it on a leash.

Q: Should the kids and I be afraid of getting West Nile?

A: If you’re going camping with the kids, West Nile is the least of your worries.  Statistically, you are much more likely to require medical attention for injuries suffered from your kids flinging red-hot marshmallows around the campfire than from mosquitoes.

Speaking of kids, always double check your campsite before you pull out to go home.  I can’t tell you how many children I’ve lost by being negligent in that.

Mike Murphy of Pocatello retired after a 35-year teaching and coaching career.  He has a master’s degree in English from the University of Nebraska and is an Associated Press award-winning columnist.