Camping — It doesn’t get any better

Published 9:28 am Thursday, May 12, 2016

OK now, show of hands — how many of you like to go camping? Mr. Espick, please raise only one hand. We get it — you like camping. Thank you, everyone. That is a lot of hands.

Now, a show of hands from the folks that would like to like to go camping, but just aren’t fans of the bugs, critters that scurry around in the middle of the night, and campfire ash in pots of Bush’s Baked Beans? No, Mr. Espick, the reference to “critters scurrying around in the middle of the night” was not about you — this time. Again, thank you to everyone that raised their hand. Due to the large number, our staff will be circulating through the crowd to complete the count.

And now for our final tally. Will the few remaining participants that will only camp at a Doubletree, Marriott, or Hilton please raise their hand? Thank you for your honesty – if you wish, the two of you may now leave. No, Mr. Espick, you may not use your hiking boot to kick them out – this is not a political rally.

I like to camp. I’ve been doing it for more than four decades. While in my early twenties, a gathering of my closest friends rendezvoused in the Manistee National Forest for a long holiday weekend of unprintable things. This was not organized, KOA Campground type stuff — with electrical and plumbing hook-ups. This was not regimented, State Park camping — with congregational public bathrooms and green-shirted rangers. This was clear a spot in the woods, cook everything over a fire, and bathe in the White River type of camping. It was great (when I was in my twenties).

It was so great, we did it twice a year for 30 years — 1976 to 2006 — rain or shine (and several times, more rain than shine). That’s a lot of Bush’s Baked Beans. However, in the interest of honesty, the mode and method of our camping evolved during those three decades – as did our age, economic wherewithal, and physical endurance. Sleeping on the ground in a sleeping bag, evolved into sleeping in a tent — eventually equipped with an air mattress. Tents gave way to small pop-up campers — because that is all the luxury that could navigate the two-track trails that travel deep into the Manistee National Forest.

We call ourselves ZZoomers and those two weekends each year were ZZoomfests. When asked to define being a ZZoomer, one member shrugged and said, “If I have to explain it, you’ll never understand it.” That, pretty much, sums it all up.

The Twenty-Somethings that gathered in the mid-seventies for the first wild gatherings matured into responsible parents and then grandparents (except for Esquire the Wizard, who has remained a kid at heart). Our children grew up camping with us, in the “Big Woods”. They were watched-over and mentored about respect for the woods by every adult. They knew every trail, every tree worth climbing, and the best places to jump in and ride the shallow river current. In the evenings, all the kids — by nightfall, we were ALL kids — would gather around the campfire and be entertained by the mystical stories and unintelligible incantations provided by Esquire the Wizard — enhanced by tossing magical powder into the fire (causing the flames to flash in brilliant colors — an “ooh and ahh” moment, if there ever was one).

My youngest son is now a Twenty-Something, and continues the tradition with an entirely new generation of ZZoomers trekking into the depths of the Manistee national forest, where the Knutson Creek splashes into the White River.

I still “camp” — but, not in the same way. I no longer get campfire ash in my Bush’s Baked Beans — because I cook them on the side burner of my grill. I have not taken a bath in the river for a very long time — because I have better options available. I have a park model camper on a seasonal lot in a great campground in the Thumb of Michigan. I know, Mr. Espick, this may not be “real” camping, but, in my defense, it isn’t the Doubletree, Marriott, or Hilton either. When we bought it my wife said, “You had me at ‘flush toilet.’” I must admit, more than six decades into things, I prefer a warm shower in my own bathroom over jumping into the frigid waters of the White River.


Larry Wilson is a mostly lifelong resident of Niles. His optimistic “glass full to overflowing” view of life shapes his writing. His essays stem from experiences, compilations and recollections from friends and family. Wilson touts himself as “a dubiously licensed teller of tall tales, sworn to uphold the precept of ‘It’s my story; that’s the way I’m telling it.’” He can be reached at