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Some camping reminders

Given the way world events have hit gasoline prices recently, I should not have been surprised the other day when the fuel tank light came on in my car and I pulled in to a station to fill up. But I did, indeed, say out loud “$4.50!! Holy (wow)!” I’ve got a little car, thank goodness, and my total was not in the stratosphere I’ve heard some people mention, but it was still enough to make me think differently about other spending this summer.

“Vacation” is probably going to be a little smaller and closer to home for a lot of people this year. For example, it was after that fill-up that I decided a couple of days I had planned for camping would be at a state park only about an hour away from here, as opposed to the national park I had been considering, which would have been a minimum 360-mile round trip.

I’m a big advocate for camping in general, but maybe this year’s economic conditions will prompt a few others to try it, too. If that is the case, I want to pass along a few lessons:

Do not assume that because it is warm during the day you will be comfortable in a tent at night. Bring more sleeping bags, blankets and layers to wear than you think you’ll need, because if you are in the mountains, it gets colder than you think. I was once on a trip where the temperatures were in the 80s during the days, but the first night was a shock, as it dipped down to 26 degrees.

On a related note, if you think you will be insulated from the ground by an inflated mattress … check it for leaks before you rely on it to keep you from sinking down to having nothing between you and the ground but a layer of nylon and a couple of layers of thin plastic when it is 26 degrees outside.

Know how to start and control a campfire BEFORE you are surrounded by your family asking you if they can toast their marshmallows yet. (And then make sure the fire is completely doused before you walk away from it).

Animals will come sniff around your campsite. Follow the campground’s rules for storing food out of reach of bears; but be aware that skunks, raccoons, maybe even bears … could walk through your site at night. I’ve been in a tent listening as an animal I think might have been a skunk got close enough that I could hear it sniffing and rustling against the side of the tent. It’s kind of cool.

But don’t approach or try to feed the animals. And don’t get too close to try to photograph them. You’re in their world, and they are wild animals, remember. If they do the perfectly reasonable thing and try to defend themselves from the crazy human encroaching on their space, you could get hurt, and they could be labeled as “dangerous” and (ahem) removed.

Be prepared for the possibility that it could rain while you’re sleeping in the tent. If you have a plastic tarp to shield you from that rain, fantastic. But make sure it is tilted so as to not create a waterfall outside the door of the tent.

Oh, one more thing — this is essential — pack bug spray and learn what poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac look like. You want to come away with good memories, not weeks of itchiness.

There’s plenty more where that came from, and if you plan to go camping, please read up. You’re there to have fun and relax, not be constantly bombarded with unpleasant surprises. If you get it right, you can have an unplugged getaway much closer to home, and therefore, much less expensive, than what you might have originally planned for the summer.

Get out there. You’ll save money, and you’ll love it.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com.

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