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Smoothing It Made Easy

Exploring Camp Comfort, Room by Room: The Bedroom

By Tamia Nelson In Search of Comfort

July 1, 2014

Luci was christened Lucia, but only her mother calls her that. She and her partner George — he's always been George — may have put a few miles on the clock, but they aren't ready for a tandem La‑Z‑Boy yet. Not by a long shot. Still, the years have taken their toll. Sixteen‑hour marathon paddles no longer hold the same allure that they did a decade ago. Luci's knees complain if she doesn't sit up and stretch her legs out from time to time, and George's back lets him know that their Tripper isn't getting any lighter with age. He even catches himself looking longingly at portage carts.

But Luci and George aren't moaning about the unfairness of it all. Instead, they're making the best of things. Their bodies are reminding them that no one stays young forever, and they figure this is as good a time as any to learn to enjoy life in the slow lane. For years, their paddling holidays meant traveling far and fast. Now Luci and George are substituting quality for quantity. They may be covering fewer miles between dawn and dusk, but they're getting a lot more out of each and every foot of the journey.

Their epiphany came at the end of a hard day, when George wore himself out fighting a headwind all the way down a 20‑mile‑long lake. The Old Woman was in a particularly ugly mood on that occasion, never relenting for so much as a minute, and by the time our intrepid pair had reached their campsite at the foot of the lake, George was done in. Luci wasn't feeling much better, and the following morning she and George decided that enough was enough. But they weren't ready to hang up their paddles. Not at all. They figured they'd just adjust their expectations. Hard charging was out in future. That much was obvious. But what would take its place?

Comfort Camping, of Course!

Truth to tell, there are a lot of couples like Luci and George, and they're not all members in good standing of the Over-the-Hill Gang, either. They all have two things in common, however. To begin with, they're happy to leave internal combustion behind at the put‑in. What's the good of having legs and arms if you won't use them, after all? And why burn gasoline to rush from place to place if the only deadlines you need to meet are those you've set for yourself? But this doesn't mean that the many Lucis and Georges among us want to rough it. Far from it. They appreciate the good things in life. And comfort — physical comfort — is one of those good things. Being cold, hungry, and exhausted from too many long days and sleepless nights simply doesn't appeal.

In short, comfort camping is a broad church. It's open to everyone, young or old, fit or unfit, rich or poor. You don't have to imitate the immaculately coiffed and expensively outfitted models who populate retailers' webpages and catalogs, though you can if you want to. Or you can buy your kit and clobber at the Good Will. Either way, the rules of the game are easy to understand: Block out each day in your planning diary with generous margins. Slow down. Look around you. Listen to the yodel of a distant loon. Give yourself ample time to cook and enjoy your meals, fish every promising pool, and search the night sky for shooting stars. Spend a rainy afternoon in camp rereading Dubliners or Catch‑22. Watch a porcupine dine on a hemlock bough. Go for a swim. Wade in the shallows and feel the tug of the current on your legs. Enjoy a few hours of freedom from the tyranny of clock and calendar.

That, in a nutshell, is what "smoothing it" means. And smoothing it starts with your choice of campsite. This was the subject of an earlier article, in fact: "Secrets of a Happy Camper." But there's much more to smoothing it than picking a good place to pitch your tent. To borrow language from the logicians, choosing a good site is a necessary condition but not a sufficient one. Once you have your site, you have to make it into a home from home, with all the amenities a comfort‑loving paddler expects.

And because a good night's sleep is the secret to enjoying the following day, let's begin our tour of Camp Comfort …

In the Bedroom

For most paddlers, the bedroom is a tent, or something very like a tent. Occasionally, you can get away with no more shelter than the sky, but if there's a storm in the offing or if the woods are abuzz with bloodthirsty flies, you'll be glad you have a tent. And if the storm keeps you "indoors" for part of the following day, you'll be happy for a little extra room. A four‑(wo)man tent is just about right for two comfort‑loving paddlers, and standing headroom is always appreciated. It's well worth a few additional pounds on the portages. Just make another trip across, if necessary.

Are there four of you? Then check out six‑(wo)man tents. Or go with two four‑(wo)man models. Where comfort is concerned, you can't have too much of a good thing. A generously proportioned vestibule or awning is worth having, as well, if only to give you a place to stow muddy boots and sodden raingear. And you'll want screened windows — plenty of windows — to make the inevitable hot, humid summer nights easier to bear. House‑proud campers will also want to bring along some sort of doormat to trap sand before it gets into their sleeping bags. A synthetic towel will do.

Speaking of sleeping bags, what bedroom would be complete without …

A Comfortable Bed?

Of course, your sleeping bag must first be matched to likely nighttime temperatures. That goes without saying — or it ought to, at any rate. And you'll also need a mattress. Self‑inflating pads are probably the norm now, and the bigger and thicker the better. But the new breed of air mattresses are worth a look, too. They're a lot more inviting than the oft‑reviled GI "rubber lady" and her clammy descendants.

No joy? Then give the "air bed" a try. A sort of hypertrophied air mattress, air beds claim to offer all the comfort of your bed at home in a (somewhat) portable form. They certainly look the part. To borrow a tag from Huxley's Brave New World, they're unmistakably pneumatic. Don't forget to bring a pump, though. And if there's a steep carry or two on your route, you might want to hire a porter, into the bargain.

Air mattresses aren't your thing? Then what about a cot? They've come a long way from the spindly wood and canvas constructions that ruined the backs of many a military recruit and drove more than a few sleepless elk hunters to seek solace in the bottle. Modern outfitters offer a wide range of light, comfortable cots. You'll find one reader's recommendation in an earlier column. After you've clicked through, simply scroll down the page to the section headed "A Portable Camp Bed."

Still not satisfied? Well, many comfort‑seeking campers find their bliss by getting high. And no, this is not a reference to Colorado's state herb. I'm talking about hammocks. Generations of shellbacks — not to mention thousands of grunts — have bedded down in swaying canvas. Who's to say that paddlers shouldn't continue this venerable tradition, especially now that synthetic materials make it possible to stow a serviceable hammock in a rucksack pocket. Light weight and comfort, too — that's a hard combination to top. You'll have to forgo the orthodox shelter of a tent, however. But you'll find plenty of manufacturers keen to offer you workable alternatives. And hammocks also make a great place to while away a few dreamy hours in the afternoon, just watching the clouds scud by overhead and listening to the white throated sparrows whistling Sweet, sweet Canada, Canada, Canada. (South of the Canada–US border, white‑throated sparrows inexplicably change their tune: They sing Poor Sam, Peabody, Peabody, Peabody. Science has yet to explain this intriguing phenomenon.)

Now, since we're thinking idle thoughts, I should mention that the next stop on our tour of Camp Comfort is the alfresco living room. After all, there's more to camp life than sleep, and you won't be spending every waking minute in your boat or tent. Sometimes you'll just want to relax with friends — or one special friend. And there's no better place to do this than in a living room by the water. Which is why you'll want to check back next week. Bring your cribbage board if you want. Or a bottle of something bearing the unmistakable tang of peat. Then pull up a chair and watch the sun set behind the distant hills.

En plein air

Canoeing and kayaking aren't only for the young and fit. So if you're over the hill — or even if you think you can see the top of the rise from where you're standing now — you don't have to choose between a La‑Z‑Boy and a bass boat. All you have to do is slow down. That's the secret of comfort camping in a nutshell. But it can be hard nut to crack. Which is why I'm offering this tour. Today we've visited Camp Comfort's bedroom. Next week, we'll spend time hanging out in the living room. See you then!



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