SOME PEOPLE MIGHT think it’s crazy early to think about it, but I believe it’s never too early to consider the world of camping.

Last week, I took the first step toward kick-starting the 2019 camping season for my lovely wife and me. A little time on the computer, a few cuss words for the Department of Natural Resource’s new reservation system which required a new password, etc., to log in and our reservation is all set for a late August camping trip at Copper Falls State Park with our son-in-law and daughter.

Camping has been in my blood for a long time. My first camp outs were under a makeshift pup tent which was nothing more than a wool Army blanket stretched over a piece of clothesline tied to two trees — one oak, one white pine — about 5 feet away from a living room window of my parents’ house.

From there, I graduated to an 8-by-8 canvas tent which had a center pole to hold up the peak and a wire frame about 4 feet above the ground to hold it in its umbrella shape. At first, it was pitched in our front yard about 50 feet from the house, a place from which I could easily escape into the house should any marauding bears, wolverines or mastodons see fit to attack me sometime during the night.

Later, my camping spot was in a hollow just over a knoll in the woods about 75 yards from the house. Bravely, I camped there many nights in my “10 and younger” years, needing only a flashlight and the company of a Chesapeake retriever named Ike to fend off hungry carnivores.

Since those early days, I have camped in many places in many ways. Among them, the preteen days when I built crude lean-tos with popple sapling frames that were thatched with balsam boughs and ferns. Again, my faithful companion, Ike, pulled guard duty during the night.

My wife was a farm girl who never camped a day in her life until we went on our first camping trip together several years after we were married. That was our first real vacation more than 50 miles from home and without our two children.

After much research, I had settled on camping at Mississagi Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada, a wonderful region of trout-filled lakes and streams about 60 or 70 miles north of Lake Huron.

As luck would have it — bad luck, that is — as we pulled into the park registration station, the first thing my wife saw was a hand-scrawled sign posted on the door which said “Do not leave food out of your vehicle at night. We are having a bear problem.” Right then and there, I was ordered to turn the car around and head for home, but after much cajoling and reassurance that no bear in its right mind would want to eat a Norwegian woman, I convinced her we would sleep safe and sound every night.

And so we did; at least, I did. Each morning, she would inform me that she was awake all night, listening to large animals, almost certainly bears, wandering around our tent until daybreak. Funny thing was, even though our 7-by-7 nylon wall tent was pitched on and surrounded by fairly soft dirt, those crafty bears never left a track behind.

Since then, I have slept in a variety of tents, in my parents’ truck camper, under the topper on my own trucks and even outside under the stars with no shelter at all. I have camped in Tennessee, both lower and upper Michigan, Minnesota, Canada, New Mexico and Wyoming. All those campsites I set up on gave me memories which I treasure to this day.

One of the earliest and best campsites I shared with my wife and children involved filling a 12-foot rowboat with enough camping and cooking gear for one night; then, rowing a half-mile to an island on Mann Lake just 6 miles from home. Our children were 3 and 6 at the time and they thought it was really neat to camp on an island. So did my wife, because she thought that since we were about 100 yards from the mainland, there was no chance any bears would be bothering us that night. Little did she know that bears are powerful swimmers, nor did she know that I would never tell her that little tidbit of information in a million years.

We spent the evening roasting hot dogs on sharpened sticks and cooking baked beans balanced on a rock at the edge of a campfire. We watched loons and eagles, listened to coyotes yipping somewhere back in the woods and watched a blazing sun go down behind the trees on the west end of the lake.

I spent the next morning row trolling my children around the lake trying to catch a few northern pike, while my wife read a book at the campsite. I don’t remember if we caught any pike, but I do know from that moment on, our children were hooked on camping.

For years, I have spent much time camping at national forest campgrounds throughout the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, northern Wisconsin and in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. I tend to favor national forest campgrounds because they are mostly small with 20 or less sites, secluded and right smack in the middle of good fishing, hiking, biking and hunting spots.

Wisconsin has some fine state forest and state park campgrounds, but being rather tightfisted with a nickel, I prefer the national forest campgrounds 50% discount for seniors, plus they are less expensive to stay at to start with. 

The small and secluded part is especially important to me as crowds of fellow campers are not my cup of tea. Perhaps my best outing in recent years was the three days I spent at Perch Lake up Drummond way, when I went the entire time without seeing a single other camper. I loved it, just me and Molly, the “golden wonder,” and beautiful brook trout to boot.

This year, my wife and I will be putting our A-frame pop-up camper to good use on as many weekends as we can. And as long as I can keep her gainfully employed, with luck maybe including one or two more jobs than the one she has now, I can take off and roam the hinterlands from here to Timbuktu, whenever and wherever I feel like it. It’s good to be retired.