COLUMN: Getting back to nature not without its problems

Preparing for a summer of camping has been anything but a breeze so far, writes PAN reporter Nick Greenizan.

Camping is supposed to be simple.

It’s appealing because it gives people a chance to slow down and get away from the hustle and bustle of the daily grind.

No cellphones or Facebook, no driving in rush-hour traffic, no meetings, no screens aside from those that keep bugs away.

Just you, a tent, nature and a roaring fire.

It can be – and usually is – an extremely relaxing experience.

Unfortunately for many, trying to plan such a trip this year has proven to be anything but, after the provincial government’s Discover Camping website – promoted as a quick, easy way to book time at any of B.C.’s provincial parks – crashed mere seconds after its launch Tuesday at 7 a.m.

That morning, I was among thousands of people trying to book a day or two away in the great outdoors.

The website – run by a company contracted out to handle online booking – was not prepared for the web traffic it received, as the number of prospective campers apparently dwarfed even last year’s numbers, when the site also struggled to handle the load.

By day’s end, those in charge of the Discover Camping site had apologized and explained the situation as best they could, and the BC NDP had used it as a chance to make political hay, with one MLA calling it “unacceptable.”

In the end, it took me – and my wife, who had to take over yelling-at-the-computer duties midway through, lest I be late for work – nearly two hours to book our weekend trip.

I could have booked a dozen around-the-world vacations in the time it took me to reserve two nights at Alice Lake.

Now, I know I shouldn’t complain. There are many people who don’t get any time off at all, and I have friends who, if you can believe it, spent even more time than I did trying to make their way through the wilderness that is the Discover Camping website. And I know others who weren’t able to get a spot at all, their desired destinations fully booked by the time they were able to log in.

But you’ll have to excuse my mood – preparing for a summer’s worth of camping has proved to be a stressful one so far, even before Tuesday’s online adventure in frustration.

For starters, the Okanagan campground that has hosted my softball team each Canada Day long weekend for the last decade recently told us they accidentally booked a large wedding at the site for the same weekend, thus bumping the ball players into overflow (or out altogether), reservations be damned.

Eventually, that too was sorted out, though not without raising the collective blood-pressure of all involved.

By now, my camping exploits are well documented. In each of the past two years, I’ve written columns on the subject.

The first was, essentially, an ode to sleeping on the ground, and consisted of me patting myself on the back for sticking with my trusty tent while the rest of my friends bought expensive RVs with all the comforts of home.

The second detailed my experience bringing one of those comforts – air conditioning – into my aforementioned tent, courtesy of a little ingenuity and a heck of a lot of duct tape.

And now, in this my third camping-themed missive, I have decided to come clean: I finally caved, and ditched the previous setup for a 17-foot travel trailer, and all the stresses that come with it – from finding a place to store it, to haggling with salespeople, to discovering, to my surprise, just how much it was going to cost to get a hitch installed on my truck.

But all that is done, and after years of secretly being jealous of my friends and their air-cooled, king-sized beds-on-wheels, I am now no better a camper – of no hardier stock – than the rest of them.

Forgive me, I am weak.

But after all this stress – from websites to campsites – that air-conditioning is sure going to be nice come July.

Nick Greenizan is a reporter at the Peace Arch News.

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