If the trouble with life these days is not enough surprises, the solution is to go camping.
Something always comes up when you pitch a tent. Mr. and Mrs. William Garner of Falls Church found that out last weekend when they discovered what had happened to the trailer tent they keep at Old Rag Mountain in the Shenandoah National Park.
"Destroyed," said Mrs. Garner. A pair of bears, common in the park, apparently scented some sugar the Garners left inside the folded-down trailer. By the time the bears got to the sugar there was nothing left of the Garners' weekend home.
Fortunately, they weren't around when the bears arrived.
That was one of your bad camping surprises. Most of them are a little less sobering. I AM REMINDED, for example, of the time we pitched camp on a secluded little pond in Princeton, Massachusetts, at the foot of Mount Wachusett.
It was a cold, lovely, spring-fed bowl of clear water among the blueberry bushes. The folks in town said it would be a perfect place to settle in for a week.
I think they were playing a joke, because the very first morning we were awakened by sounds of frolicking teen-agers. It turns out that Black Pond was and probably still is the skinny-dipping capital of north-central Massachusetts.
We were incensed, of course, and immediately decided to pack up and leave. That resolve was shattered, however, when by some dexterous maneuvering I managed to destroy the water pump on the car, which took 10 days to repair. A pity. ITS EASY to make friends when you go camping. Unusual friends.
On a motorcycle camping voyage to the Outer Banks of North Carolina we were two bikes, then suddenly we were three.
Charlie (we never learned his last name) appeared somewhere in the Dismal Swamp, a fitting place. He tagged along and, when we stopped for lunch, he joined in and shared the bologna.
It was dark when we arrived at Kitty Hawk and we had no destination, so we roared over the first dune in sight and threw our bags down. Charlie Triumph was right behind, but he thought it looked a little boring and decided to press on.
In the morning he was back, though, sleeping on the bare ground. He left us again when we turned in to the National Park Service campground at Buxton, and we thought we were shed of him at last.
But Charlie wasn't the kind of guy you shake that easily.
When we woke up next morning he was sacked out under the picnic table in a pouring rain. That's where he stayed all week. Then one morning we heard the Triumph roar and we never saw Charlie or his Michigan tags again. ON PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND a French-Canadian taught us how to eat periwinkles with a hatpin. AT POINT LOOKOUT State Park at the mouth of the Potomac River, on the motorcycles again, we were startled to hear a boat roar up on the beach in the middle of the night.
Three huge construction workers from Washington climbed out and advanced on us, commenting as they came, "Let's check out some long-haired hippie perverts."
We did the only manly thing and made friends, helping them consume a case of beer. BUT THE BEST campers are kids because they have such vivid imaginations. We worked out a deal where my daughter, who was getting too big to share the little two-man tent, got her own tent one weekend in Pennsylvania.
She thought that was great until she actually had to get in the thing. In the dark. Suddenly the place was crawling with beasts and goblins.
Everything sounds twice as loud and scary as it really is when you're camping. Even adults can freak out. That first night, after Laura was tucked away, we lay in the tent and heard things getting louder.
Mice? Raccoons? Bears?
Just as I was prepared to go out and stand my ground the tent poles shook, the flap came flying open and a frenzied ball flew into our midst.
Laura, of course, fully wrapped in her sleeping bag and shaking only slightly less than we were. NOW THAT WE'RE OLDER we've grown a little jaded. The ground is harder than it was 10 years ago. This is a scientific fact. And these new camp stoves they make don't cook food as well as the old ones that fried hot dogs with the butane torch effect.
We pulled the old Sears canvas tent out recently and mildew had eaten out the bottom.
So we've taken to renting or borrowing cabins and cottages. It's comfortable. It's easy.
And like all things easy, it's never quite as good.