Jared Kennedy remembers waking up in the middle of the night to creatures scratching at his tent on every side.
Kennedy was just 15 when he went on his last camping trip. His parents put him in a pup tent with his dog, Lucky, and Kennedy brought some dog food into the tent in case Lucky got hungry.
"I woke up to a scene from the 'Blair Witch'" horror movie, wrote Kennedy, 32, via e-mail. "My Uncle Dave tried scaring them off with flashes from his camera but (the raccoons) just hissed, like the demon spawn they are ... it took my dad throwing sticks at them (and me) to get them to scamper."
The Burnsville, Minnesota, resident likes nature and enjoys it while staying at a cabin on the lake with family or friends. But don't try to get him to sleep in a tent. He's done.
Contrast that camping-gone-wild horror scene with Karen Craw's feelings about her yearly trip with her family to Michigan's Avery Lake, "on the prettiest drop of water that I will ever see."
Sleeping in a tent at a campground without decent cell phone reception, the Grand Rapids, Michigan, resident finds herself on a rowboat at sunrise, hearing her father's funny stories and bearing witness to the incredible beauty of nature.
"When the sun rises, parting the fog over the smooth lake surface each morning, and you can see the loons and deer going about their day, you calm (down), you breathe."
Camping: Many people seem to either love it or hate it. But there is a camping continuum for nature lovers who fall somewhere in between the two extremes.
What constitutes camping?
Some purists only camp after hiking miles into the wilderness. Others are happy to car camp, setting up tents within reach of a trunkful of gear and supplies. And by definition, huts and cabins qualify, too.
For Alex McCollough of Haslett, Michigan, camping involves a tent and little or no cell service. He works in an office and loves to detach from computers and technology and reconnect with the people in his life.
McCollough, 29, goes tent camping every chance he gets, and he even proposed to his wife on the way to a campground a couple years ago.
He knows it's a lot of work to prepare for a trip, set up and take down a campsite, and yet "there is nothing better than sitting by the fire actually conversing face to face with the people you are camping with instead of texting in a corner by yourself," wrote McCollough, via e-mail.
Holing up in a tech dead-zone sounds like nonsense to many an Internet addict. And as technology gets more advanced and portable, it's sparking another debate about what constitutes camping: It's not a Wi-Fi equipped hotel on wheels, say some.
Why not? The less back-to-nature of the camping set say they want their natural beauty, their marshmallows over an open fire and their Wi-Fi, too.
Some 42.5 million Americans went camping in 2011, according to a U.S. camping industry-sponsored survey that covers all varieties of camping from tents to campground cabin stays. Participation is up from 39.9 million campers two years ago. Nearly 5 million of those campers were tent campers and backpackers enjoying the national parks in 2011, according to National Park Service data.
And these days, people don't have to rough it.
"Camping can range from setting up a tent in the backyard to car camping to a light hike into a meadow off a trail," says Michele Orr, REI's director of merchandising, whose company sells all the gear and gadgets a camper could desire.
"It's most important to have fun! These days, a person doesn't really need to rough it if they don't want to."
A history of tension
Camping used to be a necessary way to travel across the country for settlers trying to conquer an often-hostile land, wracked by all sorts of natural challenges.
The young country's move toward industrialization in the 19th-century drove Americans off their farms into crowded cities and factory towns.
"Nostalgic yearning for contact with nature became an ever stronger theme," said William Kornblum, a sociology professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center and head of its National Park Service research unit.
That yearning for nature goes back to the ancient poets, and it appears in the work of 19th-century American Romantics such as Henry David Thoreau, who viewed wilderness as an escape from the corrupting nature of civilization.
Yet even at Thoreau's Walden Pond, "the chugging sounds of the nearby Fitchburg Railroad encroached on the philosopher-poet's quest for natural simplicity," said Kornblum.