POWNAL — It’s simple, really. You throw up a tent, you light a fire, you try not to get eaten by bears.

And yet for the uninitiated, camping in the woods of Maine is not without obstacles.

“The coffee maker? I thought it was a lantern,” said Brianna Bruccina. “The tent stakes? I thought they were something you could eat.”

She deserves a break. Bruccina is 15 and on her first tenting trip. Her guardians, Tom and Kristina McBean, were of little help. Though very enthusiastic about the trip, the pair was equally unseasoned in the ways of the great outdoors.

“We’re going to grill. We’re going to have a great, big fire,” Tom said. “We’re going to try not to burn down the forest.”

It was just after high noon Friday and the family was setting up. They were at Bradbury Mountain State Park courtesy of the Maine Department of Conservation, which picks 40 families each year and sends them on their first camping excursion.

You would not know at first glance that these were camping virgins. Professionally erected at the edge of their lot was a domed tent from L.L. Bean.

“It was real easy to set up. I could have done it without Dave’s help,” Tom said. “Eventually.”

Dave is Dr. David Metzler, an environmental educator and part of the First Time Campers program. He was there to help things along — to make sure the family knew the difference between a tent stake and the kind you put on a grill, for example.

“I get them set up,” Metzler said. “I make sure all their concerns are addressed. After that, they’re on their own.”

Tom and Kristina are not completely unfamiliar with the Maine woods. They are from Hampden, near Bangor. But sleeping in a tent, on the same level as the spiders and snakes, that was something different.

“We do a lot of day tripping and traveling,” Kristina said. “We’ve been in all kinds of national parks. We’ve been to Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. It’s just that we always stayed in the comfortable places.”

Comfortable like a cabin, with its beds, refrigerators and indoor plumbing. This would be different. Brianna was already starting to count the ways.

“Bugs,” she said. “I don’t like them. And I’m glad there’s no lake. That would be creepy. Like, ‘Friday the 13th’ creepy.”

While she pondered her trepidations, Tom and Kristina took inventory of their supplies. Thanks to companies such as Oakhurst and Hannaford, which donated goods to the cause, they had plenty of food and drink.

“They gave us a list of things we should bring,” Kristina said, opening a giant cooler to display packages of hot dogs, hamburger, eggs, even some homemade chili. “We brought double what we need. We have everything.”

And really, how rough is roughing it these days? The trio was set up with other families just a few yards away on either side. They were quite close to the bathrooms, which feature fully functional showers.

Brianna was excited to note that her cell phone was getting service in the deep, dark woods next to Route 9 so she could stay in touch with her friends. Kristina admitted they had an inflatable mattress to put down beneath their sleeping bags.

“We even have electricity,” Tom said.

He wasn’t kidding. With the aid of a portable device attached to his car battery, he was able to plug in a radio and some other appliances they might need.

“I do have my computer,” Kristina said. “We’re going to do some writing.”

The family had most of the comforts of home, it’s true. But it was different from being inside air-conditioned walls with sealed windows and locked doors to keep the elements out. Brianna was noticing the difference already.

“A bug!” she shrieked, slapping at an arm. “A bug is on me!”

Kristina tittered and then checked her own arm for possible invasion from the insect army. The three talked about porcupines. Those things couldn’t fly, could they?

Maybe this wouldn’t be so easy, after all. Maybe they really were roughing it for two full nights.

Kristina leaned over and whispered, in the barely-there tone of a conspirator.

“I have a sister who lives 20 minutes away from here,” she said. “She has an indoor pool. If all else fails, we’ll go there.”

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The First-Time Camper program is part of the “Take It Outside” initiative begun by Gov. John E. Baldacci. For more information check out take-it-outside.com


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