Print Story CAMPING
By technician (Mon May 07, 2012 at 04:41:31 PM EST) (all tags)

If you're facebooking with me, doing the facey bookey, you'll have seen that I and the wife went for a bit of a camping trip this weekend. But first, what is camping (other than hanging out at a spawn point and picking off gamers)?

Camping, when I was a mere sprog, a mere shadow of my current aged and gnarled self, was two very different things. There was Camping, which meant a car was very close by and you slept in a tent near it. And there was Hiking (or Backpacking) where you camped, but the car was inconveniently many miles from the tent. We did the former quite often, the latter not so often. From the time I was born 'til my parents saw fit to not like each other anymore, I didn't ever backpack. We stayed at the lake or in the woods at campgrounds that were mainly KOA or the like, and we slept in tents with a trunkfull of gear (coolers, stoves, food, beer, beer, beer, and food, and snacks. And food. And some beer). When my mother married Tom Rugged of the Montana Hills, we backpacked about once a year. We'd walk about fifty or so miles into the woods of southern Colorado, then walk back out. Seemed like an odd way to spend your time, but hey.

Camping, lately, has meant "Wow, it would be nice to go out and sleep in a tent $somewhere" which could be the backyard or a park or a state park or etc. I'd become dead set against "car camping" though, because it seemed like a lesser version of The Manly Art of Back Woods Survival, which is all about crafting spears from available parts and stabbing animals or fish in either defense, attempted food gathering, or both. Manly Camping means I have a distorted memory of those long trips we took in Colorado, where I'd be attached to an external frame pack that had my bodyweight in gear, food, and water, and we'd sleep in cheap nylon pup tents on army surplus canvas drop cloths, and we'd run out of the tastless freezedried food and small tins of Underwood Deviled Ham in the first four days and have to eat a lot of fish, which we had no problem catching if by "we" you mean "my stepfather" and by "no problem" you mean "lots of problems."

The long view is a romantic one, though, and through the narrow slitted eyes of age and discontent with modern anything, I'd formed this rosy tinted memory of Camping that involved smokey fires, clear skies filled with stars, and absolutely no bears or snakes. Every meal was a treat, every mile was a meditation on the glory of nature. All the trappings of my old pack (the tin dinner set, the boy scout canteen, the 1930's Schrade hobo knife, the musty canvas and too-bright nylon, the sweat stained straps of the pack) took on a gauzy, lovely blur of nostalgia for some idyllic thing that had never actually happened quite the way I'd colored it.

So. A few years back, the wife decides she likes the idea of camping, but she's never backpacked. I'm all like, p'shaw, when I was a kid, we'd hike a thousand miles and live on what we caught and drink water from streams in an giardia induced fever. We'd splint broken legs with sticks and keep moving forward. We made fire from the rubbing of sticks and/or stones. We loved it, and you're not hard enough to handle it.

Wily one, my wife. Got her wilderness first responder certificate (a very hard week of 12 hour days training in backwoods improvised medicine) and was like, let's go.

But first, what is camping? By the time I'd started volunteering with the BLM and with DACSAR, I could easily backpack a few days without any issues, in a one man tent (a tiny little shelter than weighed about four pounds) with no water or food, just a pack of reds and fifty pounds of medical and radio gear. I made my pack as minimal as possible, and had actually attained a working weight of fifty two pounds including water that could keep me for four nights in the volatile New Mexico wilderness (desert, forest, tundra, lava, you name it). We'd fuck off and go sit in the woods chewing odd drugs and giggling, and we'd do so with damn near nothing, and no regard for our comfort, because the less, the better. Then I found a few too many dead bodies (one was enough, but two?) and had two too many severe weather events, and moved to California (unrelated to the bodies or the weather) which involved selling my gear.

So, my wife, medical knowledge intact, wants nothing more than to Backpack in the old school sense, wants to Camp in places no-one goes. So we decide to have a dry run: we'd camp at a Corps of Engineers Lake a few miles from the car, but within mobile phone range. We'd go in for one night, but have enough gear for three just to see what it hiked like. And we'd have a lovely time. We planned on doing this in February (when the temps were in the 80s) and March (when the temps were in the 70s and 80s) and April (when the temps were in the 60s and 90s) but didn't get to it until Cinco de Mayo. We packed our new internal frame packs (mine, an REI, and hers, a Kelty) and our new 2 person backpacking tent (a Passage 2 from REI), and 11 liters of water, clothes, food for two days, stuff to make fire with, her first aid kit, my first aid kit, flashlights, Koala repellent, three knives, a pistol, and a chemlight. And a poncho.

Got to the lake at 0930, walked 2.5 miles, set up camp in a meadow near a lake, and by then the temperature was too high to hike. We could have, but it would not have been fun or relaxing, so we walked a few hundred yards in a few directions, and then settled in to the heat under a huge oak tree. While walking, we were rattled at by a very large snake (we'd been warned several times, it was the worst [best?] snake season they'd ever had, evidenced by a complete lack of small mammals in the entire park). The sitting and waiting for the heat to pass thing was pleasant...lots of birds, including some odd ones, and lots of butterflies and bugs. Our tent was taken over by spiders within minutes of being set up, actually.

At around 3pm the shade no longer helped; it was 95 but felt much hotter. We slowed to a crawl, just sitting in shade, sweating, drinking water. Time crawled. Random hikers dropped by, but said nothing or sneered (everyone we encountered was oddly rude...very rude, which is very strange for this part of Texas). We whittled and talked.

At some point we noticed that the butterflies and snakes and birds were active again, and that the heat had dropped a few degrees. The sun dropped behind the haze, and we settled into an 85 degree evening. I lit a fire, because goddamn it that's what you do. No need to roast anything, all our food had cooked itself, the s'mores had s'mored in their various components. The water in one of the bottles was hot enough to brew tea, so that was handy.

Then the sun was finally consumed by the haze, and we had five minutes of moonrise (a nice pink / red moon) and then noticed the lightning to the west, very very far off.

"No way," I say to my wife. "The local weather scientists who are never wrong said, ten percent chance of rain. And ten percent in central Texas in a drought is, ya know, zero percent chance." But the wind shifted toward the lightning, a huge inflow, and I was like, maybe we should put up the rain fly.

Then we moved into the tent, leaving the rain fly open to allow some air in (it was still 84 degrees, so about 90 in the tent), when the wind hit again...this time, an outflow with ozone so high you could smell the electricity from miles off. We closed the rain fly and buttoned down, and a few minutes later the wind nearly flattened the tent, lightning started rapidly filling the air, and our tent fabric became see through: you could distinguish certain lightning bolts through the walls of the tent as thunder flattened the grass around us. One strike had our hair up, must have hit nearby because the thunder was unlike anything I'd heard while outside.

Then wind driven hail, then seventy mile an hour rain, then all night: wind gusts, rain gusts, and thunder.

At some point in all of that, some point there in the heat or the lightning or something, the gauzy romance of backpacking was torn away and I remembered clearly:

Camping one summer in southern Colorado, twenty five miles into a ten day hike, we ran out of food, and were eating fish, nuts, and plants (daisy greens, cat-tail roots sauteed with fish, some sort of local mushroom that wasn't poisonous or hallucinatory) and a storm came up, a large black wall of cloud. The temperature dropped into the forties. Lightning hit close enough that I remember my teeth "zinging" as my hair, on end, started to sizzle with static. My paperback book, the only escape from that whole trip, was consumed in a leak in the corner of my cheap tent. I stared at the holes in the tent, the mud on my boots, the dirt in my sleeping bag, and I distinctly said to myself, self? Camping sucks.

In the tent at 3am on Sunday morning with my wife at my side, I sez to myself, self? This was a great experience, a good thing. I would do it again, even with the heat and the lightning. Because it reminded me, it was a learning moment. It reminded me of lessons I'd already known, both about myself and the world. I'm glad we did it. Because, in the future, we'll camp. We won't Camp, or backpack. We'll camp.

So, from now on? Car camping: we park the car, walk a few hundred feet, pitch a tent, prop up a hammock, have coolers of beer and water, fresh food, and a guitar or two. And we camp, without Camping.

< Constantine craving | New transport. >
CAMPING | 26 comments (26 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
VS2P by ana (4.00 / 1) #1 Mon May 07, 2012 at 04:52:50 PM EST
Seriously... any list of anything that includes Koala Repellant should be on the front page.

I now know what the noise that is usually spelled "lolwhut" sounds like. --Kellnerin

No no by yankeehack (4.00 / 1) #3 Mon May 07, 2012 at 05:14:15 PM EST
you meant to write that any story which has any mention of SNAKES rattling at the author should be on the front page.
"...she dares to indulge in the secret sport. You can't be a MILF with the F, at least in part because the M is predicated upon it."-CBB
[ Parent ]

SNAKES by technician (2.00 / 0) #6 Mon May 07, 2012 at 05:32:37 PM EST
So the thing is with snakes, rattlers anyway, unless you step on one you're in pretty good shape. Like, if they rattle and you are at all aware, you can quickly GTFO. When they strike they are very fast and can cover their body length quickly, but pre-strike they are can outrun a snake. And they don't "like" to strike.

Still, hearing a big crashing noise as one scoots off the trail into a bush, then hearing this really loud sustained rattle, that was spooky. I hadn't seen the snake. That's what scared me. My wife got to hear her first rattle, though.

I saw one while we were hiking in, a small hognose that flattened itself and hissed as we passed. Hognose are damn near impossible to piss off enough to strike.

However, ask me if my wife had boots on. Because the answer is no. Also, short capri style pants. Her ankles, while alluring, were entirely exposed to the many imaginary snakes I envisioned on the hike in and out. No ankle support with a really heavy pack? Bad idea. No ankle support with a really heavy pack in snake infested woods? VERY bad idea. We got lucky is all.

[ Parent ]

LOLWUT? by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #13 Mon May 07, 2012 at 10:37:38 PM EST
Way back when I could run, I *just barely* outran a water moccasin. I'd be a dead man today.

You can't handle my complete attention.
[ Parent ]

Water moccasin by technician (4.00 / 1) #14 Mon May 07, 2012 at 11:22:35 PM EST
are quick. Rattlers are not. And in high heat, they all tend toward lazy...but water moccasin are pretty darn quick.

[ Parent ]

and silent. and very aggressively territorial by ammoniacal (4.00 / 2) #15 Tue May 08, 2012 at 12:07:27 AM EST
Damn. I hate those fuckers.

You can't handle my complete attention.
[ Parent ]

Aggression by kwsNI (4.00 / 2) #21 Tue May 08, 2012 at 10:25:35 AM EST
That's what scares me about them.  Only North American snake that will chase you, the rest just want you to leave them alone. 

[ Parent ]

An actual list of things I brought with me: by technician (2.00 / 0) #4 Mon May 07, 2012 at 05:21:51 PM EST
1 x USG entrenching tool
2 x 25 foot paracord
1 x standard lensatic compass
1 x bedroll (cotton sheet, cotton sheet, 1/4" foam mattress)
1 x REI stuff bag with trousers, shorts, T-shirt, socks, spare socks, long sleeved shirt, and 2 underarmor wicking shirts)
2 x envelopes of Pataks Indian food (vegan, various flavors)
1 x dish Patak's vegan Indian entree
2 x 1 liter water bottles
1 x 1.75 liter hydration pack
1 x REI passage 2 tent
1 x biodegradable TP
1 x hand sanitizer
1 x signal flare
1 x signal mirror
1 x waterproof match holder with 12 strike anywhere matches
1 x drop cloth (nylon)
10 x aluminum tent stakes
1 x 350ml flask with 350ml Power's Gold Label
1 x pencil
1 x field notes notepad
1 x HTC phone
1 bottle of 10x Koala repellent (well, bear spray)
SIG P250 9mm w/3 magazines
45 rounds Hornady TAP in 9mm NATO
1 x Gerber LMF2 knife (for hatchet and digging)
1 x Puma stag-handled fixed-blade knife (for other)
1 x CRKT folding knife (for food and carving)
1 x Cyalume 12 hour chem light
1 x standard small field medikit (contents on request, basically the WMI kit minus the assessment form and no syringes)

The wife had 6 liters of water bottles, so her pack weighed a little tiny bit less than mine. Mine weighed the same going out, though, as I packed it with a wet tent for the return trip.

[ Parent ]

Oh, and my flashlight with four spare batteries. by technician (2.00 / 0) #5 Mon May 07, 2012 at 05:22:46 PM EST
And I think that's it. I think.

[ Parent ]

wet tent by wumpus (4.00 / 1) #9 Mon May 07, 2012 at 08:25:13 PM EST
and Texas drought aren't something this onetime East Coast camper would have guessed. In dry parts, everything magically became dry immediately after the rain. Back home, not so much. I would have guessed you were in sufficiently "dry parts".


[ Parent ]

It was raining by technician (2.00 / 0) #12 Mon May 07, 2012 at 09:52:32 PM EST
as we hiked out. It dried off by 10am.

[ Parent ]

45 rounds by sasquatchan (2.00 / 0) #20 Tue May 08, 2012 at 09:53:14 AM EST
anti-personnel and no snakeshot ?  Which is more likely ?

[ Parent ]

Snakeshot by technician (2.00 / 0) #22 Tue May 08, 2012 at 11:15:43 AM EST
in a P250 is just silly. I'd miss eight times and get killed, versus just running away.

The pistol wasn't even really being carried for a practical reason, but it would be part of a back country load out, in areas with meth labs and bears that don't respond to Koala repellent.

[ Parent ]

a 9 against a bear ? by sasquatchan (2.00 / 0) #23 Tue May 08, 2012 at 11:38:30 AM EST
I dunno, 3 mags might not be enough there either ...

[ Parent ]

Depends on the bear. by technician (4.00 / 1) #24 Tue May 08, 2012 at 12:02:41 PM EST
Grizzly, I don't anticipate carrying a 500 or 454...I anticipate not hiking there.

[ Parent ]

tl;dr by technician (2.00 / 0) #2 Mon May 07, 2012 at 05:04:49 PM EST
After a day in an oven and a night in a severe thunderstorm, we had to hike a few miles through snake infested woods to get back to the car. Despite this, the whole experience was good, worthwhile, and non-repeatable.

A poncho by jimgon (4.00 / 1) #7 Mon May 07, 2012 at 07:05:36 PM EST
One poncho.  Hardcore, brother, hardcore. 

Yeah, camping is the way to go.  Your wife.  She crazy lady.

Technician - "We can't even get decent physical health care. Mental health is like witchcraft here."

Just the one, by technician (4.00 / 1) #8 Mon May 07, 2012 at 07:37:11 PM EST
and we didn't even use it.

[ Parent ]

That's good by jimgon (4.00 / 1) #10 Mon May 07, 2012 at 08:34:58 PM EST
As the man you would have had to use it to ensure you kept your strength to fight off wolves. 

Technician - "We can't even get decent physical health care. Mental health is like witchcraft here."
[ Parent ]

what wolves? by garlic (4.00 / 1) #11 Mon May 07, 2012 at 09:12:37 PM EST
just snakes.

snakes and koalas.

[ Parent ]

There was a woman present by jimgon (4.00 / 1) #16 Tue May 08, 2012 at 06:10:52 AM EST
There are always wolves and vermicious knids, snozzwangers and whangdoodles.

Technician - "We can't even get decent physical health care. Mental health is like witchcraft here."
[ Parent ]

Heh by Gedvondur (4.00 / 1) #17 Tue May 08, 2012 at 07:33:29 AM EST
I'm amused that there is a difference between "camping" and "car camping".  Mind you, I've never really done more than the latter.  For me, the camping was always about the togetherness with the people (or person) I went with.  The less we had to worry about the inconvenient physical nature of shelter the better off we were.  When I felt I needed to get with nature a bit, I would take a hike for a few hours. 

Hell, I don't even camp in a tent anymore.  At the annual Men's Camping Weekend my friends and I do in Michigan I rent a popup camper.  I don't enjoy getting up off the floor of the tent every morning anymore and my father comes with, he's 65 and he doesn't care for it anymore either.

But I do like being in the woods, the camp fire, the beer and the scotch.  If that means that the hard-core backpackers look down on me, so be it.

"So I will be hitting the snatch hard, I think, tonight." - gzt

That koala repellent really works! by wiredog (4.00 / 3) #18 Tue May 08, 2012 at 08:00:29 AM EST
I've never been bitten by a koala while wearing it.

For me, camping was always the same as backpacking. Anything else is just hiking. Or "sleeping in the car" ,which != camping. Or Army FTX's which involved driving trucks to where we were sleeping, pitching tents, and digging in. Haven't been backpacking since just after I got out of the Army. Spent a week on a Sierra Club trip with Dad. A week above timberline in the Sierras. Really enjoyed it, never want to do it again.

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

My story. by Driusan (4.00 / 1) #19 Tue May 08, 2012 at 08:18:35 AM EST
So I went camping too. A2 got a tent this fall and has been looking forward to using it. A MEC 2 person, which I imagine is more or less the same as your REI. A couple of the Québec national parks are opening this weekend after being closed for the winter (the rest: next week), so we book a campground at Mount Orford National Park the same night as you, it seems. The forecast seems okay. High of 20, low of 4. Positive numbers, both. Sunny. The park says a 3km, 2hr hike to the camp ground, which seems like a nice warm up for a relaxing camping trip. Pack up our backs the night before as lightly as we can. Maybe 20lbs of a gear each. Her tent, my hammock (unused this trip), a small stove, some fuel, pots and pans, some food, 4L of water each and a first aid kit.

We drive down to the start of the trail and start hiking up around 4, and JESUS CHRIST THIS IS STEEP. It'll get better. The rocky path keeps going up, higher, and keeps staying rocky and mountainous, like following a billy goat trail with a backpack full of camping gear. I keep thinking to myself "there's nothing separating me from the ravine on my left and I'm too tired to be surefooted I should have worn my bike helmet."

2 hours/2km into this march, about an hour till sunset, the path takes us on top of a giant boulder. At the top of this boulder is a rope put up between 2 trees with a sign on it saying "SENTIER FERMÉ POUR LA PÉRIODE HIVERNAL" and what the fuck this is the only way to get to the site we have booked and they let us check in to 2 hours ago. We call the emergency phone number on the sign using one of our cell phones and it just goes to voicemail. We don't leave a message, we just push ahead, because there's no way we can get back down that trail by sunset. The first thing after this rope is a giant fucking tree that fell onto the path, completely blocking it. (It happens to be the same tree that had the path marker on it), which we somehow manage to get around and continue on to another (smaller) tree with a marker that had fallen over the winter, blocking the path.  After that one, we carry on some more unmaintained, muddy terrain that not a soul has seen over the winter and get to the campsite just before sunset. Set up the tent, cook dinner, and go to bed before it even finishes setting.

The runtracker on A2's iPhone says it was 388m over 3.14km, so that's just over a 12% grade of rocky terrain for 3 hours. (It ended up going down to 0 over night, too.)

Wake up at dawn, and do the whole thing in reverse right after breakfast so that we can return the car rental in time. Get it back with 5 minutes to spare.

Lessons learned:

  1. Don't book that site.
  2. I'm glad I had my hammock even though I didn't use it, because if we didn't make it to the site there was no ground suitable for a 2 person tent, and in a worst case scenerio we could have shared it as a bivy sac.
  3. Next time, bike camping somewhere closer and flatter (Oka), even if the site is filled with car campers.

Vive le Montréal libre.

CAMPING!!! by StackyMcRacky (4.00 / 2) #25 Wed May 09, 2012 at 10:51:37 AM EST
I LURVE camping!  I much, much, much prefer backpacking.  However, I like to find A Spot, hike out there and set up camp for a few days.  I haven't done the "pack it up every morning, hike 12 miles, unload at night" thing and I'm not sure that's the lifestyle I want.  Then again, maybe I'd like it if we did it.  WHO KNOWS!

Anyway, clock will not backpack when diapers are involved so it's car camping for us for a while.  Part of me doesn't like car camping because it seems high maintenance than backpacking: because you can carry more comfortable stuff, you do.  Last fall we met some friends of mine (with kids) at a SP and had an absolute blast!  Splitting meal duties and not having to entertain kids made for quite an enjoyable time.

I like being where I have no responsibilities (nothing that says "you COULD be doing $X instead of sleeping") and no one contacts us for stupid things (namely, my mother with whatever her current crazy shite is).  Camping is the only place I can go and truly relax these days.

Pre-Dude we decided to try one last trip before it got TOO hot.  It was early June (I think) and we hit the SP that's 40 minutes from the house (it's no longer a SP, boo hoo) and has a "primitive campsite" that's a 2 mile hike from the car.  We'd run home after work, throw stuff in the car and GO!  No need to make reservations, either, since nobody camped in the PRIMITIVE section.  It got really muggy that night.  And then it started raining, so the fly went on.  Did I mention we were using clock's 4-season 2-man tent?  For the two people and the pup?  That thing had NO airflow, and Porschea could NOT cool down.  We had a miserable night, all crammed on top of one another in the heat with a very unhappy dog.  As the rain kept pouring down in the morning, we decided forget it, we'd go home.  A VERY HAPPY pup pranced and splashed her way back to the car.  (note: this is the dog who hates getting wet).  After we got cleaned up at home, we went straight to REI and picked up an all-mesh 3 man tent with giant wind scoops to pick up breezes.  Perfect for Texas camping!!

Damn, I want to go camping NOW!

I used to camp all the time by theboz (4.00 / 1) #26 Wed May 09, 2012 at 11:08:33 PM EST
I even did some of the, "survive off of what fits in your pockets and on your belt" type of camping.  However, Texas just intimidates me for some reason.  Despite being totally familiar with snakes and all sorts of other things, it's the bugs here that get me.  I've accidentally set up camp in a dry creek bed that got flooded in a surprise thunderstorm.  I've been (car) camping at a campground in Ohio that turned into something like a zombie movie after the sun went down, but substituting skunks for zombies.  I've barely avoided cottonmouth snakes, rattlesnakes, copperheads, and alligator snapping turtles.  I've climbed dangerous cliffs and camped in areas where you have to worry about Deliverance type people that live in the area.  I've escaped forest fires.  I've almost drown while on a camping/canoeing trip.  I've done all sorts of cool stuff when it comes to camping, and some scary stuff.  However, there's just something about Texas that bothers me.  Maybe it's the extreme amount of bugs, the extreme heat, or I don't know what.  I just haven't felt the urge to camp as strongly here as in other places.  That being said, Stephen F. Austin state park is about 20 minutes from my house, and my kids are getting all hyped up about camping.  I may take them there in the fall when it's back to being weather fit for humans outside.
- - - - -
That's what I always say about you, boz, you have a good memory for random facts about pussy. -- joh3n

CAMPING | 26 comments (26 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback