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. >|