The Camping Trip, Part II

Back to Nature

By Jeannette Gartner

I admit it; I am no longer the “outdoorsy” type. Walking from the car to the mall is as close to nature as I’d like to get. Actually, I rather enjoy sitting inside and looking outside. I can get all I want of nature through a window. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against nature, it’s just that there are so many nasty things out there – wind, rain, snow, heat, cold, insects, rattlesnakes, and possibly rabid wild animals – over which I have no control. I am a fair-weather nature lover. I love to be outside if there’s no wind, no rain, not too hot, not too cold, and no bugs or rattlesnakes. Oh, and not too sunny, either.

I used to be an outdoorsy person, when I was younger. As kids, we were always outdoors. In those dark ages, we didn’t have – (dare I say it?) – television, video games, computers, etc. The unspoken rule was that kids should be out of the house. So we were, all day, every day, in snow, wind, heat, bugs, and anything else nature had to throw at us. Kids don’t really notice those things anyway. I don’t remember ever being cold or hot. We did things like roller skate, ride bikes, sleigh ride, play neighborhood baseball, kick the can, and just roam around. We took long hikes to the boonies, which at that time, were all around us. Families went on picnics all the time. Generally, houses were mainly to occasionally eat and sleep in.

But, I digress. As an adult I’ve lost the burning desire to “get away from it all” in the woods or by a stream or lake. I prefer to take it all with me. My idea of roughing it is a motel that doesn’t have a bar in the room, or turning the electric blanket to low.

So why then, do you ask, did I go on camping trips way back then? Beats me! The best I can come up with is it was a mental aberration caused by the extraordinary pressures brought to bear by the family, and possibly the memories of the week-long camping trips my family took every year when I was growing up. It never occurred to me that the adults did all the planning then, and this was now and I was one – adult that is.

Gartner Stravers Gallup Journey

Illustration by Andy Stravers

“All of the cousins are going,” Hubby said.

“Good for them,” said I.

“Do you want our kids to be the only ones who never went camping?” asked Hubby.

“There’s lots of time for that. The youngest is only 18 months old,” I reasoned.

“The kids are dying to go,” Hubby cajoled. (Read that he was dying to go.)

“Okay, you go. Take the kids,” I conceded.

“Would you have your children go without their MOTHER?” he shamelessly laid on the guilt.

I tell you, the guilt feelings laid on me were awesome – my children would suffer life-long traumas if denied this opportunity to commune with nature, etc. Since Catholics just automatically feel guilty anyway, I gave in.

The planning for the trip was done indoors, so I held my own. Although I never did get anyone to agree to take necessities like an oven and swamp cooler (I suggested a very long extension cord), I did inform them that I wasn’t going without a steamer trunk for my necessities.

The group of about twenty – five gathered together the night before the trip to pack the supplies. We had a couple of trucks and various cars, which we pulled into a circle in case of attack. You wouldn’t believe the stuff we had to pack! Tents, sleeping bags, lanterns, flashlights, Coleman stoves, and my steamer trunk (little did I know it was filled with beer). And the food! Of course, we left the perishable food until the next morning, but packed things like bread, peanut butter, cases of beer, and canned goods. (Without an electric can opener? How would we ever get them open?)

Early the next morning, we congregated again to pack the remaining food and supplies and cover everything with tarps, which were tied down. Then we numbered the children from the oldest to the youngest and had them count off. This counting off was done throughout the trip, lest we leave one of the little darlings somewhere. Finally, we all piled in the various vehicles and started off.

By the time we’d gone about a hundred miles and made five potty stops, I was ready to call the whole thing off. Fortunately our lunch stop was in a restaurant, which restored my good humor as we were once again indoors with indoor bathrooms. After lunch, with my equilibrium somewhat in balance again, we began the last leg of our trip. I felt I was beginning to get the hang of this camping stuff.

Then we ran into rain. Which isn’t so bad in itself, since we were in the cars, but we were at this time traveling exclusively on dirt roads – now mud roads – and uphill. Of course the inevitable happened. One after another, the cars got stuck. Luckily the truck with the winch on it was in the lead. So, for two hours, in the rain, each car was in turn slowly winched up the road – while everyone in the cars except the driver had to get out and slog through the rain and the mud up the hill.

All of the wet, muddy, steamy bodies piled back into the cars and trucks to continue our journey. If, at that time, even one person had said to me, “Isn’t this fun?” I would have quit right then. Fortunately for all of us, no one said a thing, even if they were thinking it.

Finally, we reached our chosen campsite.

“Okay, everybody out! Let’s get the big tent up,” some crazy person said.

“Why don’t we wait until the rain stops?” I asked with unimpeachable logic.

“It might not stop all night,” said the lunatic.

“Wonderful,” said I.

“We’ve got to get the camp set up. We can’t stay in the cars all night,” lunatic explained.

Again I tried logic.

“Why don’t we move to a place where it isn’t raining?”

For some reason, this perfectly logical suggestion was scoffed at or ignored. Consequently, there we were, trying to set up tents in the rain. We had one big army surplus 16-man squad tent. I think it was originally called that because 16 men could sleep in it and not because it took 16 men to put it up, which it would have, but all we had were 16 men and women. I admit though, we did get the big tent and a couple of small ones set up and the fact that they were coated with mud didn’t seem to bother anyone. Naturally, the rain stopped and the sun came out as soon as the camp was set up and everyone was thoroughly soaked and muddy, and need I mention cold? And the flies and the ants came out, too.

We all rushed to change into dry clothes and gather wood for the campfire. Have you ever tried to start a fire with wet wood? It’s not impossible, but it certainly is a challenge. However, with everyone scurrying about, we did get a roaring fire built, the wet clothes hung out to dry, the Coleman stoves set up, the Coleman lanterns lit, and dinner started before the sun went down.

An hour later, everyone was tucked into sleeping bags sound asleep, with the nearby river whispering its lullaby.

At first light, the smell of coffee perking and bacon frying woke me up. When I stumbled out of the tent bleary eyed, I was led to the river where, according to the mystique of camping, you must brush your teeth and wash your face with that icy water to begin the day. I noticed that the anglers were already at work trying to coax the sleepy fish to take the hook and bait so graciously offered.

The day progressed. Cooking breakfast, doing dishes, rolling up bedrolls and sweeping out the tent, fishing, wading and bathing in the river, walking in the woods, reading, fixing lunch and doing dishes, napping in the shade of a pine tree, playing cards, fixing dinner and doing dishes, singing and telling stories by the campfire, early bed. And beer drinking. For a few, some big time beer drinking! Good thing for them the steamer trunk was full of beer rather than all my extra clothes.

We had a busy week, filled with river wading, fishing, building and maintaining cooking fires, checking every kid each night for ticks, and lazing around. Suddenly the week was up and we were packing up to go home when someone said, “Let’s do this again every year!” And I was flabbergasted to discover – it was me!

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