June, 2007

Ahh, camping! The very word sets off my gag reflex!

I went camping at some state or national park (don't recall which) in Washington State several years ago with my wife and her sister and brother-in-law. We flew out to visit them, and they drove us all over hell
and back  to someplace in the Olympic mountain range. Very pretty; very breathtaking. Real postcard views. Air that had never been breathed, etc., etc...

Why can't people be content to drive to such places and just... stand there and admire it all?
"Wow! Great! Lovely! All right-- back in the car; let's go get lunch!"

Noooo... They insisted on hiking to... Christ only knows where; way the hell away from where we parked. Of course, one can't be a bad sport and ask: "What is wrong with you people? Can't you stand in one place for 5 minutes? Do you *have* to go striding off like... healthy, capable, athletic sonsofbitches?"  Say that stuff right out loud and people who do that (and enjoy it) tend to abandon your ungrateful ass in the wilderness. There are wild animals and stuff out there, you know? All I remember is that wherever the hell we went, it was too far for humans to walk. I was still smoking at the time, so my natural inclination, when faced with traveling for any distance greater than 10 yards, was to just sit quietly and wait for a bus. No dice... Off we schlepped, with me wheezing and bringing up the rear.

We eventually got to this park/campground area, and it was the kind of place that had little, dinky paved roads that wound through it; they were more like wide footpaths, but big enough so vehicles could be driven into the campground. There were several cars and campers there, and there were a number of campsites laid out along these paved roads. There was a squat, cinderblock building near the entrance to the place. It had toilets, sinks and showers inside it-- one side for men, and one side for women. This
building had a light atop it. The light illuminated an area approximately four feet from the front edge of the building.

We unpacked all our crap and they set up these tents and unrolled sleeping bags and prepared to settle in for the night. I decided to avail myself of the facilities before turning in, and I took my toothbrush and headed up front to the little cinderblock crapper. After performing my ablutions, I came outside, tucked my toothbrush behind my ear and began to make my way back to our campsite. The sun had gone down while I was inside the little building, and it was dark. Darker than hell. Darker than it had any goddam
right to be, when I was trying to get someplace. Country-dark, not city dark. This means, basically, black. No glow from buildings or headlights; no advertising signs or traffic lights. I squinted. No help there. I turned around to get my bearings, and looked hard at the cinderblock building and its oh-so-un-fucking-helpful 10 watt lightbulb. I turned back-- and things just seemed several times darker for having looked at that dim light.

All right. I'm a big boy. It's barely a 5 minute stroll from our tent to the john; I can get back in the dark! I kept telling myself this for the next 3 hours, as I shuffled and groped my way along. There were no lights generated by campers anywhere to be seen. No campfires, no lanterns, no car dome lights, no flashlights, zip; nada. There wasn't even any noise, except for the breeze and a stray cricket or two. No singing around a campfire. EVERYBODY WAS ASLEEP! Nobody in this place was a night owl. I suppose they all had to be up at sunrise to beat themselves with tree branches, do squat-thrusts and yodel, or something, before they hiked their asses off.

I took stock of my available tools. Aside from my toothbrush, I had a few coins, a comb, a Zippo lighter (that I'd noticed earlier in the day would need to be filled soon; I had to shake it to get a decent flame... you remember that?)  and my watch, the face of which would glow if I pressed a button on the side of it. Neither of these two light sources cast anything close to a navigable illumination. There was no moon, to speak of. I might as well have been completely blind.

I couldn't see the paved pathways. I scooted along, dragging one foot so I could tell when I left pavement and touched dirt. In this fashion, I counted to myself, trying to approximate a five-minute walk in the direction I'd come from-- or so I hoped. Once or twice I felt metal, which meant I'd encountered a car or a camper. You ever try to identify a vehicle solely by touch? I had the horrors of setting off a car alarm and being shot to death by some rabid survivalist type. Similarly, I wasn't anxious to be groping the sides of some stranger's tent in the darkness...

I kept winding up back at the damned restrooms, seemingly drawn like a moth to the dim little light bulb there. I thought: "Maybe I can just sit here, and when someone comes to use the toilet, I can ask them if they'll help me find my campsite." Where IS my campsite? By now, I was no longer sure in which direction to go.

The more I sat there, the more I thought: "Someone's going to think I'm Ted Bundy, or something, sitting outside the park's shitter, waiting for prey..." I got up and groped my way around again, somehow winding up back at the toilets. "I have got to get some sleep", I thought. "I'm gonna be a wreck in the morning, and we've gotta hike our way out of here!"

After another half hour, I saw a light in the distance, and I began to walk toward it. It was Marsha, carrying a flashlight! I was never so glad to see her.

She asked "Where the hell have you been? We thought you got abducted by aliens or something!"

"I just want to go to sleep," I said.

We got back to the tent in a few minutes, and I think I was asleep before I sank fully into the sleeping bag.

It turns out (I realized to my intense chagrin the next morning) that the pathway CURVED  left or right, several yards past the area around the toilets. I knew I'd walked a relatively straight line to get from point A to point B, but as I shuffled and dragged my foot to keep myself on the pathway, I'd kept veering off to the left or right of where I needed to be. Each time I did this, I was completing an unnecessary and unrealized circle that took me right back to the toilets, instead of walking a straight line to our tent. In daylight it was amazingly clear what I'd done wrong. I apparently just kept missing Marsha, who'd traveled back and forth dozens of times in a straight line as I did my foot-dragging, roundabout route.

My Idea Of Proper Camping...

I had the weirdest dream that night: I dreamed I could hear some bears standing outside our tent, deciding whether or not to bite into it and try to eat me.
"The outside part doesn't taste like anything, really. It's just bland and full of fiber. Inside, it's real meaty and juicy. Just chomp right into it", one bear advised the other.

"I don't know; you can't tell what's inside. It's like those boxes of chocolates that don't have a diagram. You gonna get the good, caramel-nut one, or the shitty one that has toothpaste or... noodles or something weird in it?" the second one replied.

"Don't be such a weenie! Just do it. Here; I'll go first..." the other bear said.

I awoke, flailing and flapping and thrashing about, trying to get out of the damn sleeping bag, and shouting: "FUCK OFF, BEARS! GET THE HELL AWAY FROM MY TENT, YOU BASTARDS! I DON'T TASTE GOOD... Unnngghh... cough; hack; grunt! FAAARRRT! Oh, for God's sake... Help me! " and so forth and so on...

I crawled out into the unmerciful sunshine, to the sight of several small children in uniforms (not Cub Scouts, but something akin to that...) and some sort of adult troop leader who'd come to a dead halt in front of the tent, and were wondering what the hell this bleary-eyed, wild-haired sonofabitch was up to.

"Morning", I offered. "Beautiful day, huh? How ya doing?" They hurriedly scampered away, shooed along by their leader. Marsha immediately dashed over, jammed a mug of coffee in my hand and pushed
me back inside the tent.

"Don't you dare come out of there until you're wide awake and friendly again!" she said.

I can recommend several good places to camp that I've thoroughly enjoyed since then: The Marriott, the Doubletree, The Radisson, the Hilton...

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