From time to time this weekend, I noticed the couple in the campsite across from us. They would get up early, go for a run, come back for breakfast, jump on their bikes, disappear again, come back late for dinner. They were fabulously unencumbered by kids and pets and all their accouterments, ready to flee at a moment’s notice. I was jealous.
Somewhere along the line our camp style has been wrenched from more of a minimalist approach to where we find ourselves today. We used to be able to stow all our gear in two large-ish Rubbermaid bins in the garage, which we could toss into the truck with a cooler, sleeping bags and a change of clothing whenever we wanted to hit the road. We might have an approximate destination in mind, but if not, we could wander from campground to campground until we found something we liked. We didn’t always need a campground, we could just take some dirt road into the mountains and happen upon a wide spot in the trees and set up our tent at dusk.
These days, I’m online in January in order to make reservations for a spot in July, which will get us a site near water and mostly in the shade, with a tolerable pit toilet and running water. We prepare for about a day and a half beforehand for meals that will meet everyone’s expectations and not be too difficult to assemble later, clothing for every fluctuation in weather, toys and gadgets to keep us occupied whether at the campsite or at the beach, medication for car sickness or wasp allergies, or if we happen upon some tourist who lay bleeding by the side of the road (seriously, our first aid kit probably would have to be checked luggage at the airport, it’s that big).
Our two, tidy Rubbermaid containers have become a 1964 Aloha camp trailer which we thought was kitschy and cute when we bought it to contain all our kid-era camping gear. It also has the same relative density as small meteorite, and probably has cost us the same in gas as either of us paid for our college education. The trailer vomits all manner of camping gear once we reach our reserved destination, and then is painstakingly packed back up again just prior to departure.
That is, until this trip, when I saw this sign that said the very future of bears and our safety depends upon our removing and stowing all camping gear including camp stoves, coolers, washbasins, tablecloths, drying rack, our two camp tables, portable barbecue, dutch ovens and any and all gear related to, or having ever touched food or anything that smells like food from the camp site every time we were away from it or sleeping.
“What the bloody hell?” I thought. We were going to unpack the Aloha, set up our camp kitchen and camp table, chairs, and washing station, unfurl and anchor the tablecloth and camp umbrella … and then repack everything every time we left camp to go to the beach, or go on a day hike or go to bed. This rather defeated the purpose of dragging along a trailer that weighs the same as a Cessna. But then, the future of an entire species depends upon our doing so, so it’s not like we were going to refuse.
Furthermore, our oldest was going to spend this weekend in a tent, having outgrown the bunk he’s shared with his brother for the past 10 years, and I was not excited about attracting an animal to our campsite that might mistake his little two-person shelter for an oversized twinkie.
To compound our camping troubles, we discovered a nice, little sign on the camp pump which said the water was being tested, which meant no water unless we were to sneak our five gallon container over to another campsite sometime in the middle of the night to fill it up, or purchase water twenty miles down the road in order to wash or drink or cook.
What other choice did we have? We dutifully packed up camp every time we left to go to the beach, or on a hike. Then we pulled everything back out again once we returned to prepare dinner – sunburned and a little drowsy from the warm beer we smuggled in beach gear – to find that we’d forgotten to bring the water container with us to steal water from another campsite, and decided to use water from the melted cooler ice to wash in.
And every night I looked over at the ready-to-roam couple across the way and thought how delightfully uncluttered their lives looked.
… That is until the last afternoon of our stay when I noticed him giving her instruction on fly casting, and sending her off to a clear area of the campsite to practice. He sat and stoked the fire and watched the backside of her tanned form casting and re casting. I thought about how the two had bounded out of camp that morning for a long run, then returned to jump on their bikes for a long ride. I looked at the cold beer in my hand and thought if I were in her place, I’d probably put down the fly rod, and walk over and punch him right in the head.
As we were breaking camp this morning, we realized how little we had ended up spreading our stuff out across the forest and how the result was we had very little camp breaking to do. We started taking a family tally of the weekend and doling out points for King of the Camp Awards:
- Ten points to me for assembling all the food and making a most excellent biscuits and gravy, once again.
- Forty points to Mike for driving our heavy-as-a-space-shuttle camp trailer to the mountains and for scoping out a couple of excellent day hikes we only half finished because a. they were mostly uphill, and b. we could get a pretty good view from halfway up and therefore thought it was okay to start back down.
- Sixty points to Jack for sleeping in the tent even under the threat of marauding bears and even though it was a little cold, and the dog doesn’t like to snuggle.
- Four hundred points to Colin for the surprise accuracy and strength of his throwing arm in the impromptu “peg the picket pen” contest for which we would like to heartily apologize to any gopher lovers who happen upon this blog. We would also like to note that the game was suspended immediately and indefinitely in the interest of the health of all woodland creatures and Mike swears that not once in his forty-something years of similar antics with brothers and friends has anyone come even remotely close to actually hitting a rodent with a rock at 50 feet.
Colin decided that his prize for winning the “King of the Campsite” contest was a full sized bag of Funyuns and a fountain pop from the store in Garden Valley on the trip home. And because he’s Colin, he decided that as part of his prize, we should all get our own fountain pops and snacks to share.
He makes a good king.