Camping, Part I

Some of my best memories involve summers spent camping with my Dad. As a young kid growing up I lived with my Mom, so I would only see my Dad for a few weeks during summer vacation. He had a small pickup-sized camper and for a few years we would go out camping in different parts of the northeastern U.S.

I haven’t been camping much since then. My last camping trip was about 20 years ago, and it is a trip that lives on in stories that are told to this day. I’m talking about the kind of stories that survivors of the Titanic probably told years after that event. My friend Jenn hasn’t been camping since that trip 20 years ago, and when asked she just replies “I don’t go camping.” If pressed for information, she will point to me and say “ask him why” because I was there.

It wouldn’t be entirely accurate to call that trip a disaster. Nobody died or lost a limb. It was really just a comedy of errors. I can say that now, looking back on it. At the time, I’m not so sure we were confident that we would emerge with lives and limbs intact.

This was a four-person trip planned by my friend Jim. That should have set off red warning lights right there. Jim is quite a character but he was never known for his organizational skills, let alone his skills as an outdoorsman. Jim borrowed a tent from a friend, and we piled four people and a weekend’s worth of camping gear into Jim’s Dodge Daytona for the trip out to the campground on eastern Long Island. We were packed like sardines into the car, sitting in odd positions for a couple of hours jammed in between all of the gear.

We arrived at the campground as the last bit of light was leaving the sky, only to discover that Jim forgot the bag with the rope and tent stakes. That left Jim wandering the woods with an axe to chop up tree stumps for use as tent stakes. Meanwhile, I climbed trees with a knife in my teeth to cut down every sliver of rope left behind by previous campers, so we could string them all together into a few really ugly ropes and get the tent up in the dark.

That would have been enough to make a memorable trip, but things went downhill from there. Jim set up a tent-like shelter to “protect” our food. All the shelter ended up doing was trapping all of the animals in with the food, which they quite enjoyed. They could get in, but couldn’t find their way out. On a late-night trek across the campground, Jim decided to drive instead of walk, keeping his headlights off so as not to disturb any other campers. He drove into a tree in the dark. On our last day, Jenn fell off of a teeter-totter onto her head and a very sunburned back. The whole trip was one long mess. Funny in retrospect, but not so much when it was going on. I can’t speak for anyone else, but both Jenn and I haven’t been camping since.

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