Friday, December 10, 2010

Why We Will Never Live in a Tent — Part 1

When I was in college, I had a friend named Jean who had plans to go skiing for the first time in her life.  The week before the event, Jean was so excited that, like many first-time skiers, she went shopping.  She returned with a spectacular pair of skis, boots, bindings, poles, goggles; and a beautiful snow bunny outfit all in white, including a parka with fake fur around the hood.  She added a dash of color in the form of a sky blue six-foot-long wool scarf that she imagined trailing in the wind as she schussed the black diamond trails.  Jean was going to be amazing.  She unpacked all her goods and, to the delight of her roommates, modeled every last thing, including the skis.

Small living rooms are not designed for skis.  Jean got her skis crossed, tripped over the coffee table, and broke her leg.  She spent the next two months in a cast and gave her ski gear and snow bunny outfit to her sister Mary.

We have been more successful
at camping than Jean was at skiing.
We have not broken any bones.

One spring day in Guilford, Connecticut, we were visiting a friend at her cottage on Lake Quonnipaug when she asked us if we needed a tent.  Until that moment, we had absolutely no need for a tent.  But, now that she mentioned it, we did already have a canoe and a matching Isuzu Trooper.

I had been a boy scout and my father had been the scout master.  (It's a good thing I was too young to understand I was gay or the Boy Scouts of America would have kicked me out and I might never have learned how to make hunter's stew or use a compass.)  I had been camping on the Sacandaga River when I was in college.  Jerry had gone camping when he was in grad school and after.  We had both enjoyed it.

Anyway, our friend had a 3-man dome tent she was looking to sell.  It was like new and the price was right, so we bought it.  We then began planning our first camping trip.  We already had a great camping cook stove from Jerry's father (I don't know why), so we went out and bought sleeping bags, pots and pans, glazed enamel dinnerware, a huge water jug, lanterns, canteens, a couple of coolers, a folding shovel, and everything else of interest at our local camping supply store.  We practiced setting up the tent in our backyard.  We were ready to camp.  Being from the prairies, Jerry prefers open spaces and is not at home in deep, dark woods.  Being who I am, I do not like latrines or cold showers.  So, we carefully researched campgrounds and found the perfect place in the Green Mountains of Vermont.  Large campsites, flush toilets, hot showers.  Lakes and rivers nearby for the canoe.  And 10 minutes from Bennington.

Judy, the intrepid adventurer, flew in from Seattle and we made preparations for our first camping trip.  We watched the weather forecasts with concern.  Heavy rains were predicted for New England.  Judy said we shouldn't worry.  The morning our adventure was to start, it was raining in Guilford.  Jerry and I were hesitant but Judy said, you never know what the weather will actually be doing in Vermont,  What was a little rain?

So, we loaded up the Trooper, strapped the canoe to the roof, and headed out in the rain.  The rain continued at a steady pace until we reached Amherst, about half-way there.  It cleared a bit for the rest of the drive.  We arrived under threatening skies at a spectacular and entirely deserted campground.  So, we quickly set up camp and drove into Bennington to buy a 10 x 15-foot screen house with drop-down plastic panels to enclose it from the elements.  In a steadily increasing drizzle, we erected the screen house; no small task — nothing seemed to fit the way it was supposed to.  We finished just ahead of the downpour.  Inside our dry and safe enclosure, we cooked a delicious spaghetti dinner, we then took hot showers, and settled in for the night.

I don't know who does the ratings, but three-man tents are not designed for three men — unless those three men are little people.  Nor are they designed for two men and a woman, no matter how petite that woman may be.  Or maybe three-man tents are just not the best idea when two of the men are Jerry and me.  Judy immediately fell contentedly asleep.  Being from Seattle, the damp was her familiar friend.  Jerry and I tossed and turned trying to find places for our legs in the cramped quarters as we listened to the rain pound the nylon tent and we felt the damp settle into our bones.  Finally, at 11:30, Jerry had a meltdown.  He muttered furiously that this was impossible and he couldn't take it anymore.  He unzipped his mummy bag, unzipped the tent flap, and took off in the car.  I had no idea where he was going or when/if he was coming back.  Nor, clearly, did he.  The headlights of the car flooded the tent with daylight as he backed away from the campsite.  Judy slept.

I spent the rest of the night worrying.  The rain had become a constant torrent.  Where had Jerry gone?  Why did my sleeping bag feel wet?  Why had the ground beneath the tent gone soft?  Was Jerry coming back?  Had he gone off the road?  Had the car been washed into a river?  How could Judy possibly sleep through all this?

And was it my imagination or was that a river of mud to the left of my sleeping bag?


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