Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Guest Star Week: Camping With John

Welcome to Guest Star Week here on Needless Things!
I put out the call to the Phantomaniacs a few weeks ago for a few guest posts. I have something I really want to work on, but it’s just going to take more time than I normally have to write. It’s a pet passion project – something which may not ever even get published – but I have to do it. I’m really excited about it and have already put it off more than I care to.
Thankfully, I had a few creative and talented people step up with some truly cool entries. I told them they could write about whatever they wanted to that wasn’t religion or politics. I didn’t even want to know what they were writing about beforehand. I said write it, send it, and I’ll post it.
Today’s post comes from John and the timing is pretty amazing. I was just speaking to Mrs. Troublemaker the other day about the possibility of camping. I hate camping and always have, but I know at some point my son is going to want to go. I said if we do, we’re doing it right. Tents, sleeping bags, fires. If we’re going to be freezing cold, uncomfortable, and scared of being eaten by wild animals we’re going to do it right.

           And now, here’s John:
I used to love camping.
Now? I'm too old to sleep on stones and roots and pine cones.
I'm to the point now that bits of me that have been working perfectly well for the past 37 years are now broken when I wake up. I'm to the point that it takes a hot shower and hours of moving about to get my joints moving properly. I’m to the point that my big soft bed isn't comfy enough.
So as I’ve gotten older I’ve acquired better gear. No more sleeping right on the ground. I’ve got a thin piece of synthetic fabric that forms a floor, walls and a roof. It’s big enough for me. That’s it. My boots sleep outside now. Lonely. It’s a good thing. Once it was so windy that my tent tried to blow away. It was my bigger tent that had room for me and my pack. And my boots. 

          A pair of Wal-Mart special steel toe work boots. 3½ pounds of cheapo leather, rubber and steel. It was so windy that the corner of my tent where I stashed my boots yanked free from where it had been nailed to the Earth. Both boots went :::thunk, thunk::: into my face. Was ok though. My face was protected by my -20º sleeping bag. The bag works wonders for keeping a body warm. Not so much protection from a pair of size 13 boots. Almost 30 years ago, on my first camp out the boys that tried to prank me found out three things. One: I slept in my boots. Two: I flail madly in my sleep. Three: size 10 boots to the face don’t feel good. What can I say? I had big feet when I was 8.
The food. 
The food will do things to you. It’s never cooked properly. It’s usually flaming hot burnt crunchy bits floating in cold goo. It’s packed with preservatives to ‘protect flavor’. The flavor of the bag it’s packaged in. These additives will be what you smell when you get wind in a few hours. Or minutes in my case. I sleep with ear plugs now. The smallest noise will wake me. I really don’t want to be able to hear the animal creeping up on my tent before it tears my tent open and eats my head. I’d just die terrified that every falling leaf or snapping twig will be the last thing I hear. The plugs also block the sound of boy scouts talking into the small hours of the morning. The down side to this is that they also block the sound of one’s own flatus. They make that noise for a reason! To warm others and oneself that bad things are pending. And it’s cold. So I have my head tucked down inside my bag to keep my nugget warm. The result: hit in the head. Again. Albeit with something that only felt tangible. I’m so bundled up that I can’t get away from it. I yank my head free from the bag and am gasping for unpolluted air.  One thing one notices when wearing ear plugs is when it goes quiet. It’s done so now. I can hear faint whispers and then silence. In the morning the boys are wild eyed and crazy looking. They haven’t slept. Something, they said, had been though the campsite off and on throughout the night. It was, they said, “gruntin’” and “howlin’”. They’d even gone so far as to mark the times they’d heard it. The times happened to coincide with the times I was being beaten about the head and neck with my own expulsions. So much for the silent but deadly.
Did I mention the cold? 
I’m older than I’ve ever been and I can’t remember. It was really cold on one trip. 25º F with winds gusting at 30 MPH. I was unaware of the cold. I was burrowed up like a bear hiding his face from the sun. My bag was doing its job of keeping me warm and my sleeping mat was keeping insulated from the rock hard ice cold ground. Comfy. Who comes up with these pads anyway? They’re 5/16 of an inch thick and foam. Ridged or egg crated. They don’t weigh anything. And they’re worth that weight for the comfort they provide while I was sleeping on a root. And a log. And a stash of acorns that wasn’t there when I pitched the tent. And a large collection of jagged, knife edge stones. 
Everyone else was up and moving about. Trying to get warm. Lighting stoves and fires. Complaining bitterly about how they couldn’t sleep ‘cause it was cold and uncomfortable. And they slept in the thru-hiker shelter. 
On a smooth floor. Except one kid. He had a mouse try to come up through a knot hole under his bag in the night. Fourteen mice one guy caught the previous night in the next shelter a day’s hike away. ‘S why I was not in the shelter.
I managed to sit up in my bag and peek outside. I could see the open side of the shelter. Two feet off the ground was the floor. The youngest boy was standing in his mil-spec mummy bag at the edge of the floor. Refusing to get out of his bag.
But I’m old and I forget stuff. Did I mention the cold? What’s the FIRST thing everyone has to do first thing in the morning? When it’s that cold out you need layers. Shorts, over which are thermals. Check. Heavy pants, undershirt and thermals. Check. Long sleeve shirt, sweeter scarf, beanie, jacket and gloves. Check. Gloves are a must for me. Cold my hands get. Even when it’s 60º. So, gloves. You crawl your tired, stiff, sore old backside out of the tent and spend a few moments trying to stand up straight. You’re then reminded where you are and how you got there. Involved a heavy lump on your back and a lot of steep hills to walk up. Only to walk down the other side. Rinse, repeat.         
Then you squint off into the woods and find a likely tree. You limp toward it. Trip over every twig and stone on the way. 
Once you’ve gotten to your tree start fumbling with your fly. Have no luck. Remember your skill of getting completely dressed in your mummy bag. From my perspective at  my keyboard in my warm house with comfy bed and hot shower AND climate conditioned water closet I don’t see how I’ve ever done that. Anyway. Your bumbling attempts to undo your fly and fish your willy from your trousers so you can pee. The whole trip to the tree you’ve been psyching yourself up. ‘Cause you know that he’s smarter than you. You also know that he doesn’t like the cold and will run away. The trick is to get the flow on its way before you get it out. That way there’s no standing there with your wick in the wind waiting for the water pressure to come up. No line. No waiting. Whip it out, do the job, tuck it back in. He’s back warm and comfy and happy and you’re good to go for a few hours. But first you have to get your fly down. So you take off your gloves and get everything undone. That takes just enough time for your hands to freeze. 
Now, all Mister Johnson knows is that it feels like a pair of pliers with liquid nitrogen jaws hath grasped him by the scruff of the neck. Your plumbing has gone from outdoor to indoor ‘cause Mister Johnson has run off to hide. The result is that you’ve snapped yourself in the plums with your own sausage. All you can so is yelp. But the flow has started so you pry your gentleman vegetable out and do the deed and quickly tuck it back away. You button everything back up and rush back to the campsite where hopefully there’s a fire and you forget the whole episode before you‘ve gone 5 feet. You’re old remember?
I sit back down in my tent to pack up my gear. The kid is still standing on the edge of the shelter floor in his sleeping bag. He discovers that his need to urinate has become acute. He shouts and bounds from the shelter and across the campsite. It’s surreal. A 5 foot tall inch worm bouncing across the campsite shouting. The shouting dies down and it’s quiet in the campsite. Moments later there’s a high pitched yelp from out in the woods. Bet he can’t wait until he’s old enough to not be able to remember that experience. 
See? I hate camping. Thanks, John – good read and definitely something different for Needless Things. You won’t see a lot of posts about the outdoors around here.

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