Friday, July 16, 2010

What I Learned Camping

When I was in Girl Scouts, we went on a two-day camping trip to Butternut Springs. This was something like 28 years ago, and the way it was set up was there was a cabin for the troop leaders to sleep in, prepare meals, and a dining room to feed the troops. The girls camped in tents in the surrounding woods. These were permanent tents with a deck-like floor and prison beds and mattresses inside. Given that it was in Indiana, and we were there in the height of a sweltering summer, we were fairly miserable in the woods, sweating and bored, with only a single strip of flypaper hanging in the tent for bug protection. The first night we were there, I did the sensible thing any kid who had been trained by her cruel, older cousin would do: I scared the crap out of the girls telling them ghost stories in the dark. Many of the girls couldn’t sleep, either because they were terrified or because they were homesick, and throughout the night many cries were heard from many of the tents. And then a terrible storm hit, which quieted the sobbing, but also brought a tree down on one of the tents. In the morning, the nonchalant troop leaders congratulated us on surviving our first night camping and said the second night would be easier. I was having nothing of that and I organized a coup against the leaders. Screaming, crying, whining girls ranging from 6 to 12 years old, dozens of them, have a way of wearing down the defenses of even the most weathered troop leaders, and the second night we slept in the cabin, snug as bugs in our sleeping bags on the linoleum floor of the dining hall. So went my first camping experience, which I don’t really count as camping.

Last weekend I camped for the first time for real. Aside from having a lot of fun, it was quite a learning experience. And being a good librarian, I’m going to share it with you. (Click pictures to embiggen.)

1. This stuff, without DEET, is awesome at keeping bugs away. This is not a light statement made by someone who can frolic in the woods with Skin-So-Soft. Oh no! If there is a biting bug within 100 yards of me, it will find me, send up a signal to any biting bug in 4 square miles, and the swarm will descend upon me with ravenous hunger until I am all but exsanguinated. They leave enough blood for me to survive so that they can feed upon me when I step outdoors the next time.
This is the stuff I usually use. If you can’t read that, it says 98% DEET. This is the only way for me to come in from an evening outdoors without losing my mind – and my blood.

2. Putting up a tent is a lot easier than I thought it would be. But it would’ve been a whole lot easier if it hadn’t been 95ยบ.Even the tent wanted to melt. Taking down a tent is easy too. Getting it back into the container it came in is a whole nother story. Good luck.

3. Never bring a photographer with you on camping trip. They are way more interested taking pictures of you putting up the tent than actually helping put it up.

4. When your car wobbles (or shakes violently) at high speeds, something is wrong. If you have the tires rebalanced and this does not fix it, check again. Because sitting in your car on the banks of the Mississippi River on a Saturday night, changing a flat for a spare, trying to find space in your already packed car for the tire that was worn down to the cords is really going to put a damper on the whole camping experience.

5. This little LED lantern (which is merely 5½ inches tall) generates enough light in a 9’ x 9’ tent for two people to lay on their bellies and do crossword puzzles in the darkness of the late night, while waiting for the neighboring tent campers to either kill one another, or shut the fuck up. Handy little device. I highly recommend it.

6. If Person One is in the tent doing crosswords with the lantern on, head positioned right by the tent door, turn OFF the lantern for a few moments before Person Two enters tent, or all the moths, gnats and other light-attracted bugs who are patiently waiting at the door to get at the lantern will invariably get into the tent and drive you completely mad.

7. These batteries only work if you scrape them with something metal each and every time you use them in the little LED lantern. Totally retarded. Don’t know why. Don’t know why we tried this. They worked fine in B.E.’s camera, his camera batteries worked fine in the lantern, but these batteries + the above lantern = need for scraping.

8. When you have inconsiderate, idiot camping neighbors who stay up until 1 am setting up their tents, hammering their spikes with actual hammers and not mallets, vacuuming the tents out, using their car headlights to do all this, with the keys in the ignition and the alarm going off the entire time, slamming car doors every three seconds, no matter how many times you complain, they will insist they’re almost done and that your complaints are absolutely unreasonable.

9. However, revenge is yours in the morning when the drunken losers are trying to sleep off their hangovers. Revenge is sweet. And best served cold. And loud.

10. Millipedes are gross, but massive quantities of millipedes in the campground’s bathrooms/showers are massively gross.

11. When you camp and the temperatures are already above the mid 80s by 7 am, you get so sweaty, so slimy, so dirty, that even in showers infested with 1-inch millipedes, you will shower daily, and you will be grateful for the ability to do so.

12. Bug spray needs to be reapplied before you leave the safety of the shower. Freshly showered humans are most delectable.

13. Trees make for nice insulation against noise, protect you from the direct sunlight that seeks to fry you to a blistering pulp, and provides perches for the early morning birds that sing you awake. Yay trees!

14. Trees also are the homes of many bugs that will annoy you to no end. Tit for tat.

15. The only thing worse than sunburn is sunburn with bug bites on top of it.

16. If you have a sweetie with you who will scratch your sunburn and bug bites for you, you are a lucky, lucky person.

17. No matter how awful you think the whole experience is going to be, it’s never going to be that bad. Bring the condoms just in case. Assuming you won’t be in the mood is an underestimate. Being sexually frustrated in the woods is just sad.

18. Air mattress. Get one. You will not regret it.

19. A bag of cherries is great for camping. Put them in the cooler and the cherries will stay fresh longer, but they will dye the ice water a purple-ish red color. Which will dye everything else a purple-ish red color.

20. You, too, can have the coolest meals around if you have a propane stove and make pizzas for dinner! Others are eating sandwiches, or burgers and hot dogs that are not cooked enough, or cooked too much. Pizzas rock.

And so, despite the heat, bugs, things we forgot, people who irritated us, car mishaps and general annoyances, we had a really great time and are already planning our next camping trip. After we get an air mattress.


Mary Ellen said...

What is that first bug spray? The picture is too small for me to read the label!

Happy Villain said...

Sorry, m'dear. I fixed it so you can click images to make them bigger. However, it's Coleman's DEET-free SkinSmart. I got it at Walmart. There was a coupon in the paper recently, which is the only reason why I even bothered trying.

Sue said...

Your blue tent is cute. I used to purchase that same design when I was still into camping. And used to borrow it in tent rentals (Sacramento).Plenty of those in tent rentals.
San Francisco
is a perfect place for camping, and for those mini tents. Winds are friendly there – they mildly blow and it won't destroy your tent.