I promised this story to friends and family about a month ago now and started to write it down, but we’ve been moving and getting settled and I just haven’t had the time to finish it. Earlier this week, part of the story resolved itself unexpectedly, so I’m going to take that as a sign that I should still bother telling you the gruesome details of our ill-fated camping trip…
John and I are geeks, right? Which means we spend most of our time glued to our computer screens for one reason or another. Being geeks, however, we also have this deep desire to be able to do everything for ourselves. Whether this comes from reading too much post-apocalyptic fiction and therefore thinking we need to know how to survive the end of the world or simply from a distaste for actually spending time with other people, I don’t know, but it occasionally manifests as a desire to go camping.
Go ahead, Mom, laugh it up. Get it out of your system.
Prior to marrying John, you need to understand, I had slept in a tent maybe twice in my life. Once at my family’s cabin which has gas appliances, running (if not potable) water, and an outhouse bigger and cleaner than most of the bathrooms in the apartments I’ve rented since leaving home. The second time was at a KOA campground for a friend’s birthday party, and I think most of you will agree that if you have access to a heated pool, it doesn’t really count as camping. I disliked both times enough that I didn’t try very hard to rearrange my work schedule in high school to accommodate family trips.
Somewhere in my adult life, however, two things happened. One: I started to put together an understanding of science and humanity that, paired with my carefully groomed anxiety, has convinced me that civilization has a better than fair chance of collapsing in my lifetime. Two: I learned to knit and then spin and found that I get an immense amount of pleasure from doing what one might call “heritage work.” Adding those two things to my lifelong passion for burning things (some people call it cooking, but we all know it’s really about how high you can get the flames before the smoke detector goes off), I somehow arrived at the conclusion that I would actually enjoy camping.
Let’s review: paranoia + knitting + culinary arson = camping. The rest of you may now join my mother in her hysteria. Don’t forget to breathe, Mom.
John, on the other hand, has been camping and enjoyed it in the past. He has a great enthusiasm for it, in theory, and has often expressed a wish that he could talk me into experimenting with more remote campgrounds. We were both therefore very enthusiastic about our trip to Miles Standish State Park–the beginning of our first vacation together since our honeymoon and our first opportunity to test out the tent my parents gave us for Christmas the year before last.
And no, before you start snickering, the tent wasn’t the problem. It’s color-coded so well that a remarkably strong and tall kindergartener could put it together. Our tent (and its matching, equally color-coded footprint) is awesome. So is my ability to plan ahead to demand minimal cooking skill (and also minimal dishes) while in the “wild.” Where our problems began was with my ill-advised attempt to bring a half-gallon of raspberry iced tea.
I had noticed a leak in the fridge at home, as I had been storing the thermos on its side. I assumed that I just hadn’t sealed the bottle properly, so I unscrewed the lid, resettled it, and carried the thermos out to the car. After we had happily set up our little tent site in beautiful weather (no sign of thunderstorms, no sir), we were hot and decided to go for a swim. As we were locking up the car to wander around the pond, I noticed some reddish liquid in the bottom of the back seat. When I went to mop it up with a paper towel, I realized that it was no small puddle. When I reached for the thermos to right it and keep it from leaking anymore, my heart dropped into my stomach. The half-gallon container felt…empty. When I shook it to hear what I could hear, the sound of rattling glass greeted my ears. I unscrewed the bottom and discovered that what I had thought to be an aluminum inner bottle (and had therefore treated like aluminum) was, in fact, glass and resembled a jigsaw puzzle more than a bottle.
Far too many paper towels later, John and I decided we had soaked up as much as we could and went hiking off for a swim hotter, stickier, pinker of finger and trying not to let the giant, murderous stain in the car weigh us down. The swim was cooling, anyway, but do you know what lurks at the bottom of strange lakes? Neither do I, but my imagination certainly has a few choice ideas.
When we got back from our swim (which involved approximately three times as much walking as swimming, because we were looking for a section of lake not dominated by small children and scowling parents who radiated conviction that swimming area ropes meant “kids only”), we had a moment of sick fear when we realized that John had gone swimming with the keys in his pocket. Our short swim was fortuitous, I guess, because the keys had stayed put and we were able to unlock the car and pull out the spare key to make sure we had a backup if we did something silly with the other keys. A self-fulfilling prophecy if ever there was…we left the keys on the picnic table while we lounged about reading and building a fire and generally feeling like competent pioneers so that we would know where they were… and then a gremlin stole them.
Seriously. We spent two and a half hours doing nothing but ripping the camp apart looking for those keys and we never found them. The picnic table was always in sight, so no person could have taken them. Neither of us left the site in between setting them down and noticing they were gone. We unpacked and repacked every single bag and container we had brought with us, felt every pocket, and overturned every pile of pine needles at least three times. Keys: gone. Losing the keys isn’t a terribly big deal, in the large scheme of life. One was one of three keys to a car we’re planning on selling anyway, and since we had my keys as well, we weren’t even locked out of the apartment. The stress and the absolute mystery of it, however, cast a cloud over the trip and made it even harder to sleep on the invisible but undeniably present tree roots we had parked the tent on. (Well done, us.)
Oh, and did I mention that we didn’t think to bring pillows? You think of that as a minor first-world luxury until you spent a night on the ground without one. I think my back is still trying to recover. We didn’t have to suffer with the sleeping conditions for long, though. Some late-night campers pulled into the lot behind ours at about three-thirty in the morning, and there was no going back to sleep after they had terrified and woken up every whippoorwill within earshot. I do love the fact that I can identify them by their call based solely on the fact that their name is onomatopoeic, but it’s a small consolation for being kept awake.
We stumbled out of bed around four, desperately exhausted and a bit cranky. My crankiness, let’s be honest, was not helped by the fact that I hadn’t thought to bring anything to grease the pan and my brilliant idea of campfire pancakes with veggie bacon came out like this:
John cooked another pancake in the bacon pan a bit later, and even though veggie bacon isn’t nearly as greasy as normal bacon, he still had better luck.
To add further to the list of “things I was too tired to handle,” it was still cold at five in the morning, but I hadn’t brought any long pants, because I’m a genius that way. I tried to solve the problem by sitting really close to the fire, but what result was a stubborn heat rash that didn’t go away until a solid half hour after I had walked away from the fire and stood in the lake for five minutes.
I ended up eating some pasta salad from the night before for breakfast and got a honey bun or something from the gas station on the way to Plymouth Rock–excellent eating choices for a stomach that’s queasy from exhaustion, if I may say so. We went to Plymouth Rock at an insanely early hour just to get away from the campsite before our frustration and tiredness overwhelmed us. We were hoping that we’d find our second wind and some enthusiasm for staying a second night. What we really found was this:
That’s Plymouth Rock, folks. Thank you, tourist board of Plymouth, for caging off a big boulder that may or may not ever have been stepped on by the first pilgrims from Europe. I had always imagined Plymouth Rock as some colossal rock formation jutting out into the bay, but it’s more a series of depressing tourist shops along a stretch of rocky beach with a graffiti-covered breakwater that clearly post-dates Plymouth Colony. It wasn’t enough to inspire me to rough it like a pilgrim, I’ll be honest, but it somehow made me feel better about our decision to tuck tail and run when we got back to the campground. A sizable serving of ice cream gave us the oomph we needed to break camp a night early and hightail it back to our shower, microwave, and pillows.
We received our final closure on this trip last week when we went to clean out John’s car to get it ready to be sold. We have two emergency kits, who knows why, and John decided to inventory their contents to see if it makes sense to offer one to whoever bought the car. Don’t ask either of us how the heck they got there, but it was in the emergency kit for his car that John finally found the missing keys.