Thursday, October 17, 2013

My (Un-)Funny Camping Trip

At the Wynton Woods campground

Dear George,
On my recent camping trip I woke up briefly in the chilly early morning hours.  It was still dark.  I’d been dreaming that I was writing about the day’s events for my blog, and I’d been laughing out loud in my sleep.  When I got up in the morning, I was still in good humor. However, when I tried to remember just what was so funny about my camping trip so far, I couldn’t remember a single example.  I decided it was just funny in my dreams. 

Originally I’d been thinking about making a two-night trip to Yellow Springs, the home of Katja’s and my alma mater. I couldn’t persuade Katja to come along though, and I scaled back my plans to an overnight trip to nearby Wynton Woods.  If you think of camping as a foray into the wilderness, Wynton Woods barely qualifies.  The campground is about ten miles from our house in a big county park.  The campsites are spread out in a large pine grove near the banks of Wynton Woods Lake, and, while certainly attractive, the campground has a neatly manicured, almost suburban feel about it.

I like to fiddle around with my camping gear, and so I started getting organized two days in advance.  It’s amazing how much stuff you can bring along for a 28-hour trip.  Over the years I’ve made a list of all the possible camping gear anybody might ever want to own.  My list now contains about 200 items, and I bring along at least 198 of them.  This approach is the opposite of what I learned as a Boy Scout.  In the Scouts, we limited ourselves to the minimal equipment we could pack in a knapsack.  Now I am constrained only by the expansive space limits of our SUV which I fill to capacity.  Among many other items, my gear for this trip included: ten large nails (in case the ground is too frozen for regular tent stakes), two corkscrews, two air pumps, a whisk broom, a rain poncho, at least two dozen bungee cords, a Sudoku book, four large candles, twelve books of matches, a can of Three in One oil, flip flops (for leaving the tent at night), dog I.D. tags (though I’d left the dogs at home), and phone numbers and addresses for the park ranger, the county sheriff, a veterinary clinic, a nearby hospital, and the nearest Wal-Mart (in case my air mattress were to deflate).  

Lake view from my campsite

October is a prime time for camping in Southwest Ohio because the weather is more pleasant than our hot and humid summers.  Weekdays aren’t filled up though, and I was lucky enough to get my first choice among Wynton Woods’ 100 camping sites (site #49).  It’s located on a bluff overlooking Wynton Woods lake and is relatively separate from neighboring sites.  There was a small RV parked across the road from me, and it was occupied by a middle-aged man who spent most of his time reading in his deck chair.  It’s unusual to see a solo RV camper because you nearly always see couples camping in RVs.  At first I wondered if he had lost his wife through death or divorce.  That was sad.  Then I decided that his wife had probably not wanted to go camping, so he’d gone by himself.  That wasn’t as sad but sort of lonely nonetheless, and I felt sorry for him.  Of course, I was camping by myself too, but it’s a different matter for tent campers than for RV campers.  Or so it seemed to me.  

My Buckeye Family tent

There’s a real divide between tenters and RVers.  In my opinion, tent campers are more rugged and authentic, while RV travellers simply use the campground as a place to park their air-conditioned, TV-equipped vehicles while they go about their business.  I’m attached to my tent, both ideologically and emotionally. I got it at St. Vincent de Paul about eight years ago.  The list price was $5.00, but I bought it at a Monday half-price sale, so it cost $2.50.  It probably is the best bargain I ever got.  Tents are great.  It’s like having a home away from home, one that you can pick up and set down practically anywhere you please.  It’s especially mysterious and comforting at night when you hear strange sounds in the forest but are safely ensconced within the tent’s four walls.  This trip I spent a couple of hours trying to write poetic odes to tents.  This is harder than you’d think.  Writing poetry about love and angst are difficult enough, but it’s particularly challenging to find the words to express the depth of your feelings about tents.  I’ve yet to complete even one satisfying tent poem.   Here’s an example of one quatrain that I’m still struggling with:

My tent protects me from wind and rain
And bears and wolves and deer
Sleeping in my tent, I’d never complain
If I have my six-pack of beer

Unintentional self-portrait at the lake (see shadow at lower left)

When I wasn’t writing tent poems, I took a couple of hikes around the lake and the marina area.  I used to come here with my dad when he moved to Cincinnati and lived a mile or two from Wynton Woods.  You can see what a boon the park is to the community.  Along the way I saw fishermen and women, joggers, couples strolling hand in hand, kids on bikes, baby buggies, big and little dogs and their walkers, people feeding ducks, families on excursions, children throwing a baseball, teenagers texting one another, rollerbladers, etc.  The best sight though was when I got back to my campsite and sat down with a glass of wine.  A little kid – he looked like he was three, but maybe he was four – came riding down the road by himself on his two-wheeler bicycle. I was surprised what a good rider he was, given his tender age (also that his parents let him go riding on the road by himself).  The road dipped down about ten feet in front of my campsite, then promptly rose back up about ten feet.  The kid sped up as he went down the hill, then stood up on the pedals as he pumped his way back up to the top of the hill, just barely making it.  Then he turned around, came back down the hill from the opposite direction, and again struggled to make his way back up to the top.  When that kid grows up, I thought to myself, he’s going to compete in the Tour de France.  He came back to practice on the hill two or three more times during the day.  He seemed to do a little better each time.

My New Hibachi

I’d brought along my new hibachi on this trip.  I’d gotten it for $3.50 at a community yard sale in Fort Thomas a few weeks ago.  The seller wanted $5, I offered 3, she said 4, and we settled on $3.50.  Though I had my Coleman gas stove available, cooking by hibachi seemed like a special treat.  I’d brought some charcoal and some hickory chips, both in bags that I’ve had for twenty years or more.  I soaked a handful of chips in water for an hour beforehand.  The charcoal briquettes wouldn’t light with a match as they were supposed to, but I had a can of charcoal lighter fluid among my exhaustive supplies.  I think the hickory chips had lost their zest over the decades, since they gave off a lot of smoke but no hickory scent that I could detect. When my burger was done, I topped it off with Cheez Whiz, and it was very tasty.  It had taken me an hour and a half to soak the hickory chips, get the charcoal white hot, and finally cook my one ground chuck patty, but the end-product was definitely worth it. 

Campfire and candles

When I spoke to Katja by phone after supper, I asked her to check the time for sunset, and she said it would be 7:04 p.m.  For somebody who normally stays up till midnight, that seemed very early to retire.  Fortunately I had my new battery-powered lantern that Katja gave me last Xmas to use in the tent.  I’d gathered up a bunch of pine branches from the forest, and I got a roaring campfire going about 7:30.  It’s clearly the most relaxing time of day.  I sat back and thought about campfires in the past, being with friends from times long gone, and the excitement of being on one’s own in the woods.  

My tent interior at 8 a.m.

I went into the tent about 8:30.  To my disappointment, the batteries in my new lantern were dead, and so I had to cancel my plan to do some reading.  The weather forecast was for a low of 47 degrees.  Though chilly, I’d come well prepared with a sweatshirt, sweatpants, and a Menominee Maroons wool knit cap that I’d bought at the Marinette Goodwill.  I took a sleeping pill and drifted off, sleeping soundly till 1:46 a.m.  Then it was sort of on and off, interspersed with dreams about friends, family members, and, of course, camping and blog writing.  In the morning I heard a succession of honking noises passing by outside my tent.  When I looked out, there was a lone goose flying steadily across the lake from north to south, going honk-honk-honk-honk to no one in particular.  Where he was going and who he was talking to were unclear to me, but he seemed very steadfast in his intent.  I felt some personal identification with the honking goose, but I couldn’t tell you exactly why. 

I had a good breakfast – burnt bacon, burnt French toast, and orange diet soda (in lieu of fruit juice).  I made some instant coffee, but when I took my first sip my mouth was full of undissolved coffee grounds.  I stirred up the cup once more and took a second sip, but still nothing but grounds.  I spit them out and read the label on the instant coffee jar.  It wasn’t instant coffee at all – it was regular ground coffee for our French press. This sometimes happens when I don’t double-check with Katja in picking out food from the cupboard to bring.

There’s a noon checkout time at Winston Woods, so I washed the dishes, took a short hike, then started breaking camp.  On an overnight trip you spend the first part of your trip unloading the car and setting up.  Then, before you know it, you’re taking the tent down, repacking your gear, and loading the car back up.  It goes by very quickly.  That’s all right with me though.  I’m happy doing anything with my camping equipment.  I’d planned to eat lunch at the campground before I left, but I ran out of time.  Instead I stopped at a fast food restaurant on the way home and got a grilled chicken sandwich and a large chocolate shake.  I didn’t like the dressing on the grilled chicken, and the chocolate shake wasn’t as tasty as I’d expected.  In fact, compared to my burnt French toast breakfast, lunch back in civilization was anti-climactic.  But that’s the trouble with returning from a camping trip.  Re-entry is never an easy matter.

G-Mail Comments
-Gayle C-L (10-18):  David,  Great views'  You certainly captured the peace and calmness of the lake.  Looks like a wonderful adventure.  Very brave. 
Hope all's well.  Give my love to the family.  Take care.   G;) 

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