Thursday, November 19, 2009

Looks Like We're Camping Here

Hubby and I have a long history of sleeping in tents together. I think all of our camping experiences have been interesting, but some might not be categorized as "fun" by normal people. In fact, some could be termed horrific by those more attuned to what is and isn’t healthy and pleasurable.

The boring folks, in other words.

Back in ’94, when we were still fairly new, we took a little, bitty, baby camping trip. Our first--just a few nights, some rockhounding, a “getting to know you” sort of trip. We were fully prepared to head out early, scope out a campsite, then spend the rest of the afternoon whomping on whatever outcropping of stone caught our beady little eyes. Of course, being us, it didn’t quite work out that way. Really, when does it?

It’s not that we didn’t pack in a timely fashion. Heck, we had that little Corolla Wagon packed to the gills early on. No, the problem came when we tried to leave. Or rather, when we tried to close the hatch-back so we could leave.

It wouldn’t close. It stayed stubbornly aloft, one brow raised. Sneering. Really. No amount of cajoling, urging, begging, WD-40ing, threatening, or obscenity-flinging worked. We blew hours on that bastard, actually UNpacked the car in hopes of finding the problem and fixing it. No go. After way too much time, Tommy and I stepped back and nodded grimly at each other. And then we did it—we grabbed that bugger tight and yanked our hardest, dragging it closed. It cracked, it crunched, it snapped and groaned. And then it closed.

Sort of.

What it really did was BREAK, but I’m not going to let a little thing like semantics get in my way. Twenty minutes later, hatch bound shut with much orange twine, we were on the road.

Starting out so late was just the beginning of a trend with us. We are wicked bad for not finding a spot to camp until after dark. Yes, it’s stupid. And?

We cruised through Vernon (not to be mistaken for VERNAL), Utah well after dark, and were approaching Eureka when our cryptic map let us know that we wanted to “turn right at the second set of railroad tracks after the dirt road next to the power poles.” Being smarter than we look, we managed to hang that turn on the first try. Weee!

Speaking of that cryptic map, it also spoke of dirt roads that turn “bottomless” when waterlogged. Really, “bottomless” was the word. Goodness. Who thought THAT up?

We turned onto the dirt road parallel to the railroad tracks and headed toward the pretty lights in the distance (those pretty lights would be THE CHEMICAL WEAPONS INCINERATOR, but we didn’t know that). The road was a bit bumpy, with a little puddle here and there, but certainly passable. At first. After a few minutes, the puddles began to come at us faster and wider and deeper, and Tommy began his fancy slalom driving, keeping up the speed to keep us from bogging down. Perhaps a mile shy of our destination, we came over a rise to see an ocean of muck in our path. Side to side and at least forty feet long with no time to stop. Thinking fast, I shouted, “Shoot for the grass!”

Tommy looked at me, perplexed, and said, “Do WHAT?” Remember, the car was still careening toward our soupy doom.

I practically screamed, “THE GRASS! SHOOT FOR THE GRASS!”

Tommy shrugged, gripped the steering wheel tightly, and shot directly for . . . the very middle of the morass?


The car splashed, squidged, slid a bit, floated for a moment, and then sank. Straight down, waves lapping at the rocker panels. The tires whirred ineffectually in the goo, spraying icy grey water all about.

I moaned. I gestured helplessly. My lips moved, but no words would come. I closed my eyes, breathed deeply through my nose a few times, then turned to glare at Tommy, my expression dangerous, I’m sure. I tilted my head, brought my hands up before me, palms up, and near-whispered . . .

“What the hell was that?”

Tommy stiffened, hackles rising as he made to defend himself.

“You said shoot for the grass!” He pointed to the very center of the sea, where three or four sad, small blades of grass were poking up through the mud.

I goggled. I gestured expansively at the grass all around us, the meadow to either side of the sinkhole. I cried, “GRASS, Tom, GRASS! It’s ALL AROUND US!”

Tommy blinked. He looked around. Then a slow, sheepish smile spread across his face. “Oh, yeah. That makes a LOT more sense . . . so, what do we do now?”

I shook my head. “Looks like we’re camping here.” That became something of a camping mantra of ours in years to come. Yes, we did find ourselves stuck here and there pretty frequently.

Remember that map? The one warning of “bottomless” roads? I remembered it, too, as I pushed my door open, creating a wave of mud and chilly water. I stepped into the pond and found my shoe instantly grabbed. It was a heck of a tug-of-war, but we managed to free our feet with footwear intact and unload our gear. Getting the car free was out of the question. We hoped that the cold night air (and it was getting very cold) would thicken things up a bit by morning.

Lemme tell you something about setting up camp around Skull Valley in late springtime—it’s tough. The cheat grass is high and dry, and the nighttime winds are relentless. Not wanting to be one of those folks who torch 40,000 acres in their pursuit of the perfect weenie roast, I spent almost an hour just prepping a fire spot—fifteen foot radius of no torchable vegetation, a hole in which to put the fire, sides built up with rocks and dirt, then a screen placed over the fire itself. Anal? Sure. Beats dead or responsible for mass destruction, right? Best thing is, this sort of fire building leaves no sign when you’re done—fill in the hole, replant the plugs you took up, and a week later the spot’s invisible.

Oh, before you think Tommy was just lazing around while I cleared a fire-safe spot, know that he was busy dragging equipment from the gently bobbing car, pitching the tent, and setting up the gear. Tommy never shirks even an ounce of camping work. The man is a camping machine.

Dinner followed tent construction. Hamburger patties dropped into the dirt by accident (pretty sure it was an accident, anyway). Being broke and miles from town, we scraped them off best we could and ate them anyway. Grit aside, they were quite tasty.

Exhausted, we put out the fire (that involves water, stirring, more water, more stirring, yet more water, even more stirring, then a full burial with dirt, rocks, and sand), and climbed into the tent for some well-deserved (or at least greatly needed) sleep.

Sleep came, too—pretty quickly for me. I usually struggle for an hour or more before finding my way.

And then it came.

A blaring, deafening WHOOOOOOONK, the blinding glare of headlights, and the unmistakable roar of approaching death. No kidding, that’s got to be what death sounds like. Nothing else could push that much adrenaline into my blood in that short a time. No time to get out of the tent, no time to think, really, beyond the bleary, stunned “Oh, hell, the hicks have come to kill us!” We’d just watched Deliverance on video a couple of weeks earlier, and it was, apparently, still in my head. I scrabbled around in the tent pockets and found my handy, dandy bang-bang stick. Just a 38, not enough to stop a rampaging truck bent upon flattening us in our tent, but perhaps enough to put a hole in the radiator or take out a headlight or two. It’s not much, but when you’re about to die, you go for whatever little bit of something you can that will leave a sign of your once existence. The roar, the spectacular glare, the ear-splitting horn peaked . . . and then Dopplered. I don’t know any other way to describe it, but you know what I mean. It was obviously passing us. Quickly. We staggered from the tent to see the TRAIN rounding a bend a little ways away.

Yeah, train. Remember those tracks? Yeah. Sure glad I didn’t shoot a hole in the tent, huh? Or the train? I hope that engineer got himself a darn good laugh. Once we got all the piss washed out of the tent, we thought it was pretty danged funny, too.


  1. Oh, so hard to believe we didn't even have any dogs to abuse yet by then. Good times, but you left out the fifty-foot barn-owl that tried to eat my face. ;-)

  2. Well, I was hoping you could finish this particular tale on your blog--owl, tarps, and all!