If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again. Then Quit. There’s No Use Being a Damn Fool About It.—W.C. Fields (attributed)
BLAST FROM THE PAST—THE RAINMAKER
I’ve tried camping many times. And even though it’s never actually worked, I’ve put together a much more complete picture of how not to do it. [**See Barb’s Camping Epiphany, below]
For example, during college a group of us decided to go camping in northern Minnesota. We set out for a three-week trek armed with several sets of fishing gear, two canoes, five packs of food, and one carton of generic beef stew. Four hours after getting into those canoes, we still had the stew.
Luckily, one of our number already knew he would become a Classics professor, so he had a lighter for his pipe, which he handed over after first making each of us swear a solemn oath to never again mock the pipe. We built a fire, heated up the canned stew, smelled the canned stew, thought about the canned stew for a few minutes, and went home—mocking the pipe the entire way of course.
Then there was the time my friend Janine and I borrowed my brother’s car to go camping over Spring Break. As we crossed the Indiana state line, I asked Janine if she’d heard a noise.
“Not really.” She was concentrating on trying to get the radio to work. “Unless you mean those sounds like an elephant in labor.”
We knew if we’d been guys, testosterone poisoning would have forced us to stop the car, lift the hood, touch some really smelly, greasy stuff and announce, “No problem—I’ll just deconfribulate the compression grabulators with the cap of my pen and we’re outa here.”
Luckily, we had two other choices:
- Turn up the radio and drive on.
- If the radio doesn’t work, pull off at a gas station. Now, a guy might do this too if the car sounded like an elephant having a difficult labor—baby elephant triplets at least. But he would approach it with all the enthusiasm of a man sent out to buy some really personal feminine hygiene items. First he would get some gas, maybe a quart of oil or some gum, and then casually mention in passing, “Did you notice that sound when I pulled in?”
Janine couldn’t get the radio to play loud enough to cover the sounds of the impending pachydermal blessed event, so I stopped at a gas station on the edge of a small Indiana town. The mechanics were very interested in our problem.
“You two girls alone?”
Yes, we said we were, and they thought our engine sounded bad. Very bad.
“You camping around here?”
Yes, we thought we might have to, and they said the car couldn’t possibly be ready that day.
“You want some company out at that campsite?”
Yes, we—Hey, why are those guys sharpening those big knives instead of working on our car? NO, NO WAIT, we just remembered it looked like rain and tomorrow was Sunday and we had to get to church, LOTS of churches, and we’d better just set up camp at the Holiday Inn, and don’t worry about the car because my brother, my BIG brother, maybe half-a-dozen of his even BIGGER frat brothers, would come out and get it…
Since then I’ve made it rain several times by attempting camping trips. At first, I had to drive to the campsite to get it to pour rain, but now all I have to do is open the car door and wave a tent bit.
My husband still has to sit down when he thinks about our trip to Starved Rock State Park, the first camping attempt of the summer. We hiked up to a nearby waterfall, but when we arrived we only found a trickle. “Not enough rain this time of year,” announced fellow hikers.
So when we set up the tent in a little wooded hollow under a cloudless sky, I said, “We’ll get more air circulation without the rain fly.”
We laid in our tent all night listening to the dog bark as she treed several members of local fauna including, I think a few fellow campers. Around dawn, we were drifting off to sleep when there was a clap of thunder. As we leaped to put up the rain fly and the canopy over the picnic table, my husband suggested leaving. “Without the camp breakfast?” I was horrified. “I promised the kids blueberry pancakes in the great outdoors.” In my bright orange plastic poncho, I hunched over the stove, frying pancakes as the great outdoors poured off the canopy in solid streams, churning the wooded hollow into six-inch deep mud in remarkably short order.
“The kids said to tell you they’ve been exposed to enough nature, and they’re not coming out of the car,” he yelled over the sound of the storm as the canopy collapsed into the camp breakfast.
“Why are you doing this to us?” the five-year-old wanted to know.
“So you’ll have wonderful memories,” I snapped back.
I know I’ll never forget some of my own camping experiences, mainly because Janine grabbed a handful of postcards from that Holiday Inn. Over the years I’ve received many steamy messages signed ‘Bob the Indiana Mechanic.’ Most memorable was the one which arrived just after my wedding. Received by my unsuspecting new husband, it nearly made my marriage as short as most of my camping trips.
**Barb’s Camping Epiphany
Finally came the camping trip to Wisconsin. My sister and her family were staying in a condo in town a few miles away, so we went over to see them. The kids took one look—TV, pool, fridge, flush toilets—and refused to come back with us.
That night, the Hub and I huddled in the tent, rain slashing down, and the dog crying because we wouldn’t let her stay with the kids. I had an epiphany. “Never again.” It was a solemn oath. “I’ll will never again vacation any place where I have to put on shoes to use the bathroom.”
(Don’t judge. Epiphanies come in all shapes and sizes. This was mine.)