This weekend we felt obligated to go make memories like most Americans do on the Fourth of July. The best way to make memories is to have a really good time or a really bad time although, based on my own experiences, I feel like the really bad times are the most memorable. I suppose this is why camping is so popular. It’s the quickest way to make lasting memories and it costs less than many of the more pleasant alternatives like boating or flying or going to Disneyland.
My Grandpa bought some land in West Virginia many years ago so he could go hunting and avoid my Grandma. Their marriage isn’t exactly storybook although it has provided us with enough stories for a book. Anyway, during my childhood our family often drove from Pennsylvania to camp out in the wilderness of West Virginia. The most memorable times were when my brother drove our minivan into a tree and those times when it rained so hard we couldn’t start a campfire. Ha! What memories! I certainly don’t want to deprive my children of similar memories and so this weekend we loaded the van until it’s rear end was hanging like a cheap hammock and floored it while holding a general southeasterly heading. Misery loves company and so we invited Bryan and Maria, a fellow apprentice family, to come along.
There is a house trailer on this 30 acre lot and it has aged as well as most house trailers do. Who knew that building something on an assembly line as fast as possible and using the cheapest components would result in a product that ages poorly? That being said, it has a shower and an oven and a toilet that all generally function and so the trailer is a very useful thing to have on the property. I like to think of it as authentic West Virginia decor. It really blends in with the local community. The crowning point of the property is that the humble trailer is parked right on top of a mountain and features a glorious view of five mountain ranges (if it’s a clear day). It’s very pretty. Almost heaven, really.
We were telling Adi and Elliot that we were going to West Virginia to go camping. That made them very excited! You could tell by their excitement that they haven’t gone camping much in their short lives. Generally, seasoned campers are grim pessimists who pack rain gear even though the forecast declares there’s no reason to do so. Just like mothers who pack extra clothes even though there doesn’t seem to be a reason to do so. Both groups of people usually end up being right. This means that when mothers who are also seasoned campers pack to go camping, they take an extra of everything except the kitchen sink. And that’s because there’s only one kitchen sink and it’s not easily taken out the front door. That’s why our van was sagging. Lots of stuff! We were actually planning on staying in the trailer but at the last minute Janice decided we should throw in the tent just in case the kids wanted to use it. “OK, whatever,” I said and threw the tent in the back. Surely the kids are too dumb to realize that sleeping in the trailer isn’t real camping, right? I should stop trying to pull fast ones on my kids. They are getting smarter than I give them credit for. They are also growing faster than I realize. When it comes to parenting, Janice is a beady eyed prairie dog standing at her burrow, intently peering into the savannah searching for any danger. I’m an ostrich with my head buried deep into the sand. I’m thankful for Janice.
As soon as we pulled into the yard at West Virginia we began to pull things out of the van and carry them into the trailer. Adi voiced her disgust, “This isn’t camping. We need a tent!” We all laughed heartily, explained that there was a tent in the van, and acted like tenting was the plan the whole time.
“Well, I better go set the thing up,” I said and drug the crows nest of canvas, fiberglass poles, and metal stakes up into the woods to the campfire ring.
Our tent was given to us as a wedding gift. We have used it many times but since our wedding two children have shown up. Although the children have the amazing ability to sleep even if they’re inverted, twisted into a pretzel, and dangling from a light fixture, Janice and I both seem to have issues sleeping in any position that’s not supported by twelve inches of foam. I guess we’re getting old. The tent has a canvas floor that’s home to many spiders and rocks and pointy twigs, and even the occasional spider carrying a pointy twig, so sleeping on that isn’t a possibility for us. The problem is solved by simply putting our two single air mattresses beside each other and making enough space for the whole family to sleep. The footprint of our air mattresses is slightly larger than the size of our tent floor so the mattresses bulge out the size of the tent and you can zip the door only about 3/4 of the way shut. The bottom half of the door is blocked by the air mattress but it’s so tight a flea would get a hernia trying to push through the gap. A bear couldn’t possible get through, I tell the kids. I doubt a bear would try to use the door anyway since he could just come through the side of the tent, but I didn’t tell the kids that.
Of course one problem with this setup is that sometimes the smaller child will disappear into the crack between the air mattresses. Another problem with air mattresses is that no matter how tightly you blow them up, they will always be half flat when it comes time for you to climb out in the middle of the night to pee. This means that every flip and flop you make will be amplified 100 times and then transferred directly to your children who weigh a fifth of what you do. As you try to quietly extricate yourself from your sleeping bag and sneak towards the door, you are inadvertently sending children ricocheting off of the ceiling and bouncing around the tent like ping pong balls. By the time you get out of the tent the woods are echoing with children crying and the incredulous voice of Janice questioning if I am really trying to be careful. Still, the call of nature must be answered.
There were definitely bears around there and that was highlighted the next day when the neighbors drove up on a four wheeler and asked if we had any children or small dogs wandering around. “Yea, there’s kids somewhere around here.” I said.
“We just saw a large black bear on the driveway and chased it into the woods behind your trailer. Just letting you know!”
I took the news inside to everyone in the trailer. Maria offered her pepper spray that she kept in her purse. “It expired in 2018. I don’t know if it’s good yet or not.”
“It’s probably fine. Expiration dates are just there to sell more product,” I said.
I pocketed the pepper spray and Bryan and I took a walk back the lane and into the woods. We never did meet the bear which was both relieving and disappointing. On the way back to the trailer, Bryan suggested we try the pepper spray. I carefully pulled it out of my pocket, turned off the safety, and pushed the button. A six inch stream of black goo squirted out, lost momentum, and dribbled all over my fingers.
“Boy, I’m glad we didn’t need this.” I said.
Soon the drama wore off and we found ourselves sitting by the fire, poking it with a stick. This is another reality of camping: boredom. I took the opportunity to show the kids how to make a toothpick. “See, you take this dead tree and you whittle it with your pocketknife until it’s a toothpick. Once you do that, it’ll be time to eat again! That’s how you pass time camping. Don’t cut yourself.”
Of course, the younger generation has shorter attention spans. “Stop being mean to the kids. They want to do something,” Janice said. We didn’t really need toothpicks and so we went sightseeing instead. The way the kids were fighting, it probably wasn’t a good idea to teach them how to use knives anyway.
We visited Blackwater Falls and Smoke Hole caverns. The highlight of Smoke Hole caverns was when the tour guide said the stalactites took 200 million years to form, and yet there were six inch stalactites growing on the cement that was poured only a few decades before. I think the math was done by the same engineer who designed the government approved, environmentally friendly gas cans. You know the complicated spring loaded ones with fourteen levers that never work and end up spilling gas everywhere? I’m not sure how you screw up a hollow tube that directs the flow of gas but the government managed to do it.
Anyway, we had a solidly mediocre weekend which, when it comes to camping, means we had an above average weekend, an excellent one really. We weren’t rained out, attacked by bear, bitten by poisonous snakes, and we didn’t crash our van. Unfortunately this means our weekend wasn’t very memorable. It will fade into the blur of vacations gone by. Oh well, there’s always next time!
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