The wonderful world of Justice and Mommy aka Mary!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Camping Disaster

Well we just returned from our first totally solo camping trip and lets just say we were not happy campers. The whole trip was a disaster from beginning to end; but, I did learn some important lessons that I had already learned in books. Although I had read about camping and rain extensively and knew just how to handle each situation I still made several key mistakes.

First, I had a tent that required at least two people to set up. Now, I did have the required two people; however, I don’t think Justice really counted due to his small stature and wise old age of 5. In my defense I feel I should mention, that there were supposed to be a few friends and acquaintances on other sites; however, they all bailed out at the last minute. When I got to the site I thought there were at least 2-3 other people there that I knew and could ask for help when needed.

I wanted to see if I could possible erect the “Gerber Hotel”, as Scott from the Outlanders had named it, by myself. If I was ever going to take a trip with just me and Justice I really needed to know if I could do it alone. Of course it was raining when we got there and pitch dark, which was not going to make things any easier. Bravely I threw down a large blue tarp to act as a ground cover then unfolded my 14X10 cabin tent on top of it. Drip drop, the rain went on my face. I took the shock corded polls out and set them up on the wet picnic table. Splish splash, the rain continued to fall all around me.
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Justice, bless his little heart, wanted to help so badly, but lacked the skills and size needed to do the job. He had to resign himself to holding the flashlight in key places as I continued to struggle with the tent which had become the enemy. A few expletives escaped my lips as I tried to figure out where the tent poles were supposed to go, while the rain began to saturate the directions. Ok, I had the poles in the roof, so now all I needed to do was insert the support poles and steak them down. Easier said then done. It was becoming increasingly clear to me that I could not do this alone and Justice was not going to be able to do the job of a full sized person.

I gave in and decided to call Scott. He had sent me an e-mail earlier in the day which had been worded a little funny. He said it might just be “you and Justice”, however I thought he meant on our site…..not completely alone. In retrospect I realize I should have called him to clarify and canceled the trip; but, then I would not have learned such valuable lessons!

Scott informed me that he was not there and my heart sank to my feet. I was in this all alone and knew I couldn’t possible get the tent up by myself. At that moment the neighboring campers came over to offer some assistance. Praise God. It was the help I needed. Quickly I got off the phone with Scott and accepted their offer.

As the tent began to take on real form we all heard a very loud RIP. It came from the front of the tent and it was accompanied by an “Oh no!” from the unnamed helper. “That’s ok!”, I shouted. “Don’t worry about it. This is just a cheap Target tent.” I read many reviews about this particularly tent online and they were all awful. Most people reported leaky seams, breaking polls and tents that fell apart in just one use! I had already used it several times and knew I was on borrowed time with it. I think he felt kind of bad, but accepted my explanation without much of an argument.

We were almost finished when we realized we didn’t have the rain fly. The weather forecast had predicted the rain would stop within the hour, so I wasn’t too nervous. The guys on the other hand, seemed a bit more concerned. They threw the room divided over almost one half of the screened roof. “This way if it rains, you can sleep on one half of the tent at least.” one of the helpers said. Again I didn’t think much of it because of the forecast; but, I let them do it for the “just in case”.

After about 3 hours just in case arrived. It started to pour and it became instantly clear to me what the rest of the trip was going to be like. Our bed had been made near the covered side; but, we were not out of the danger area. Immediately I jumped up and shoved our inflatable bed as far over to the covered side as possible. I turned off the electric heater and moved it over to the dry section, then brought the crock pot in as well. “Man, this sucks” was all I could think. I knew the whole tent was going to be flooded now and there was nothing I could do about it. Packing up and going home was going to be even worse than staying and I was way too tired to drive all the way home.

Mercifully I fell asleep for several hours. I think I started to stir somewhere around 3 or 4 in the morning and it was damp and cold in the wet tent. I decided to take my chances and turn on the heater again. After making sure it was as far over to the dry side as possible I flicked it on and within minutes I started to feel a bit warmer. Not warm exactly, but warmer.

Most campers wake just after the sun comes up, prepare their breakfast and get ready for the day; however, the rain seemed to have an effect on that. As the sun came up and the sky turned from dark to a subdued blue the campground remained silent. This was something I had never experienced before. Usually you can’t help but wake up due to the sounds of dishes clanking and conversational voices., but; today was different.

I decided to get up and take a walk around the campground to see how the others had set up their sites and get some ideas for the future. It was obvious to me who the seasoned campers were. There were a few people who had the foresight to double insulate their tents with blue tarps. One ambitious camper had even gone so far as to cover not only his tent with the tarp, but extended it over his dining canopy and the open space in between. He had used guy ropes and steaks to tie the ends securely into the ground and used a few poles for stability in key places. The end result was quite ingenious. He could walk from the dining area to the tent without getting wet.

After walking the loop a couple of times I decided to go back to base camp and begin to break things down. I wasn’t looking forward to it; but, knew it had to be done. Again, poor Justice wasn’t able to help much. He stood carefully off to the side and listened to me very well. I allowed him to help me whenever possible and he did a wonderful job each time.

It had stopped raining and the sun was out; however, everything was still soaked. I decided to start hauling our stuff into the car first. Back and forth I went loading the cooler, extension cords, blankets and other odds and ends. Next I took the trash up to the dumpster which was not too far away. Then I had to deal with the tent. It was a broken mass of puddles and nylon and I wanted nothing more to do with it.
Gingerly I began to remove the tent polls. I was trying desperately not to get any of the wet sandy mud on my skin; however, no matter how careful I was my attempts seemed to be in vain. One by one the poles came apart until just one remained stubbornly in place. I fought the pole for a few minutes then decided that it would just have to remain in place. With that, I grabbed one end of the tent and proceeded to drag it to the dumpster. SHHHHHHHHH, the tent drug along the ground. Our fellow campers next door looked over as they heard the noise, smiled and waved. SHHHHHHHHHH, we continued onto our final destination.

Once we were there I sized up the dumpster and the tent. The lid to the dumpster was closed and after a few tugs at it I realized I couldn’t possible hold it open and throw the tent in at the same time. I also realized that, once again Justice was too little to help. As luck would have it two nice campers were walking towards us. They noticed my predicament and offered to help. Within 2 short minutes the Gerber Hotel became a thing of the past. It was laid to rest in the large green dumpster at Jonathan Dickinson State Park. I shed no tears.

We went back to our campsite and I sized up our situation. There were a few dishes that needed to be washed and the blue tarp that I had used for a ground cover was still lying in its place on the saturated earth. I choose to deal with the dishes first. Isn’t it funny how we tend to leave the worst for last, hoping that the worst might disappear before we get to it?

As it turned out the dishes proved to be more of a challenge than I originally anticipated. Every time I have gone camping there has been a nice dishwashing station at the bathrooms. I’ve also had the good fortune to have coin laundry, sparkling clean bathrooms and spacious stalls available. This particular park seemed to be a bare bones facility. There was no dishwashing station, no coin laundry, the bathrooms were dirty, in need of renovation and the stalls were uncomfortably small. I was forced to wash our dishes at the spigot protruding from the ground at our campsite. Let’s just say that I did not feel like Zsa Zsa Gabor in Greenacres.

The menacing tarp was the last enemy I had to deal with. To be honest for a minute I really thought I might just drag it to the dumpster to find it’s final resting place with the tent. Then I took a good hard look a the tarp and realized that with the exception of one shabby edge it was in almost perfect condition. I saw dollar signs in my head and didn’t want to throw away something I could still use. Although this trip was a bust I knew I wasn’t put off from camping forever. This was a learning experience.

I drug the blue demon into the sun and tried to shake the water from it. As the water rushed off the edges I began to feel a sense of accomplishment. Shake, shake, shake, more water came off. The wet mud remained; but, I knew there was nothing I could do about it till it dried, so I began to fold the tarp. Ugh, I was getting more wet sandy, dirt on me. I continued anyway. Eventually I had the whole thing folded into a reasonable square and took it to the car. I loaded into the backseat and we were ready to go.

The Outlanders were supposed to meet for a day in the park; but, I was over it at that point. They weren’t due to show up for an hour and a half and even though I had brought breakfast with me there was nowhere dry to eat. I decided to find a local haunt to fill our stomachs then drive home and SLEEP!

The best part of our trip begins here. After driving north for a few minutes we passes a country restaurant Harry And The Natives. From the outside it was cute and quaint. The wooden structure had a front porch, windows with curtains and several well placed signs. One sign read “If the doors are closed just slip money under the door- the help”

When we entered I was completely enamored with it’s good old country charm. It was everything Cracker Barrel tries to be, but only copies. It was southern dining at it’s best. There were no booths anywhere, just old fashioned tables and chairs. Some of the table tops were hand painted with tropical scenes and covered with clear glass and the walls were unfinished planks of wood as was the ceiling.

A man dressed in jeans and a T-shirt asked us how many were in our party then led us to an empty section. He looked as though he could have been a customer and yet he worked there. That small detail really gave me that “Good Country People” feeling. I felt as though I had been invited into an old friends home for a hot meal.

We choose a table for two painted with pink flamingo’s. I started to peruse the menu as Justice took notice of the nearby bookshelf which contained a mix of eclectic decorations and small plastic toys . He wasted no time picking out a Winnie the Pooh phone to play with. I could tell he really liked this place and felt right at home.

With the Disney magic still flowing through our veins I knew instantly when I looked at the children’s menu Justice would want the Mickey pancakes. I read off the choices and of course he picked the mouse shaped hotcakes. Once he was set I tried to figure out what I wanted. I was quite amused to see they offered a dish called, Canadian. It offered no explanation except that it cost $20 dollars and in parenthesis said “No Tip”. For anyone who has ever been a server in an area Canadians like to frequent, it is a well known fact that they are notorious for either not tipping or leaving an insulting tip of 10%. Instantly I knew this place was more that just a good country restaurant. It was wit and satire in print and practical application. These were my kind of people.

Eventually I settled on the surfer girl breakfast with a side of grits and placed our order with the friendly server. Within minutes she had brought our drinks and we sat back to enjoy the atmosphere while sipping on our beverages. The walls were plastered with pictures ranging from pieces of island artwork to photos of the restaurant and it’s workers over the years. Some pictures were of random people who perhaps worked there at one point in time or were frequent patrons. Each one seemed to have some sort of story that went along with it and my only regret is that I didn’t have more time and energy to inquire about them.

When our food arrived we were once again pleasantly surprised. There was nothing pretentious or overly fancy. Just good food at a good price. Justice’s Mickey cakes came with a hot sausage patty and carefully placed banana slices that made Mickey’s eyes, nose and mouth. My eggs and grits had been prepared just the way I requested them and I had a choice of grape or strawberry jam or orange marmalade for my toast. Everything was just right.

We dug into our plates with genuine appreciation. After our horrendous night and disappointing morning we were so grateful for a good hot meal in a comforting environment. It gave us the feeling of eating in Nellie’s from “Little House On The Prairie”. Harry and the Natives somehow managed to take that feeling and bring it into the 20th century. It was like we had been transported into the simpler times I love to watch on TV but never seem to experience. It was like the porridge that goldilocks tasted and said “This one’s just right.”

After we had our fill of “porridge” we paid our bill then decided to take a walk around. First we went to the bathroom. It was brightly pained and sparkling clean. There was a cute sign posted at the sink stating “We aim to keep our bathrooms clean. Your aim will help.” “Brilliant”, I thought. If only all bathrooms could post a sign like that.

Next we decide to check out the gift shop. To get there we had to go through the patio. It was covered by a thin ceiling and huge blue and white awning. Outdoor heaters warmed the area and made the seating enjoyable. The gift shop was at the far end of the patio and resembled a small wooden shack. Inside it was jam packed with all sorts of chotchkeys and a few really cute pieces of Floridian themed items.

After that we got into our car and made our way home. I have never been so happy to see a dry bed and made good use of it the moment I walked in the door. A few hours later I woke and started to muse over the many ways our trip could have been better. The number one thing was a better tent I could put up myself. I decided to make it my mission to do some extensive internet research and find out about every tent on the market one person could put up.

Of course, the results of that mission will be reserved for another posting; but, I can tell you I found some really interesting tents out there!
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posted by Mary Gerber at 1/19/2008

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