Thursday, March 22, 2012

True Camping, Part the First: "First Blood"

Spring is here, despite the random sleet and hail. They took back that borrowed hour and it's all going to get better from here on in. Especially if I could photosynthesize food, and live outside.

My wife introduced me to the Camping Phenomenon shortly after we met, in the late '80's.

However, I grew up going to summer camp on a large island mostly devoted to that; young hippies looked after us when they weren't tanning or painting peace signs or boinking furiously as soon we had taken the drugged hot chocolate every night. Seriously. The church that paid the tab had no idea what was going on, nor what was to come. That's another post. Nevertheless, many good times, and a few really decent people made it worthwhile.

Later there were some crazy long hikes and a lot of sleeping out with just our pack of supplies. We got lost a couple of times, and hiked through the rough for 14 hours once. But it was all amazing.

Campfire cooking, ghost stories, dead silent evenings and more stars than I have ever seen since. Meteor showers and once, even auroras to watch. Waking up with cold dew on my face, having to pee so badly and hopping as quickly out into the bush as possible. Realizing right after how very cold the morning was. Aching all over from the day before, scratched legs, dirt ground into my wrists and the tight feeling of my sunburned ears. Salal everywhere under pines and peeling arbutus trees.

Camping. I was so glad to learn that my wife was a camper, too. Her family camped every year together. She and I would surely hang out together, really get out there, hiking to slightly remote places to bundle up together and live like there was no more world for a week at a time. I would learn to fish. I was suddenly very nostalgic to get away completely. Eager.

I used to be eager a lot.

Camping with my in-laws actually meant driving to a slightly remote town and parking on a privately-owned slab of asphalt surrounded by not enough trees to screen four other lots within spitting distance. RVs and camper-vans were typical. Campfires were restricted to a half an oil drum on each lot, and firewood had to be bought, and then dried. Then doused in oil.

There was a lot of noise. A lot of drinking. This was the little town of Hope, where First Blood was filmed. It hadn't changed much in those 10 years.

My brothers-in-law could, and still can, put away a 24 each and every night. At the time they were about 30. Typically they would spend the night streaking down public roads, then returning to argue and fall against our tent before one (let's call him Chuck), would return to his own tent and his wife, and the other (Dick) would stick his head in a beer-box and wrap himself in a shower curtain and pass out on the gravel between the lots.

Home safe. Whew!

Their arguments were epic:
"What--I'm just trying to say--"
"No, YOU listen! You need to hear stuff for once!"
"But I'm trying to say something here!"
"Listen UP! I'm TALKING!"
(Repeat, louder and more urgently for two hours.)

Somehow they never ended up hitting each other, although they did frequently injure themselves while waving their arms over their heads and tripping over nothing. In the morning Chuck would have ended up in the river, where the shallows ran around a gravel bar, sitting on a lawn chair, refusing to speak to anyone.

All the children would begin their day by poking Dick's carcass with sticks, then they'd steal his beer-box to play with.

One evening the kids came running into camp shouting that Princess Di was dead. Their parents had no interest in such lies, and they were ordered to go to bed early. The children missed seeing Uncle Dick streak across the freeway bridge that night, and have never gotten over it, although they've stopped blaming the monarchy.

The campground was badly maintained. The washrooms were revolting, and the "heated showers" were ankle-deep with soil. The management was obnoxious and unhelpful. The other guests were loud and rude, but couldn't hold a candle to my in-laws.

They and their friends numbered about thirty people in all. They would gather and take over one edge of the campground entirely, a single row of sites which was bounded by a raised road on one side and river on the other. There were still noise complaints, and the manager hated them like high school.

They had to change names every time they reserved the lots, and finally things came to a head one evening when Dick waved his finger in the manager's face and dared him to oust them all for "noise", threatening to kick the man's ass if he ever bothered them again.

What happened an hour later was ...


We had no idea that a town of 3000 even had a riot squad. But there they were, not too busy to assemble and come to camp. They did impress the tourists; the whole place went silent.

They advanced up the road slowly, in perfect unison, batons in hand, followed by two cruisers full of backup. My brothers-in-law were stupefied. The procession met them just on the slope above the campsites on either side.

Reactions were mixed:

WHAT the?!

My bros-in-law offered the police beer. The squad declined. The manager ran up and made his case, then the bros made theirs. The guy was was upset. It went a lot like this:

Guess who the manager played?

Entirely on the judgment of who among them was most irritating, Chuck & Dick avoided a mass beat-down. They were banned from ever coming back to that campground, and had to find somewhere else to descend.

But they left their mark, like salting the soil. One of my supervisors at The Warehouse Store was a large, belligerent alcohol and prescription drug addict with a following among the most aggressive men and women there.

Turns out that group book those very same sites in that campground every year now and act exactly the same way, with the addition of one woman who started biting people and disappeared into the woods for the week. The cops don't come any more, and that manager has moved on.

Let's call it a tie.

Soon: Our camping.


  1. What happened to all your comments on here? Now I know we all left comments on this one. I sure did.

    Is Disquis stealing your comments too?!

    1. Not sure. Disqus is quite the evil assistant here.

  2. Bahahaha! Reminds me of my family!

    Oh the craziness that ensues while camping...and drinking - it's mostly the drinking.

    Love it!

    1. Glad you liked it. The drinking does seem to be the point.
      But then, I have been guilty of-- well, part 2 is almost ready.

  3. I know your inlaws too. They were kicked out of hell and are currently in search of a beer box and shower curtain.

  4.  Oh Jesus CHRIST! A third coming? Can't we just get it over with for Chrissakes?!!!

    You're like a comeback tour from Barbra Streisand or the Who.  Let it go man, enough!

  5. Just a personal note, Guy. I'm not sure what's gonna happen to me after tomorrow. I mean, I know what The Book says and all, but shit, I'm still scared. I hear all that written stuff is B.S.

    Anyway, I just want to say good-bye in case I don't rise again in fulfillment of the scriptures.

    Good luck with everything. I guess I'll see you if there is ever a second coming. Or.. a third?

  6. Sometimes the woods seem full of drunken biters. 

    Sometimes they really are.

  7. Every part of this horrifies me. I hate camping, I hate loud obnoxious people, I hate loud obnoxious DRUNK people. And biters. Really, what the hell. 

  8. Play nice; don't fight, you two!

    Because the Apocalypse can wait until I'm blessed good and ready.

  9. Sorry about the Bub up there; sometimes he trolls no matter how short a leash we give him.

  10. You're too kind. I can't wait for your post. 

    Often you productive pro-bloggers hit beautifully on great topics that I want to post about; I put them in queue for a while later. 

    It's a real treat when I hear that back about one of mine.

  11. No, they're almost all still here.

    Come pick them up anytime. 
    You can't miss 'em.

  12. I learned to compromise, but that's another post.

  13. Ah, yes. People define camping in different ways, don't they? We camped a lot when I was a kid, in tents.

    We have some friends that are all about 'camping', which to them involves a pretty nice RV.

  14. I love this post so much I want to put it on my wall. I am envious and delighted by so many one liners here.

    Also, I totally know your inlaws. When I first moved to the midwest I used to tell people that I loved the outdoors. That I'd live in a tent if I could, and I have. That I'd be outside all the time if I could. I was so envious of all this "we're going to the lake" that I heard and "oh we went camping last week" as I didn't have any friends yet and couldn't go.

    To me going to the lake means a beautiful pristine blue lake surrounded by evergreen and redwood trees. There's no fishing, boating, hunting, shitting, pissing, littering, or shenanigans. It's gorgeous. Okay there's a little fishing. But not much. Sometimes there are trails for hiking. That's it.

    To me going camping means laying out under the stars, again, surrounded by redwoods. Bears and other wildlife might wander past you. Your cellphone doesn't work. You have a campfire but have to put it out at a certain time so you don't pollute the area or burn the fucking forest down. It's beautiful, it's wondrous, and it's about being with family in nature.

    Holy balls. When I finally found out what they mean by going to the lake and going camping here I was so depressed. You've inspired me to write a post about it now. It was similar to your experience except without the riot squad. Let's just say when we camp our car is packed with provisions because we're going to be in the middle of nowhere. When I went camping with these friends, not only did the entire place smell like rotting fishheads in beer vomit, but nobody brought anything but chairs and beer. Not even a flashlight.