Friday, July 13, 2012

True Camping Part III: "The Human Smore"

Disclaimer: Camping is actually a fun and relaxing thing to do with your family. It's a cheap and easy way to enjoy the outdoors and get away from your worries.

Unless you're me.

You would think that previous mayhem would have been enough to change my expectations. Perhaps you know me, and can't believe that once, not too many years back, I had the heart, the energy, the sheer gumption to persevere in the face of defeat. That wasn't really me. Normally I fold like a deck chair in a hurricane.

I assure you that whatever it was, it was only temporary; that keen defiance, that impervious drive to make things happen, that denial of danger was a byproduct of late-blooming infatuation. For ten years in the middle of my life I suddenly and completely refused to believe that fate or God or Mother Nature or Buddha had it in for me.
They loved me. Us. I was so happy.

For some people Love is as toxic as crack, and twice as addictive.

This is your brain in Love.

My wife still wanted to spend her vacations camping, and I still wanted to be wherever she was. We went back to camping alone, happy still, in denial. We dealt with a massive fish spawning that ruined the river next to us, and tenting under a screech-owl nest, and a few other things that don't even register with me now.
Not after this:

The second-last trip was to a campground closer to home, and closer to town.

Why so close, when we had always planned remote destinations, surrounded by trees? A recommendation by Chuck and Dick. Before you ask "Whaaaa?" I remind you: we were in our 20's, and I had dumped my natural caution like a Kevlar vest at a love-in. With hindsight most things I did then look equally dumb.

OK. Here we go:

Fort Langley

The name alone causes me full-body sense-memory shock. 

It's just a quaint little village, with a few antique shops and decent, plain food. It's mostly known as the site of the Air Bud movies, and all the sequels with the talking puppies. Have you enjoyed any of those films?

The Air Buddies

Really? Get out!

I mean it. You came to the wrong blog.


I think it no longer exists, but the private campground chosen for us was located not so much outside of that tiny town, but nearly in the middle of town. On a triangular area bounded by three railroad tracks. Just off the main road,and with two sides open to the river. The river was high from the melt that spring, and it had been wet. For some reason the water was mustard coloured. Probably silt, right?

Private campgrounds were new to us, except the one the family used to frequent. The first thing we noticed, besides the huge number of RVs and trucks, and the total lack of trees, was the fact that many RVs had been there long enough to have planted gardens. Not so much a vacation for some, then. There was a hedge wall about seven feet high instead of a fence around the place. Sort of like a forest, I guess.

The next thing we noticed was our neighbours; they were throwing stones at us. Repeatedly. The woman on our left had three kids, who threw rocks at everything and everyone. She greeted us with "Hi! Have you  found Jesus?" Rather than disappoint her we decided to nod silently, and retreat under fire.

The man on the other side was alone, tense-looking and seemed to need a rifle in one hand at all times. He had no tent, just a pickup truck. We let him be, and hoped that the kids on the other side of us would never, ever throw a rock his way. Did I mention that the lots were really small? Really small.

As the sun set and the breeze died we were finally able to light our fire and sit and relax.
People around settled and it was quiet and peaceful. Rifleman sat staring at his fire, scanning his perimeter every few minutes. The cavekids had gone somewhere or were tranquilized.
We finally relaxed a bit and took our first deep breaths.

What was that smell? Like rotten eggs. And dead fish.

In solvent.

The river. Oh my. Maybe it was a new thing. A really temporary thing?

We cooked and ate dinner, and washed up, leaving a few dishes to soak. Drank some wine. Maybe too much. Later we roasted marshmallows over the fire, using short holders made of twisted coat-hanger wire. Really thin wire. There were no sticks in sight, but I like to come prepared.

The exact holder. Don't ever use this kind.

I think the holders were made for wieners, because when my marshmallow caught fire and I pulled it back quickly, the food came flying right off and landed on my forehead, blazing away. It stuck, and ran down my nose.

I probably shrieked about this development. Can't rightly remember.

"Try to relax, dear. We're on vacation."
I plunged my face full of burning tar into the dishpan, and managed to keep my eyebrows. I had a shallow burn mark starting in the middle of my forehead and sweeping down the right side of my nose, ending halfway down my cheek.

I tried my level best to dismiss it as a dumb mistake that would probably heal, but it sort of dampened my spirits.

As the evening approached, the smell got worse. And then the skies darkened a bit early.

Most towns all up the river had been spraying new chemicals everywhere to prevent mosquitoes. That year was destined to be a record breeding season, and they were desperate to get on top of it, but they had already begun hatching. Now there were clouds of them, all as big as crane-flies and I swear I saw a mob of them take down a swallow.

They're here.

However, we were prepared--instead of the Deep Jungle repellent, a nasty, flammable poison that seemed military grade, and stank, we had finally joined the 1990's, and bought the new pump-style Skin-soft repellent by the same chemical company we've known and trusted for soap and bandages and unimaginative skin-care forever. We spritzed up and felt cool relief without the terrible smell or the sticky, unsettling feeling of being coated in poisonous hairspray all night. The bugs flew away and we relaxed.

Until we got bit, about ten minutes later. We must not have put enough on.
Re-apply, relief.




WTF? Re-apply OUCH! HEY!--they're not even going away--oh CRAP we're almost OUT!

Check the label. Wait--is that 0.05% DEET in that? We used to use four-hundred times that strength!

"Curse you, marketing assholes!"

We ran flailing across the street to the general store as it closed, and tried to buy repellent, but the only product left was the crap we were using. Ten massive citronella candles did nothing to clear our campsite, and we gave up, already having more holes in us than Bonnie and Clyde.* The rifleman lay next to his fire on a mattress of some kind, and wasn't bothered at all. Must have had repellent, but we chose not to approach him even then.

The Jesus lady just smiled and waved her own citronella candle at us. She said that that was all she used.
I thought I caught her snickering. Not very Christian, was it?

We turned in and zipped up the tent and killed all the bloodsuckers we could find in there. Lying down to sleep we felt at least like we had left the worst of the day behind us. We agreed to give the place another day, but not to spend the three we had planned.

Eyes closed, we tried to relax. The sound of a distant train horn was comforting.

The reply from a much closer train horn was a little disturbing. Then the first one again. Then, a third?


They went on honking at each other for hours, stopping only in the dead of night. I might have mentioned the movie My Cousin Vinny to my future wife at this point. We were very tired, and had used up our calamine lotion and bite-balm and antibiotic burn salve. When they finally stopped blaring at each other, and rumbled by, we were wall-eyed and living a nightmare.

No one said anything, not "at least it's not raining" or "what could happen now?" we just sat and stared at the tent, pretty much not breathing. Unable to believe it was over. It would never be over.

Right about the there was a crashing noise, like a large drunk person, hitting the hedge, trying to get through. It came closer and closer, and started yowling, like a giant insane baby, or a really big ... cat.  


We have these, they eat people. Be very, very quiet.
We poked our head out of the tent, and everything was still. Surely our neighbours would--Oh, look at that! They've all gone into their RV's and trucks. Look, there goes the rifle guy, quietly closing his truck door. We could really use him about now.

The place was now awfully quiet. Indeed, it was too quiet.

20 feet seemed an awful long way to the car, but we burst out of our flimsy tent and dashed over, and settled in to sleep in the bucket seats. We had left the first aid kit in the tent, so the only pain relief available was a couple of PMS pills, which I gratefully accepted. Whatever was out there did not make a peep or show it's whiskers, snout, or mutant baby-head after all.

My mosquito bites had turned into welts that seemed to be oozing mustard-coloured river water. I counted over one hundred before I conked out. I might have gotten a half-hour's sleep before we got up with the sun, crammed the car with whatever we could and left for home. We were pretty sure no one or their pets had been lost that night, but we didn't slow down to ask.

The bites on both of us stayed an angry red colour, big as marbles and hard as rocks.My burned face settled into a large brown scab the next day, like a downward slash of sienna paint that just missed my eyes.

Two days later we were due at a family wedding--the biggest they had ever had, for my wife's niece and her new nephew-in-law. We all got to meet his family for the fist time, a large and genteel group, who I found interesting. I wanted to make a decent impression on them.

But I had a burned face and polka-dotted ostrich skin arms and legs. Relatives kept asking me how I had gotten into a parking-lot fight, and why. New acquaintances blanched when I approached, and couldn't take their eyes off of my nose.

"Hey congratulations! Let's mingle for five hours."
I learned that the kind of facial injury I was sportin' looks typical of asphalt-snuggling, and that my knuckles were too clean to have won anything. Unfortunately I was not surprised to find my wife's family so familiar with these details. However the new groom suddenly thought I was a cool--a real "scrapper", which did not bode well for that family.

We didn't camp at all for years after that. We stayed in hotels with kitchenettes; civilized, and fairly safe. The memories began to fade away. We had put that terrible long chapter behind us both. Forever.

When my son turned four my wife suddenly insisted that we take him camping. Sure, whatever.
Can't live forever, right?


  1. Will this comment post?  Only one way to know.

  2. Seeing as it was Fort Langley I thought perhaps a large contingent of bikers might show up. What you got is worse.
    "some of them were there long enough to grow flowers" that is just one of the lines that killed me.  But now I can see why Ken & I having flaming marshmallow tweets was traumatic for you.

  3.  Yes. When you've been attacked by a marshmallow you lose your taste for them. Did not run into any bikers, no. Glad you liked it.

  4.  For some reason you were held for moderation, but I have whitelisted you and everyone else, so we should be good to go. Thanks for the song, it's apropos of the post. Somehow I do not know it at all from the time.

  5. "Hi! Have you found Jesus?"
    "Why, have you lost him again?"

    This story is exactly why I insist that my family always return to the same camping place (and we do remote camping, so we don't have to deal with the Rifleman).  I'm 90% sure that if we ever go anywhere else, it will result in me saying something like, "I didn't know it at the time, but that tiny hole near the tent was the opening to the largest scorpion den in North America."

  6. I would say the percentage of people with burns on their faces from marshmallows is pretty darn small. So that's an accomplishment, right? Or something?

  7.  Now that you mention it, I'm glad we live well above the scorpion/tarantula-belt. Although Lake Okangan had rattlers, they were not our problem at the time.

    "Camp where you know" is a really good rule.

  8. I must remember to be always thankful that it healed up completely.

    Not because I wouldn't have dealt with a flaw on my pretty face, but mostly because it was so disappointing to everyone to learn that it only occurred because I couldn't successfully fend off a single marshmallow.

    That kind of scar is nearly as having a bag of potato chips tear a tendon in your arm, and precipitate the collapse of your entire body.

    ... I mean if ALL your coworkers knew it.

    A story for another time entirely. Forget I mentioned it.

  9. Mosquito bites are seksay! I like the changes you made to your blog design. The colors are orange-ific. I'm going through an orange phase right now actually and it kind of makes me not like my current blog look but whateva!

    Fish heads fish heads... you should get that song stuck in your head like you just got it stuck in mine.

    You know the Wank Waaaank made me a little afraid for what was about to happen next.

    I think you should come camping in California!! :) Try again@!

  10. Mosquito-bites are certainly as seksay as canker-sores, yes. 
    The blog had to change or some vital folk couldn't comment. 
    Thanks for liking it. 

    I won't allow that fish-heads song to get stuck in my head ever again, so no thanks! 

    And the Wank-WANNNNK scared the mustard out of us, too. 

    California might be very nice to camp in. I hear they have a Carrot Festival in the Coachella Valley that draws visitors from beyond Albuquerque. 

    Anyway, we're trying to sell the new tent right now. It has never been opened.
    Why? Because of PART IV. It's a small addendum to the whole saga. 

    Currently working on a couple of other things, though. You know what I mean. 

  11. Mosquitoes thoroughly enjoy my sweet sunflower blood, so 100% DEET is my perfume-bath when the sun goes down. Even then, my life force is too addicting for the little vampires to resist and they always find the one spot I missed.

    TIP: Pure Ammonia keeps the welts from itching unbearably.

  12. Lesson learned. When marshmallows attack, make up a better story to explain the injuries!

  13. It was not a bag of potato chips...  You were protecting the honor of your woman, and the dude had a knife!

  14. Hard to sell at work. Where the sharpest thing I ran into was a tortilla chip. And the hardest thing was kind of dried-pita snack which nobody bought.

  15. Parking-lot fight is a bit much to sell, even with the marks. 

  16.  Yes update me! How did that turn out?

  17. Working to finish today! Sorry! Must write! 

  18. Omg this made me laugh so hard. I can just imagine the flying marshmallow hitting you between the eyes!! Awesome!

  19.  All painfully true. Glad you liked it.

    Even more glad it healed up, though.

  20.  We used up our ammonia that night, and ended up spraying Window cleaner on our legs for relief later. And I know some folk are particularly skeeter-bait, myself included. Others seems to have a deal worked out with Class Insecta where they avoid trouble.

  21. Window cleaner! Thanks for the tip. It also kills spiders DEAD.

    Don't get me wrong, I LOVE nature and all living things, but if I find anything that wants to bite me, I will kill it.

  22. Ah made me laugh all over again. Little gems I missed the first time :)

  23.  Best comment ever, coming back for seconds. Thank you.