Grab your Bug Spray!
We're going camping!
Man, I loved hearing those words! It was kinda like hearing the Ice Cream Truck's familiar tune, or watching commercials for slip and slides again. Summer was here. And that meant, No more homework, no more books, no more teachers dirty looks! Haha...What? I love that rhyme! But yeah...Back to Camping! It was always a family tradition that lasted many years. But before I go on, please allow me a brief introduction.
Summer itself is one of those universal subjects. Just about all people can look back on that special time with fondness. Heck, it only happened once a year! Another grade of school was behind us, and we had 3 months ahead of us to swim, jump, play and just be kids. Summer was good to me.
I'll be the first to admit I spent the majority of summer cooped up in my house playing video games or watching TV. Like the time I saw the Pete and Pete episode about Mr. Tastee's disappearance, and I came up with the absurd notion to find my Ice cream guy, but that's an article to itself! But the time I did spend outside in nature was special. And that's where our Family Camping trips come in. I want to break it down from packing up and getting there, to fishing, BBQ and even leaving. I also thought it to be a good idea to bring two very dear friends of mine along to help me out with this article. You may already know them...
So without further ado, delay or digressions, lets set the tone. It's 1994 and I'm 8 years old, just minding my own business watching Rugrats and enjoying my Summer break...
Then I hear the news...
Man was I excited! It was always a yearly thing for us. I grew up in a pretty large family, so we all got together and it was always nice seeing my cousins and other relatives that I hadn't seen in awhile. But what always seemed to excite me was packing. I loved bringing a bunch of unnecessary things just because I always thought they might come in handy. I also helped my Dad get all the supplies we needed. Here were the basics;
Oh yeah, we meant business. This was second only to the BBQ pit in food preparation superiority. We mainly used it for Breakfast stuff like making eggs or heating up water. We had it for years, but it started malfunctioning so we stopped using one. I always had a sentimental feeling for the thing. Years gone by and it was still around even though we never used it. I think we eventually scrapped it when we moved. In some ways I'm glad the thing broke down, I always thought it would explode or something because the fuel tank was right there. Only you can prevent forest fires.
Standard issue super hot sleeping bag. At least that's how I remember them. It was either freeze in the tent without it or sweat like a pig. No in between. They were of the old late 70's make. They were nylon on the outside with a plaid designed liner. One thing I could never master was rolling the thing up and putting it into the bag. Was always an ordeal. I think I still have the thing around somewhere, I haven't used it for awhile. But this was always my first thing to make sure I remembered. I remember one year, I forgot it and had to share one, it was horrible.
Forget Hank Hill, Kerosene is where it's at! It's true, they don't make stuff like they used too. This baby ran off Kerosene, not 20 D batteries like today's crap. It would and could light up the WHOLE camp site. It had a dimming function too. Only drawback was that the material that gave off the light would burn out. My Pops still has this thing, and I'm waiting for him to pass it down to me. But I don't think that will happen soon. It's like the son he always wanted. *sniff*
The dreaded Igloo. I was always nervous when drinking from this thing. It was rarely if ever cleaned out and I seem to remember sand accumulating at the bottom. Oh well, it's either that or taking my chances and drinking from the same stream that Aunt Mildred bathed in!
Screw that pissy nylon stuff, Men use canvas! That was my dad in a nutshell. He's one of the "Old School" types. And we never had a normal Coleman tent like the others...no,no. Ours must have been from a army surplus store. It looked pretty much like the one in the picture above.(Minus the buildings) It took 2 people to carry and 4 to help set it up. Not to mention enough Poles and rope to build a small bridge. I always felt like other people who saw us in it were probably thinking "Oh great honey look, a bunch of red necks pulled up, hide the jewelry." But now that I think back, It wouldn't have been the same without that great manly tent.
Of course when I was done helping Dad, I packed my own stuff, real essentials.
Nothing like escaping to mother nature like bringing all the modern conveniences of man with you! Even though it annoyed the heck out of me in later years, I can't deny that we brought our fair share of electronics. The portable TV was fought for tooth and nail by my sisters, and my older brother would disrupt the peace and serenity of the entire campground by bumping some Guns and Roses full blast. And then me hiding high up in a tree playing Gameboy. What a lovely family.
Of course after everything was packed, you still had to get there. And I've come to learn that...
Getting there, is half the battle.
The gauntlet. A 6 hour ride up north with 6 people in a 4 passenger car,stuffed with luggage. The ride there although mostly boring, had it's ups and downs. Looking back, the rides always reminded me of an episode from Pete and Pete, where they go on a trip and the dad is bent on defending his title as "King of the Road" against another rival family.
The ride itself wasn't just a ride, it was a challenge. We always made the trip in our old Toyota suv. It was a late 80's model and really cramped. Those rides were tough because we were all smooshed together and it was HOT! Cries for AC ran on deaf ears and the radio was always a source of debate on what music should be played. I being younger had no say in anything so I basically stared out the window the whole time trying to identify car models or see how many miles we had to go till we got there. We did have a couple nice diversions and comfort features to help ease the ride.
We had a game of travel Billiards. Which consisted of a table some plastic balls and 2 cheap spring loaded cue sticks. The game was impossible on a flat table on solid ground, let alone in a beat up truck with alignment problems.
Checkers anyone? Not me. 5 minutes into the game I would get nauseated and have to upchuck the Denny's we had for breakfast on the interstate, not pretty.
The oldest trick in the book that parents used for occupying their kids, First one to find a Florida license plate wins. Too bad we were in California on an empty highway. And if we were particularly rowdy my mom would suggest Hawaii plates! Her way of saying "Shut up so I can go to sleep!"
To this day, everytime I watch National Lampoons Vacation, I always think back to those days out on the open road.
But eventually we would get there, and that's where the fun began!
It was always like this at first, but the feeling didn't last long.
This picture is the actual entrance of the campground we used to go to. It was located in a state park, full of redwoods. In later years we started going to KOA campground. Which is basically a bunch of cabins located on a large plot of land. Not really camping but a heck of a lot more convenient.
But we weren't at KOA. This place was a real campsite. No water spigots or outhouses. As soon as we would arrive we go to setting up camp. This included pitching the tent, unpacking and so on. We usually got there hours before the rest of the family would arrive. So we always had to wait for them to come and wait for them to set up. Once all the unpacking and stuff was done, that's when everybody got together. And here are some my favorite things that we did.
Fishing is a test of patience. I failed at that. I would always annoy my dad by wanting to reel in the line about 5 minutes after it was casted to make sure the bait was still on. Baiting blood worms on the hook was a test of nerve too. But I would also try to make my own fishing pole using a stick some line and a hotdog. I was a regular Bear Grylls! Later on my dad got me one of those Bart Simpson fishing poles. Man was that thing lame. How on earth was I suppose to catch fish with that thing?
I loved playing in the river. I wasn't a very good swimmer but I enjoyed floating on the big donut tube we had. I always thought a fish would bite my toes are something like that. The water was excruciatingly cold at first. You just had to man up and jump in. Unless you wanted to spend an hour slowly creeping in. That is until someone splashed you!
It always happened after the sun went down. While all the grown ups were heading in for the night all of us kids would gather around the campfire. I still remember the almost hypnotic spell that came over me as I would gaze deeply into the flickering flames as horrid tales were spun.
One of my older cousins in particular liked to scare the crap out of us. We'll just call him "Eddy" although his real name was Robert, but that's irrelevant to the story.
I remember one story he told me about this kid whose parents were going out for the night and left him at the house by himself while they were gone.
The family had a dog that they put in the basement because they didn't want him running around the house. The parents told their kid that if he got scared while they were away to just go to the basement and put your fingers under the door.Then the dog would lick his fingers to comfort the kid.
Well, after they left, about an hour alone the kid started hearing a knocking noise at the back door. He got scared and went to the basement and put his fingers under the door. Sure enough his fingers were licked and he felt safe. Well soon after he heard another noise, a tapping on the window. He got scared once more and went to the basement and put his hands under the door to be licked again. All through the night this was happening. He would hear strange noises and go to the basement door to be comforted.
His parents finally got back and he told them about all the odd noises he had heard. The parents didn't believe him, thinking it was just his imagination. He wanted to see the dog so he could pet him. So the parents went to the basement, unlocked the door and found it empty. They looked all over the house. Then they found the dog, dead in the attic...
Well usually after a night of hearing stories like that, sleep was the last thing on my mind. I remember I would sit in my tent, nervous and sweaty. Gripping my flashlight. The woods seemed much closer. All the night sounds seemed amplified tenfold. I'd occasionally peep out to make sure all the others were still around. But looking into the dark mass of trees was very unsettling.
But I did eventually go to sleep, and I want to end this article on a more happy note. FOOD!
The BBQ Pit.
Ah...that blessed contraption of metal. BBQ's were probably the highlight of the trip. Every night there would be a veritable feast. I'm talking Baby back ribs smothered in sauce, Prime rib seasoned with Garlic, Pepper and herbs, Steak marinating for hours. Grilled corn on the cob, shish kabobs loaded with bell pepper and steak. I could go on and on about it. But I just want to let these pictures do the talking. I'm gonna have a sandwich...
Well, it was fun while it lasted.
This picture does no justice And I don't think any camera ever could. At the days end I would like to lay on my back and just stare up at infinity and beyond. It was simple and yet amazing. Millions of twinkling lights glowing in the sky.
I haven't camped in a long time. Sadly, the tradition kind of slowly dwindled. Less and less people showed up every year. Till soon it was just us.
But I will cherish those memories. All the times playing in the river, skipping stones, climbing trees, hiding lizards in my sisters tent. Good times.
But it always ended with us packing up, getting back in the car and making that long voyage back to civilization.