THOSE LAZY, HAZY, CRAZY DAYS OF
THE LAST CAMPING TRIP?
That's Joyce's rat-damaged tent set up under an amazing display of
sun and clouds at Mesa Verde.
Rat damage, cold nights, plague squirrels...Egad!
By JOYCE KIEFER
One night the wind almost blew us off to the mystical realms of the Four Corners of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. It ballooned the sides of our 40-year-old canvas tent, but the new patches held firm. Our gear and our bodies kept the tent anchored to our campsite at Mesa Verde National Park.
My sleep-slowed brain ran some scary scenarios. Hurricane Katrina was blowing outside, even if this was Colorado. If she could shred a house, what could she do to a tent? My husband and I would take refuge in our Prius to doze away the rest of the night in a sitting position. No, wed drive off to a motel in Cortez, a dozen miles away. Id pound on the office door of a place that left the light on for us, beg to use a room until daylight. The clerk would sneer and ask for $100.
I flipped over in my sleeping bag as the wind subsided. Rain began to tap the roof of the tent. Maybe, I wondered, this is the year we should give up camping.
When I told my friends about our plans for the summer, the response was, We gave up camping after the kids were little. Or, My idea of camping is a motel with clean sheets and a shower. A roadside motel was rugged enough. These people were giving up road trips.
My mother would have agreed. Although we had driven Route 66 end to end, our family didnt try camping until the summer I was 14. We borrowed all the equipment from a family with eight children and set up camp at Lake Tahoe, elevation 6,000 feet. We went to bed on camp cots and froze. At their advice, we took newspapers along to use as insulation. We got up, scrunched the papers, and stuffed them under the cots. Didnt help a bit. A couple of days later we decamped to Big Sur. Maybe the redwoods would keep us warm. Instead, they added dampness to the cold. We never camped again.
I married into a camping family, so my husband, Bill, was experienced in outdoor survival. When our children were little, all our friends camped and so did we. In the mid-sixties we bought a gray-green White Stag tent. On site Bill would assemble its poles and hooks like a puzzle. Then wed stuff in our three kids, sleeping bags, and gear. Wed blow up our air mattresses, then feel them deflate through the night.
The tent protected us from nature. Early one morning at Rainier National Park, its walls stood between us and a bear fight a few feet away.
But this year it almost succumbed to nature in our garage. As I unfolded the tent at Mesa Verde, I found ragged-edged holes in the sides, the window screens, the floor-- clearly the work of roof rats, the neighborhood pests that ate the wires of our Subaru Forester a couple of years ago. As lightning flashed on the horizon, I drove to the camp store and found a package of tent patching strips. No matter that each strip was a different bright color.
We applied them in time. The edges were tight; the repairs proved to be waterproof. Well fix the holes in the floor later. The remaining problem was the tent itself, or was it me? Every time I needed something inside (I forget things a lot), I had to bend over, unzip the door from the ground up, fetch whatever, and zip up completely. No leaving the door open. The sign at the bathroom warned that a chipmunk had been found with the plague.
I pondered my friends comments as I zipped up my sleeping bag, still dressed in the dusty clothes I wore all day. Night is cold on the mesas at 7,000 feet. Id packed only flimsy nighties, no sweat pants. Wheres global warming when you need it? Perhaps we should fold up our tent and make this our last camping trip.
At left, Joyce and Bill Kiefer at the ruins of the Cliff Palace, which at one point looked like more comfortable lodgings than their tent. At right, grandson Adam, getting papoose treatment on his first family camping expedition.
But the next morning we crossed the road to the campsite of our daughter and her family. Rich was cooking bacon and Julie was getting their baby ready. At seven months old, Adam had vacationed at a resort in Costa Rica and slept at the Waldorf in New York City. Now he begins his camping experience. After breakfast his dad will tuck him into an elaborate backpack and tote him up and down the ladders of the Cliff Palace and along a steep trail to look at petroglyphs. He has some great adventures ahead in the midst of nature and history.
He will also learn the great lesson of camping: Take nothing for granted.
On the second night at Mesa Verde, Bill and I walked together to the bathroom. We looked up at a black sky sprayed with the lights of the universe. Pluto was still a planet. The moon was rising like dawn through the silver clouds on the edge of the mesa. People with bathrooms inside their motor homes missed this scene.
We talked about the evening a year ago when we had finished setting up our tent on the east side of Glacier National Park. We unfolded our camp chairs, sat down with some wine, and gazed at the mountain in front of us. We sniffed the sachet-scent of the wild roses that grew on our campsite and listened to a deer browse through the bushes.
It doesnt get much better than this. Well keep the tent and use it again.
©2006 by Joyce Kiefer. The illustrations are the property of the author. All rights reserved. This column first posted Sept. 4, 2006.
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