In the 20-plus years my wife and I have been tent camping, we’ve barely changed our routine. We still pile our kitchen gear in a laundry basket – as portable as it is inefficient. We use grocery bags to transport our dry goods, which before the end of the day are spread across the back seat. And our original luggage carrier doesn’t so much sit on the roof as cling for dear life.
There have been some innovations. Moving from instant coffee to a French press was a revelation. And just this trip to PEI, I’ve learned that a tortilla can do more than two slices of bread can ever aspire to. But generally we stick to tradition, including what we squabble over.
On arrival, it’s the tarp.
I’m all for staying dry. Camping while wet is a recipe for incubating disease and malevolence. So we bring along the tarp in case there’s a chance of rain. Of course, chance is subjective.
“We should be fine,” I’ll say.
“If it rains we’ll need somewhere to sit,” Deb will say.
“I don’t think it’s supposed to,” I’ll argue.
“But it might,” Deb will reply.
Possibility trumps probability.
The reason I balk at setting up the tarp is because it’s a great big pain in the impermeables. It involves ropes, trees and the planning acumen of the Army Corps of Engineers. You need to eyeball where the four corners will be and what trees you’ll lash them to. Then you have to get your ropes high enough up those trees. You can do this two ways: climb the tree and spend the rest of the day picking sap off your skin; or tie a rock to the rope and fling it over a branch, hopefully not hitting yourself in the face in the process.
You tie this all to the tarp with a bowline knot, which is the coolest knot to know, as long as no one hears you muttering, “The snake comes out of the pond, goes around the tree, back into the pond…”
It’s a struggle, but done well, your camp will be perfectly dry. This is up for debate.
“It’s going to run off on the tent.”
“No, the low point’s over here.”
“But look, if the wind picks it up…”
“I can stake this side to the ground.”
“That’s right where we walk. Someone will trip.”
So, more sap.
As it happens, we discovered this trip that our tarp has passed its best-before date, as in it would have been best before we packed to check it. It had a few pinholes and leaked along the seam right over our picnic table. (Yes, it did rain.)
You might wonder why we don’t merely buy one of those easy pop-up shelters. Simple: because it won’t fit in our laundry basket.
Leaving is another matter. Deb’s favourite part about camping is the fire, so she likes to stock up.
“We need wood.”
“I just bought a bag.”
“We’ll go through that.”
“I don’t think we will.”
“But we might.”
On our way to our PEI park, we had stopped at the end of someone’s driveway to place $5 in an honour box and haul away a massive plastic bag of cuttings. (Further on, another sign offered $5 wood plus a free bag of potatoes!)
On the site, the park provided a canvas bag for refilling at the woodshed. Shoving irregular pieces of jagged wood into canvas, however, is not especially efficient.
“Use the plastic bag,” Deb suggested. The bigger plastic bag. The unsanctioned plastic bag. The potentially-get-kicked-out-of-the-park plastic bag.
I filled the plastic bag at the shed with far more wood than the canvas could have held and guiltily scurried back to the car, as much as one can scurry lugging 40 pounds of timber in a bag.
Consequently, we had more than enough wood. But here’s the thing: Deb always wants to bring the leftover wood home.
“We’re not bringing the wood.”
“We’re bringing the wood.”
“We still have two bundles from last year.”
“We’re bringing the wood.”
“You’re not supposed to transport wood. What about weevils? The pine-snatching mouth breather?”
“There’s no room.”
“There’s always room.”
As you can see, our firewood entails considerable illegal activity, with Deb as mastermind and me as accomplice or, as you might say in French, aiding and a-bois-ting. Or you might not.
But Deb has this annoying habit: she’s usually right. There was room for the wood. But that’s only because we threw the leaky tarp in the recycling.
It felt like a small victory.
Happy wife, happy life
So they say.
Happy husband, happy…what? We need a rhyme. Can us husbands get a rhyme, please?
Your rock-dog is fantastic! And speaking of a box of rocks…A lot of archaeologists have concluded that the Neanderthals are now pretty much extinct, and they blame this on a lack of tarps, and not listening to their wives. I don’t know how you find out stuff like that, from fossils, but these are scientific facts. I really enjoyed this story! and very impressed you can remember a bowline knot.
That and the square knot are the only ones I know. Oh, and the mess-o-knots.
i love the rocks, the wood, the debate, all. i am learning to tie shoes with my kinders and still struggle to help, can only do my own. i may not be an asset on a trip like this.
Could always use a good Sherpa.
i have been training for that my entire life. #packmuletraining.
1. “Camping while wet is a recipe for incubating disease and malevolence.” This is brilliant, I laughed.
2. Get a fucking shelter. They come with their own carry bag.
3. These. I own 22 of these. http://www.rubbermaid.com/en-US/roughneck-storage-box
Bonus thing: You can neutralize 98.9% of unpleasantness and accrue See Her Naked points by simply getting up from the table without a word and doing the dishes. Camp smart.
Dishes, nothing. I cook!
Trust me, the dishes are worth waaay more points.
Cooking is a creative act where you get to assert choice and control in the kitchen, then enjoy the fruits of your labor along with everyone’s appreciation and relief.
Cleaning is a thankless job that everyone takes for granted and complains about if it isn’t done, yet they bitch endlessly if they are compelled to do it, themselves.
Whoever has the lowest tolerance for filth in the family will be the most impressed with the one who grabs the soap first. Manipulate accordingly.
PS: Those camping shelters come in handy during backyard festivities and outdoor projects, too. Just sayin’.
Oh, I wash. In fact, washing dishes (by hand) is a chore I really don’t mind.
After childhood camping trips, 4 years in the military and way too many back-to-the-land canoe trips, I gave up tents and tarps for lent and never went back. I also gave up ropes, backpacks, cold beans and wet feet. Something to think about.
We find ourselves pining for RVs from time to time.
I too harbor fear of the weevils. The part about not hitting yourself in the face with a rock was great…such visuals with your writing.
Seasons don’t fear the weevils
Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain (we can be like they are)
I couldn’t resist. So sue me.
Ha! I may fear the weevil more than the reaper (but less than public speaking).
Based on a true story.
You’re a regular Paul Bunyan, you are.
You know, if you build a ladder out of all this extra firewood, you can also solve your tarp problem.
Always thinking, you.
A solution for your annual bring-home-the-wood debate. We always meet great people when camping. We then choose the nicest family and adorn them with wood on departure. They are happy. We have less packed. Weevil issue solved.
I will suggest this and get back to you next year.
Did you really do that rock formation? I love it! You’re so clever. Is the show run over? How’d it go? Don’t sugar coat it. Give me the truth. What’s next?
I wish I could go camping with you guys just so you could see what a pitiful excuse I am for a man. It’d make you feel pretty good about yourself.
I really did make it. It started out as a blob. Briefly it was the continental US. But, like a child, I turned it into a dog-cow.
Show’s long over. After initial trepidation, it was the most fun I’ve had on stage. I think I pulled it off reasonably well. Nothing on tap for now.
You have an open invitation to join us. Is New Jersey camping a thing?
“Briefly it was the continental US. But, like a child, I turned it into a dog-cow.”
So did the President.
There it is! I almost missed it! Who needs REI when you have PEI. And funny, we had parallel tarp experiences, you and me. I thought it was a bowline! I really don’t do knots, not at all. And I’m a mountaineer! A wood-be mountaineer. You should have seen me trying to do that snake-goes-in-the-hole thing. Down here it’s a rabbit anecdote, going in the hole. What does that say about us.
But glad it sounds OK, albeit leaky, and you’ve got wood (and no weevils, let’s hope). Nice to hear you read you see me feel me touch me pinball and all.
I was a Boy Scout! In fact, I became a Boy Scout earlier than normally sanctioned so I could attend the national Boy Scout jamboree with my brother in — wait for it — PEI. I remember four things: the tuck shop sold Creamsicles; there was a leather-crafts tent; I nearly died when my scout mates lashed me too tightly to a telephone poll; and Anne Murray performed. She sang “Sir Duke.”
Splendid! To Anne Murray, good gracious. And bowlines, and lashings.
This is so true! 🙂 makes me want to go camping too, just for the fire!!
Back yard fires work too. That’s why my wife wants the wood!
I miss the days of tent camping when my son was young enough to tolerate being torn away from technology for a few days. Sadly, our trips usually included a visit to the nearest Emergency room. Some families were never meant to camp!