Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Camp Tales XIII: Day Camping: "Wait, wait, don't shoot me!"

Back in the old newspaper days with Gaylord, we invented a new kind of camping we coined "Day Camping." It's when, after a wicked work week, and limited "free" time, you go to the lake, hills, trails, whatever, and mimic camping without actually having to lug all the gear and stay overnight. It frees up extra time to squeeze in other fun crap on your two days off, OR one "token" day off if you're stuck on nights at the paper.

Only camping in eastern Nebraska SUCKED, as you already know, especially during hunting season particularly IF you are NOT a hunter.

The Seduction of a Quiet Piece of Land

Driving in the country, we found a public area that shockingly didn't have any RV's, braying campers or screaming children. It was even pretty, in a flat-n-sticker-bush sort of way, the only sounds of a few meadowlarks. We thought we'd hit paydirt.

Only one thing sort of confused us. There were no BBQ pits, nor picnic tables which was VERY odd for a picnicing site.

Not to worry, (we thought) because we were away from annoying campers, yay!

"What was that alarming noise?" Gaylord asked as he flipped a burger on the portable grill we lugged next to Yahoo Lake (there really is a town in Nebraska called Yahoo--or Wahoo what's the diff?-- aptly named by local yahoos).

"Folks, it sounds alarmingly like we're getting shot at," I announced into the hand-held microphone of a cassette player. We were making a tape of our adventure for Dooder back in Minneapolis.

"Preposterous," Gaylord snorted, in his best Ignatious-voice (Confederacy of Dunces). "This is public land! I pay taxes!! We're at a recreational area!"

"Ping, pop," went a few bullets whizzing over our heads.

"ARRRRRRRRrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh," we screamed in unison.

"I think we need to get outta here. I think it's hunting season," I said pointing to a sign we amazingly neglected to read. It read, "No LEAD AREA. Public Walk In."

"Doesn't that mean, WE walk in and BBQ?" Gaylord sniffed in indignation.

"I think it means, they shoot, and we crawl outta here."

"But I haven't finished grilling the burgers," Gaylord lamented salting the raw hamburger.

"Ping, pop," sung a few bullets over our head.

"Aaarrrgghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh," we screamed again.

The next ten minutes were a mixture of us imitating infantry soldiers, complete with bullets zinging merrily over our heads as we performed an amazingly complicated dance, hunching over while carrying rucksacks with gear falling out, dumping coals and partially cooked burgers on the ground, and dragging the necessities with us out of the war zone: hammocks, books and beer.

"YIKES! Dooder! They're shooting at us. Enemy fire has opened on our camp!" I shriek into the microphone as we hunch/crawled to the car feeling like something out of Full Metal Jacket.

"Operation fucked up evac. Over and out," I say to Dooder in the mike.

Needless to say, we didn't "Day camp" at Lake Yahoo again anytime soon. Amazingly, when recently asked, Dooder says she doesn't remember listening to our "War Sounds" cassette----sigh. All that exciting journalism for naught.

Years later, I found out there's a nifty thing you can buy called a gazetteer that shows you exactly where the HUNTING public areas are vs. the picnicing areas.

So remember folks. Next time you're day camping, make sure to check out that nifty spot in the gazeteer you think is so cute and secluded before you end up fodder for another Cormac McCarthy sequel to No Country For Old Men.

Don't worry. I'm lookin' out for us all.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Camp Tales XII: Camp Tipi-canoey

This is Alma, Nebraska, which I didn't really camp/canoe at, but I didn't have any pictures of Shit Lake where I did. However, if I DID, it'd look like this only: no trees whatsoever, just weeds lining the lifeless brown lake and a copious scattering of ticks everywhere.

How to Properly Turn over Your Canoe like a Drunken Sailor

Remember Gaylord of the "Pringles Incident"? It was in late March, and the hints of spring were momentarily in the air. Pancake-flat Nebraska, unlike the Rockies, actually has a season called "Spring," which amounts to a gradual cessation of snow, warming climes and budding flowers. This is rather a delightful experience, compared to the Rockies where it's blizzard one day, 95 the next. We were sick of winter, and while it was only 50 degrees, Gaylord had an idea.

"Let's get the canoe out and go to Shit Lake and BBQ," asked Gaylord one Sunday morning back in March.

"Isn't it a bit early for that?" I asked warily sipping my coffee.

"It'll be FUN. We'll get some smoked brats, chips and dip, baked beans and buns and beer."

The only thing better than bribing me with food, is bribing me with both food AND BEER.

"OK, you're on."

Ahhhhh, nothing beats springtime on the Nebraska plains. Ticks sucking your scalp, biting flies busily nipping your ears. The delightful first mouthful of brats and onions washed down with a cold brew is a religious experience.

Only we planned this particular excursion backwards that day.

We decided that we should canoe across the lake, set up the grill, drink beer, BBQ, and drink more beer. I was a little alarmed when I saw Gaylord pop his fifth beer and we hadn't even eaten yet.

"You going to be OK to paddle back?" I asked.

"Why of course!" he exclaimed, beer can held high. "Shit Lake is only 8 feet deep. It's not like we're canoeing across Yellowstone Lake or anything," he merrily added. That was a good point, I thought.

But here's where the flaw in our plan came in. We should have organized it like this: canoe for a while, canoe back to the dock near the car, drink beer, BBQ and drink more beer. Only we didn't. So you see where this is going?

I can see it all in slow motion.

After grilling and gorging, Gaylord announced that since the temperature had suddenly dropped about 8 degrees, and a winterly wind had blown in, that we should pack up the canoe and head back to town. Of course we brought too much stuff: a cast iron Hibachi, giant cooler, chairs, pads, blankets, etc. We loaded up the canoe, which suddenly seemed fuller and heavier and pushed off.

We were about 1/3 across the lake, when Gaylord decided that he wanted us to pick up the pace. He slowly and rather alarmingly, dug in his oar, throwing all of his body weight to the side of the canoe. Which is actually not the wisest maneuver.

Like in a dream, I call out, "N-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o, you're too far over the side of the b-o-o-a-a-a-t."

Only it was too late, the canoe tipped precariously, and me, in proper train-wreck watching form, just sat there, sort of mesmerized, sort of frozen, anticipating the inevitable avalanche of cold water, flowing over my head.

Nothing is colder than spring water in a lake. Miraculously, I spared my 35mm camera from getting wet, and got my buttpack before it floated off.

The charcoal and heavy grill, vanished to the bottom of the lake as did other miscellaneous items. The next five minutes were a whirl uprighting the canoe and grabbing things as they floated by and throwing them in.

I don't remember getting back into the canoe in water-logged clothes or the tapestry of cusswords out of Gaylord's mouth. It was rather sobering.

We made it back to the car in about 8 minutes, squeezed excess brown water out of our clothes, plucked the algae out of our hair and jumped in the car, heater blasting.

I don't think we said more than 3 words on the drive home. My vintage WW1 combat boots were trashed with mud, the leather ruined. And in the car, for kicks, I snapped a picture of Gaylord, with his sopping wet Gilligan's Island hat sitting askewed his head, sour faced, but I have no idea where it went.

Morale of the story:
1.plan the copious beer-drinking AFTER the canoeing excursion, when you're on the side of the lake near your car.
2. It's a canoe, not a rowboat
3. don't over pack the canoe
4. a "designated rowist" is probably a good idea.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Camp Tales XI: Showers? Who Needs Showers?

While I was in Utah, going on day 4 without a shower, I made a note in my camp journal to blog about how you go about not taking a shower for 7 days and live to tell the tale.

Check out this picture. So realistic.
I like the way she's not only showering in her bikini, but actually appearing to have a happy little orgasam while doing so.

So how did I manage to go 7 days without a shower?

First of all you gotta look at this reasonably. My friend, Paulie, thinks that you should find only campsites with adequate, and quite clean and inviting bathhouses so you can clean up in the evenings (including blow drying, stylying hair and applying a pedicure), then go to happy hour followed by dancing per say, and out for dinner. But this isn't camping. What it is, I'm not exactly sure.

The BEST sites, meaning sites with the most stellar views, the sites away from the ANNOYING YAHOOS (see Latino note in earlier camp tale), the most pristine places in America, are NOT going to have a bathhouse anyway, let alone a crapper. Want a hot shower? Then stay at a Bates Motel. Speaking of Bates, did I tell you about Dinosaur, Colorado? (OK, I will later).

Soooo, here are some tips for staying stellar while camping:

1. Pack the Razor--Nothing makes you feel chirpier than having tidy legs, especially when you're bedding down in your mummy.

"Dude, the sign says no bathing at the water station," Dooder noted.

"I'm NOT bathing. I'm shaving," I replied quite confident that if they meant "Shaving" then they'd put that on their sign. Ahh, the next best thing to fresly shaved legs are legs that are still attached to your body, so in bear-country, shave using scentless lotion; otherwise, Johnson's Baby Creme is great.

2. Pack copious pairs of undies--
And pack a few extra. Nothing sucks more than having to go undie-less because you had an accident running to the bathroom in the middle of the night (Irritable Bowl Syndrome).

3. Toothpaste and toothbrush are a MUST--
I don't care if you're climbing Denali, you MUST keep your fangs clean. No one wants to smell your bowel-breath after you nailed that entire box of garlic-flavored Triscuits, trust me. HOWEVER, Doooder and I had a dillema over this in bear country.

"What if bears are attracted to toothpaste scent?" I asked Dooder one afternoon. Dooder blinks, both of us imagining a jealous bear ripping through our tent, angerily not able to trace the scent of toothpaste, then slowly realizing it's emanating from our mouths. We still haven't figured that one out other than to make sure to rinse your mouth really well or use baking soda.

4. Obligatory "do-rag" or baseball cap is mandatory--
No one really wants to see themselves in the reflection of your shiny hair grease, so these two items come in really handy as does pigtails, which are really snappy if you have long hair like I do.

5. Hospital-style nail brush and bar of soap--
ALWAYS keep your fingernails clean. No one wants to eat something you cooked over the flames if your fingernails look like you went number two and wiped with your hands.

6. Sea Breeze astringent and cotton balls--
You'd be amazed at how clean you feel--and smell. I don't think bears are attracted to Sea Breeze. If so, I'm so screwed.

7. And finally . . . Baby Wipes--
For all the other purposes you can imagine. From wiping the grease spilled down your chin after biting into that keilbasa, to wiping your rear. You can't go wrong here.

Don't worry. I've got it all covered. Follow these 7 camping secrets, and you'll be smelling like a rose in no time.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Camp Tales X: The Bates Motel

Bailing the Campsite and Headed for the Bates Motel

As you remember, we bailed on night two at Pearl Lake, CO, after 6 nights of ceaseless rain.

Leave it to me, to find the only Bates Motel in Steamboat.

I shit you not, we walk into the dimly-lit lobby with shag carpet to find an old German dude playing the accordian. We stand there for a moment, wet, shivering and dumbfounded, listening to him wrap up his beer polka medley.

"Do you have a room available?" we ask, noting that there was only one car parked out front next to a semi: good new or bad news, you decide.

"Yah," he responds reminding me of Chef on the Muppets.

Let me tell ya. When you're cold, soaked, stinky, thirsty and bone-ass tired after 6nights on the road of rain, any oasis in a storm looks inviting.

Even the Bates Motel.

Entering the room was like, "The 70's called. They want their Jiffy Pop and Tang back."

Brown, laminated tables in triangular shapes, modeled after the Apollo-craze of the late 60's when everything had to have that "space age" look were featured throughout the room along with pictures of the surf, which was a little odd coming from Colorado, home of the Mighty Rockies, a thousand miles from the nearest beach. But I thought "Meh, (shrug)" as I pulled the scary bedspread with several unidentifiable stains off my mattress.

Dooder, not caring about the arresting stains on her comforter, looking remarkably like blood, collapsed in a heap on top of her bed.

"I need a drink! Something to warm me up, not beer," I announced, looking in the mirror at my hair that hadn't been washed in 7 days.

Dooder only mumbled incoherantly, her face buried in a pillow.

After noticing a large, slightly appalling stain on the carpeting (blood from a hatchet murder?), I decided to leave my socks on for the duration to avoid impending plantars' warts and unnecessary trips to the podiatrist to have them removed. Following a quick check of the mattress for bed bugs (plastic liners on the mattress and box springs, check!), I sighed in relief.

"I REALLY need a stiff drink," I remarked again. Dooder only moaned a little but didn't budge. "Well, I'm off down the street for a shot of brandy, but I'll be right back," I said cheerfully pulling on my raincoat.

Steamboat Springs has to be the only town I've ever been to that doesn't have a dive bar, biker bar, or career tavern in town. I had to settle on a rather upscale bistro and deal with the look of disdain the host shot me after realizing my knee-length army cammo coat, a black Air Force cap, crocks and muddy workout shorts was probably considered alarming attire and slightly Columbine-Incident-looking, now that I think about it.

I headed for the bar anyway.

"Can I help you?" the bartender asked while two gay men suspiciously eyed me as if I wiped a booger on their list wine list.

"Brandy. Neat. Two-fingers in a snifter," I reply. My feet ache. My head aches. My hair smells like mildew.

"Christian Brothers?"

I smile and nod approvingly as this brandy is rot-gut, so it will be cheap. Maybe I can have two brandies, I think dreamily, imagining a good night's sleep afterwards at the Bates Motel.

He set BARELY ONE shot of watered down brandy in a tiny snifter in front of me and said, "Ten bucks," quite shamelessly.

"Ten bucks?" I sputter, thinking I didn't hear him correctly.

"Ten bucks." Shocked beyond belief, I threw it down the old windpipe.

I imagined having him flogged THEN set afire after being shackled and put in a stockade. Ten bucks! I feel indignant.

"That's hardly a two-finger shot. I want my money back."

"But you drank it already," the bartender laconically remarked.


The gay men shoot me a look like, "The mission's just up the street, loser." Yet I consider buying another one until I realize that would buy me THREE bottles of brandy in any moderately priced liquor store. Then I realize I only have 53 cents left.

Leaving a dime for a tip and I'm sure sarcastic fodder for the two gays' conversation after I left, I stormed out of there, ready for a hot shower at the Bates.

Didn't I leave some advice on an earlier Camp Tale where I warn cautiously to always bring a flask of brandy on camping trips?

It appears I didn't follow my own advice this trip, sigh. But all's well that ends well. Norman Bates didn't knock on our door, and to my knowledge, we didn't trail home any bedbugs. Ah, it's good to be back!

Camp Tales IX: I'll Take Some Rain With My Fries

This is what you call a flooded, and evacuated campsite--in case you're wondering.

Summer 2011 has to be the most annoying and wet summer ever. Rain, rain, rain, rain and more rain!

So when Dooder's and mine vacation rolled around this year, we were like, "Yippee! We can drive away from all this rain!"

It started off hopeful in Firehole Canyon, WY--dry and windy. Then it rained. It was charming and mildly amusing at first, a few drops splattering here and there. We nobly threw up a tarp over our picnic area and waited it out--until the lightning started. We actually dropped what we were doing and ran to the car.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!" I screamed as lightning struck about 100 feet from our car, causing my hair to stand on end. Laughter ensued from the Latinos next to our campsite as apparently it lightnings a lot in Wyoming and they're quite bemused by it.

"I read in the Minnapolis Star that a grandma and her grandson were killed in their Airstream when lightning hit a tree which crashed through their camper," Dooder noted as we hunched under the rain-tarp. "I also read where two campers were electroctued in their tent when," Dooder started.

"I really don't need to hear any more," I interrupted, shifting the tarp so my feet stayed dry.

Then we packed up the next day and drove to Utah praying to Bringham Young for some heat and dryness. To clairify: the days were gorgeous, but the nights? After the second night on top the mountain of continual rain, the bottom campsites actually had to be not only evacuated but sandbagged, complete with state troopers. The "charming" bubbling of the rapids near our tent was replaced by an alarming ROAR. The only thing more terrifying than a bear crashing about near your tent is lightning striking trees next to your tent as you bolt upright, unzipping yourself from your mummy and run kicking and screaming through the slogging mud to the safety of your car.

"AAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!" we screamed as we ran for the car about the fifth time (beers in hand, as we were getting good at this drill).

After two days of this routine, we broke camp, raging down the mountain, hoping for better weather at Pearl Lake, Steamboat Springs, CO.

The first night was sheer heaven. Stars in the skies, the moon shining on us. Not only were there NO BEARS (allowing me to behave recklessly such as eating jerky in the tent), but there was no rain.

We slept like babes.

Until the next night, that is. We were sitting in the car because, yes, it was raining and lightning again. As I was talking to my new gentleman-friend (yes, you heard that right) on the phone, Dooder slipped me a note:

"Let's blow this popstand. It's gonna pour like crazy any minute."

I read the note and considered the action. Firstly, we're tough campers (remember the bear incident last year?). We don't like to bail. Bailing is for whimps, losers, babies. But our sleeping bags were moist, the rain flies soaked. Even cold beer loses its spark when it's 50 degrees and raining. Cell phone cradled and still listening to my gentleman-friend who was gregariously telling me a story, I penciled back,

"On a scale of 1-100%, how bad do you want to bail?"

She only sighed and wrote, "90%."

I told my man we were bailing and I'd call him back.

Within record speed (12 min. I timed it), we had camp broken down and packed in the car, mud all over everything and gravel flying from under our tires.

Then it proceeded to pour.

Dooder had to drive about 10 mph down a winding treacherous mountain road. We entertained ourselves by hydroplaning into the opposing lane every now and then, mixed with cars blinding us with their brights, the right wheels of the car sinking occasionally into gravel coaxing us into the ditch.

When finally, we reached Steamboat Springs, only to find the only available lodging at . . . The Bates Motel, it was complete with an old German dude playing an accordian at the front desk. Boy, do I know how to pick 'em.

Stay tuned, Folks. There's a part two.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

New Camp Tales VIII: Just back from UT and CO

Pretty trippy picture, eh? I took it with my camera phone last week, right before Dooder and I decided to throw tarps over everything at our campsite because of impending rain.

Rain at the campsite.

You know, I HATE rain when you're trying to camp. What's worse is rain at above 8,000 feet, as you're just below the treeline, but that's fodder for another "Camp Tale," as we went a MYRIAD of places last week, into three states.

This particular picture was at Firehole State Campground in western Wyoming. What an awesome place. Except that we camped here over the fourth of July.

Ever notice that over the 4th, every hayseed on the planet comes out from under the rocks from which they hide to go camping? They're always loud; they always have screaming children; they always bring along a boombox, and they never shut up after 10:00 p.m., which in all campsites is "quiet time."

Of course, I had to suffer from Irritable Bowl Movement Syndrome at 3:00 in the morning on the 5th. I stumbled outta my tent, running to the header when I notice two less than salubrious-looking men, covered in tattoos and eyeing me as they stood outside of the bathroom.

"Don't mind me. I just have to shit my pants," I tooted merrily as I ran past. I didn't really say this; I didn't have to. And while I have NO idea what they were attempting to do (molest me, take my wallet? Carve me up into little pieces and toss me under a mesa?), they left shortly after hearing my alarming volley of ass-noises echoing from my stall.

Works like a charm. Who needs mace when you have IBS?

More later.