Sunday, 1 April 2012

Why Camping Rules

We were over at Jamie and Shawn's tonight, with Lana and Erik and all the kids, doing our 'One-Week-Till-Easter Dinner', and the subject of camping came up.

As we near another camping season, and try to decide where we want to go as a group this year, the talk naturally turned towards previous camping trips, and we were flooded with memories.

The year Squid was born, we decided to take our annual camping trip in Parson, BC. The weather would be gorgeous, the scenery would be beautiful, and it had the added bonus of not being too far from home (it wasn't till later, when we realised that Squiddy was a ticking time bomb, that we started to add 'close to major trauma centers' to our list of requirements....)

Although Jamie and Shawn had bought a motorhome, Jason and I had not yet graduated from a tent, and Lana and Erik were still camping in a cozy little freshly painted tent trailer.

Our tent was great. We could sleep all 4 of us in a row, and still had room for Squid's playpen next to us. We could probably still fit all of us in that tent, even with the big kids having grown and adding Eva to the clan, but it died an unfortunate death at the end of one of the quickest September Long trips we've ever taken. But I'm sure that will come up in a future blog.

The only down side to a tent (aside from the fact that there is no heat, no bathroom, you're sleeping on the ground, and the condensation in the mornings might hit the high-water mark left by the last great flood) is that fabric walls are not the best defence against wildlife. But I planned for that. I married Jason. One look at his big, burly body doing the peepee dance in the morning scares away pretty much every living creature on God's green earth.

When we picked the campsite, we took into account that we would be right next to the Columbia River, and that wildlife may become an issue. We planned carefully. We bought bear bells for the kids (the added bonus being that never once did we actually have to STAND UP to find them when they wandered away), we packed our food away every night, and I was careful not to wear my prey-scented perfume.

Jason and I were the first ones to arrive, and as we drove through Parson to the campground, we caught a glimpse of the liquor store (which we knew we would have to visit at least once, as our 2 huge coolers were stuffed with stupid things like food and juice).

If Jason Voorhees ran a liquor store, this would be it. The shingles were peeling from the roof, and the siding was falling off the building. One window was boarded over, and there was an abandoned car out front and two more in the back. Somehow, the flashing 'Open' sign on the one unbroken window was not overly reassuring.

"Do you wanna stop?" I asked Jason.

And he, who usually isn't bothered by my flights of fancy, took one look as we sped past and muttered,

"Nope. I've seen that movie. I know how it ends."

Not an auspicious beginning.

Once we had set up camp that first day, we sat back and looked around. This place was awesome! We would be there 10 days, so the laundry room was a plus. There were ponds and streams for Jason and the kids to fish in, a relatively clean swimming hole with a culvert perfect for jumping off of, and the campsite was huge. I checked out the washrooms, and they were spotless. Perfectly clean and well tended, and the smell of lemon cleanser was strong enough to make your eyes water. There was a cute little guest book on the counter, and the couple who ran the place had even taken the time (I assume it was her, not him) to sew little curtains for the front of the sinks so no one would have to look at unsightly plumbing while washing all the vacation off their faces. We set up our tent and assorted other gear, and sat back, waiting for rest and relaxation to overtake us.

And afternoon hit.

Apparently, the people who ran the place preferred that people check in in the mornings, because they waited till afternoon to let the mosquitoes out of their cages.

At first, I thought a cloud had moved over the sun. Then I took a look at the sky, and a swarm of the buggers had blocked every visible patch of blue. I don't say 'little buggers' here, although that is normally how I refer to the things, but 'buggers'. That is because each mosquito was roughly the size of a sparrow. Not a little sparrow. A sparrow the size of an eagle.

They would hover over you as a group, and while one of them sparred with you to distract you, another 2 or 3 would start ripping chunks of meat from your back in an attempt to drain you dry. The only defence seemed to be to swing at them with a small child, but all our available children had taken shelter in the car.

We realised that our supply of bug spray wouldn't last the day. We also needed something more powerful than the Off Skintastic we had brought along. Remember when you would go backwoods camping as a child and your dad would pull out the bottle of straight Deet? You used one drop on each wrist (the top of the wrist, not the thin skin over your veins- that was stupid), one on your shirt (being careful not to drip on your shoes, because it would melt the rubber on your Keds), and not only would the bugs leave you alone, but squirrels dropped dead out of trees as you walked past? We needed that. And some mosquito coils. And a citronella bucket. Or thirty.

We drove back into Golden (giving us the opportunity to hit a less-terrifying liquor store, so that was a bonus), and found that although they no longer sell straight Deet (apparently it's dangerous, and has therefore been made illegal), we picked up a huge supply of mosquito-deterring lotions, creams, sprays, bracelets, coils and candles. As well as a giant supply of mosquito netting and some clothes pins. We worried they might take Squid when we weren't paying attention. He was only 8 months old, and although he was already walking, he couldn't run nearly fast enough to escape a coordinated attack.

After a full few days planning a strategic offence against the invading hordes of bloodsucking monsters, we thought we had things licked. Everyone else showed up on time, parked in a horseshoe shape with the communal firepit in the middle, and Jamie and Shawn set up their giant dining room/mosquito shelter right over top of the picnic tables. We learned to take refuge in there when the flying vampires came out (and to hide in the motorhome when the campground guy sprayed the place every morning- apparently the mosquitoes were a huge problem), and things seemed to be moving along swimmingly.

Then came the skunks.

Jason woke up early one morning, as he hadn't been able to sleep well, and left the tent to make coffee and go pee.

Turns out that skunks, like me, love nothing more than a late night snack. Turns out, that UNlike me, they prefer to do their post-midnight noshing on a nice, stinky disposable diaper full of poo. Turns out that they can also get into garbage cans. Turns out, Jason hadn't been able to sleep well because there was a food fight going on right outside our doorstep.

Apparently the last few days of skunk-free camping only happened because Squid's diapers were SO foul that the odor permeated the entire province, and the skunks needed to wait for the cloud to dissipate somewhat before they could pinpoint the location of the buffet.

They had stealthily waited till the campsite was quiet and all the inhabitants were asleep (which took some time, as we were all stocked up with liquor, and it takes a while to work your way through it), and under cover of night, began their raid.

I have no idea why the garbage can lid falling off the receptacle didn't wake any of us up (well, yeah, I DO, but you'd think one of the KIDS would have heard something, at least...). With absolute precision, they separated the poopy diapers from the merely pee-soaked diapers, and dug in. Flinging scraps of fecal matter and shreds of highly absorbent synthetic God-knows-what around the campsite, they found whatever it was they wanted to eat (we're still not sure what that was, because there was roughly 38,754 pounds of crap scattered around the campsite, so it may be that nothing got eaten, and it was just the skunk equivalent of a snowball fight), and, having had their fun, went on their merry way.

I heard Jason gagging after he got out of the tent, and much traveling back and forth around the campsite as he (I now know) cleaned up the poop and diaper scraps before anyone else exited their sleeping quarters. I don't know about any of you, but when you hear your husband gagging first thing in the morning on a camping trip, do you get up to help and see what's the matter? I don't. I don't care. If he has salmonella poisoning and is puking up his lungs and my assistance is required to get him to the hospital before he expires, he will come get me. Until then, as far as I am concerned, it's his problem. I birthed his children. That gives me a free pass. Forever.

That morning, after everyone had finished eating, we all got to hear the (exceedingly funny to us, but oddly, not to Jason) story of the diaper bandits, and a lesson was learned. We talked to the campground manager, and it turns out that skunks were a huge problem for him. He needed to clear them out every few weeks, and felt bad that he hadn't warned us. So we knew that henceforth, the poopy diapers  needed to go into a bag, then into another bag, then into the giant dumpster at the gate of the campground. Every time. It didn't matter if mommy was on her 35th bag of wine, and daddy was (still) trying to start the fire, that's where it went. I am only grateful that it was one of us that woke up, as I would feel awful having to make someone else clean up my family's poo. (Insert wild cackles of laughter here, as that did indeed happen later that day, but out of love and respect and a desire to maintain the friendship, I won't say WHICH family's poo, or describe the circumstances thereof. But as a public service, I would like to suggest to everyone out there that you should never, ever, ever, ever, ever camp downhill from someone else's sewer hookup without first making sure that everyone involved has checked and double checked that things are draining properly. Just saying.)

That night the bats showed up.

Lana and Erik's tent trailer had a white awning, which reflected the moonlight, the light from the campground office, blinking lights from orbiting satellites, and possibly the residual light from stars 8 billion years burned out. It was BRIGHT. And that, apparently, lures bats in to feed. All night, we heard them as they flapped around underneath the awning, ricocheting off the canvas of the tent trailer, and twanging into the ropes. Lana and Erik and Jason and myself were awake the entire time, but none of us could summon the energy required to get out of bed long enough to set up a light and take down the awning. Jamie and Shawn heard nothing. They had air conditioning in the motorhome. They slept like the dead.


We learned, though. The next day after dinner, when the sun went down, so did the awning. No one was overly upset about it. You live and you learn, and these were experiences we could take with us in life, and rely on for future camping trips. The campground guy mentioned later that there were tons of bats in the woods at night. But they weren't a huge problem, because they were scared of people.

That day, the kids found frogs at the swimming hole (in which they had ceased swimming, because there were leeches. Apparently, leeches were a huge problem out there) and spent the next 64 hours dropping them into the adults' empty cups when we weren't looking so that when we dragged ourselves up to get a drink, we were confronted with nasty, warty little creatures that leapt out into your face in an attempt to escape. We were all so shell-shocked that after the first few shrieks of terror, we were simply grateful that they weren't poisonous.

As we all went to bed on the second-to-last night of the trip, we looked forward to a good, solid night's sleep. The mosquitoes had been beaten (or at least, we had come to a mutually agreed upon temporary cease-fire), the skunk problem had been solved, the bat problem eliminated, the supply of frogs was dwindling, and a nice fresh mountain breeze had taken care of any other small issues that may or may not have arisen.

As I nestled my slightly-chilled-from-sitting-around-a-dying-campfire body into my sleeping bag, and began to drift off into sleep, I felt Jason tense suddenly beside me.

"What's up?" I asked, only to be interrupted by a hissed,

"Sssssh! Do you hear that???"

Lest you forget that I have issues with being scared of everything, everywhere, all the time, let me mention that the phrase just uttered by darling husband is never, EVER one I want to hear while sleeping in anything but a concrete bunker.

"Holy crap! WHAT????" I asked.


I gingerly turned around in the direction my motionless husband was facing and looked out the (unfortunately unzipped to prevent condensation-related drowning deaths) tent window, and there, ringing the campsite in a perfect circle about 3 feet into the forest, were eyes. Pairs and pairs and pairs of eyes. I counted eleven without even having to turn my head.

"What IS that????? Skunks aren't that tall!!!!" I panic-whispered to Jason, who was desperately trying to remember anything he'd seen on the Discovery Channel about what animal stands with its head about 2 to 3 feet off the ground and what colour their eyeshine was in the dark.

"I know they aren't bears." he said, "Bears don't hunt in packs."

I almost died. My brain froze. I was trying to decide if Squid was less accessible to a cougar in the playpen in which he was sleeping, or whether I should take him out and shelter him with my body, and whether Isaiah and Liz were strong enough to fend off a night time attack by Siberian tigers, or whether we could scoop up the kids and make it to the safety of the car before the raging orangutans ripped off our limbs. I came up short on every count.

"At least close the tent window so they can't see how meaty we all are!" I gasped, "Make them WORK for it!"

"The bloody thing zips up from the outside." muttered Jason, "And I'd rather see where they are."

I was going to die. All those years of fretting about the bathrooms looking like the gates of hell and the bad man in the outhouse pit and Freddie and/or Micheal Myers and/or Reagan from 'The Exorcist' stalking me through the trees, and I was going to die at the hands of Bigfoot??? What the hell????

We perched there, for what seemed like hours, watching the ring of eyes as they closed in. Once or twice Jason would shout/hiss/whisper, and they would back off for a brief period of time, but they never left. And they always started to move in again. We finally realised that the only way to deal with the problem was for Jason and I to get up, grab the fire poking sticks, run around yelling, start the campfire again so that they couldn't sneak up on us comfortably, and remain reasonably vigilant for the rest of the night.

And just as we were about to crawl out of bed, we heard the handle on Lana and Erik's tent trailer door start to turn.

Thank. God.

Erik must have come to the same conclusion, and was coming out to deal with the problem. He had obviously picked up on the fact that Jason and I didn't want to accidentally show the animals where our tasty little kids could be found, and figured he would drive them away. We listened to him jump on the trailer steps, and move around the campsite, occasionally making a rush at one of the animals, and finally, blessedly, we fell into the most restful night's sleep we'd had since we got there.

When we woke up in the morning, we found a haggard, bloodshot, gaunt-looking Erik sitting alone at the picnic table, guzzling cup after cup of instant coffee.

We thanked him for getting up and dealing with the problem the night before and asked him what exactly the animals were.

"They were coyotes,"  he said, left eye twitching in a horrible, exhausted little dance, (in hindsight, this did make slightly more sense than it being a band of Komodo dragons, looking for someone upon whom to vent their pent-up rage.) "but that sound you heard wasn't ME getting up to deal with THEM. It was the sound of THEM trying to get into the tent railer. I think they were after the dog. We were up all night, one on guard on each end of the tent trailer, so they wouldn't eat the kids."

We spent the rest of the day listening to the shotgun as the campground manager tried to clear the coyotes off his land (having explained that they were a huge problem, and he had to hunt them every few months).

As camping trips go, it wasn't the worst one. No one needed to go to the hospital, and we left with the same number of kids we arrived with. But there were lessons learned.

Lana and Erik bought a trailer with walls.

We stopped allowing our babies to poop.

Nobody eats corn out camping anymore.

And we probably won't go back to Parson, BC.

Man, I miss camping!


  1. I am SO using this story for my new Girl Guide parents next fall :D Chris

  2. HAHA!!!!!!! I am glad to be of use!