Hi there! Welcome to my very miscellaneous blog. Here, I write about everything from mis-used words to gardening, to bad habits in society to going places and seeing things! Enjoy my ramblings.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Once Upon A Camping Trip, Part Two: Fun With Girl Scouts

The camping adventures continued through the years.  When my girls were in grammar school and junior high, I had them in Girl Scouts.  That provides for a number of off-the-wall camping experiences, you may be sure.  Three guesses who got to be the troop leader..(the first two don't count)...Right!  At one point, I had two troops--a Brownie troop and a Junior troop!  Oh, such fun.  Welll.....there were times....

One camping adventure with the scouts involved a springtime trip, and the weather was still, as the TV weather reporters say, "unsettled."  On the packing list for the girls to bring was very clear advice  that it would likely rain that weekend, and to be sure to have "a rain poncho, a warm jacket and either rain boots or a change of shoes."

Most of them managed to show up properly equipped, but I had to wonder about 2 of the parents.  Did they even know what rain gear was??  Or, did the parent ever even see the packing list?  One girl packed a light windbreaker jacket as her 'warm jacket,' and the other had an umbrella.  Seriously??  An umbrella out camping is a hindrance and can be a hazard as well.   Neither girl had any footwear but the sneakers they were wearing, but at that point, it was time to leave, (Friday, after school),  and too late to do anything about it.

Not only did it rain, it down-poured! Makeshift ponchos were made by cutting head holes and arm holes in leaf-size trash bags.  Not much could be done about wet shoes...those two girls were quite miserably cold and damp for the duration.  I bet they learned something, though!  And that is a big part of the whole point of Scouting!

The assistant leader and I were both very experienced campers, and had our own gear in order, our tents 'trenched,' and rain flies installed.  We had a foil tent over the propane stove, and proceeded with the Saturday pancake breakfast. The girls lined up, and as you might guess, there were one or two.. (not saying which two...) who failed to listen to the advice to, "Hold your plates upside down while you are in line."  Again, most everyone else did as told, and the assistant was serving up the pancakes as fast as they came off the turn, and did not notice that 'someone' had water in her plate.  Ooops.. Oh, well.  Soggy pancakes are what you get when you don't 'get' the instructions!

It was on this same trip that a maker of tents had called our local association chair, to inquire if we'd like to use some of their tents, free of charge, to test and provide feedback.  The timing was perfect, so we agreed.  Each leader had one of the tents.
The tent designer had one good idea, but it was fatally flawed:  the screen window privacy flaps were on the inside instead of the outside--that was the good idea part.  Unfortunately, they zipped down from the top, and rolled up at the bottom where they were sewn to the body of the tent.  This made a superb catch-basin for rainwater, and when in the morning, the girls opened the flap, they got a cold shower of water on them and down into their sleeping bags! 
You've heard no alarm clock quite like the screaming of a dozen girls in a neighboring tent!  Two or three of them got the cold shower; why all of them needed to scream I never did figure out.

Besides that, despite instructions to the contrary, the kids managed to be traipsing in and out of the tents all day long...tracking in mud galore!

The weekend was a washout.  After arriving at camp Friday afternoon, waking up to rain on Saturday morning, and on and off rain all day Saturday, it was pretty miserable all around.  By lunchtime on Saturday, there were so many wet and muddy sleeping bags (trampled and sat on with wet clothes from girls disobeying the order not to be in and out of the tents..)..that a meeting of leaders was held, and we called the trip and went home Saturday afternoon instead of staying over till Sunday.
Prepared and dug in as I was, I was peeved.  My girls & I could have stuck it out and managed to stay.

Upon arriving home, the the tents were so trashed with mud that I had to bring them to my mom's house, set them up in the yard and hose them off inside and out!  Then, I hung them upside-down to dry in her garage, ours not being tall enough.


On another trip, I seriously had to wonder about some of the adults.  Again, we had sent home a detailed packing list with all the usual camping accouterments:  2 changes of clothing, extra socks; mess kit and dunk bag; sleeping bag; ground cloth; etc.  The cooking gear was communal, and the responsibility of the leaders.
Would you believe, we had a parent call and ask, "What's a sleeping bag?" My assistant and I were stunned!  How could anyone not know what a sleeping bag is?  Even if you've never gone camping, how can you miss seeing the displays as you are shopping in such all-purpose stores as Target or Wal-Mart??!!  I'm afraid that story made the rounds of the entire association's complement of leaders!


Then, there was the problem with parents in general not being able to distinguish between a sleeping bag and a slumber bag!  The former is for camping, the latter is for indoor-only slumber parties.
Sleeping bags are temperature rated, based upon the type and amount of insulating filling.  Those rated to 30 degrees are suitable for most all trips.  Zero-degree bags are for camping in cold climates, or where snow is expected.
Slumber bags, on the other hand, are little more than fleecy blankets with a zipper, and not nearly warm enough for sleeping outdoors.  Nonetheless, every year without fail, in spite of being advised otherwise, some kid would show up for camp with her slumber bag in tow...and she was usually very cold all night.  The best we could do for such unfortunate children was to scrounge an extra blanket to put under the thing, and place her in the middle of the other sleepers rather than on an outside edge.  Hopefully, the child went home and clearly explained the difference to her parents!


When you are out camping, things are different than they are at home in your kitchen.  You don't step over to your sink and turn on the tap for hot and cold running water.  At camp, the water faucet is most likely a hundred feet or so from your campsite.  It provides cold water only.  If there is a restroom with plumbing, it probably also has only cold water. 

Still, dishes must be washed, and hot water is needed.  It is not hard to figure out what needs to be done.  So, imagine our speechless surprise when one of another unit's parent-volunteer "assistant leaders" sauntered over to our unit to inquire, "Where did you get your hot water?"

Whaaaaaattt????? You're joking, right?  Was our initial reaction.  While none of us spoke this aloud, you'd better believe we were thinking it!  We simply could not believe that this adult woman, mother of children, had to be told that you simply put the water in a pot and heat it on your camp stove.  Wow!  She would be one who would not be a survivor in a disaster!


To be fair, I must tell a tale on one of my own kids.  Growing up camping as she did, she should have known better, but she has always been known for her own brand of logic, being especially creative when she was young.  (She's still very creative--just in a different way.)
Well, on this one trip, for some reason, she had decided she was too hot inside her tent, and dragged her sleeping bag outside to sleep under the stars.  Unfortunately, this campground was in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, an area known for its cool summers.  While the daytime temperatures at camp were pleasant enough to allow for a swimming pool, the fog would roll in from the coast at night.
Poor kiddo had placed her sleeping bag right underneath the drip line of a tree, and woke up soaking wet in the a.m.  We had to take the thing down by the pool and hang it on the cyclone fence all day to dry, as that was the only part of camp with all-day sun.
(This was the same child who, on another, non-camping, trip, pulled blankets onto the floor of a motel room, "because the mattress was too hard."  HUH??!!  That kind of logic was hers in spades!)


Perhaps I should write a book...more to come... ;-)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Once Upon A Camping Trip

Once upon several camping trips, actually!

There's a funny truth about going camping:  something strange, funny, odd, or irritating is bound to happen.  In retrospect however,even the irritations become laughable.  Sometimes your memories are not your own--if you were very young, you recall only the funny stories told--often at your expense.

My father was a very experienced camper, having been camping on his own and with friends and relatives from his early teens.  That was way back before mass paranoia set in--somewhere between oh, around 1910 and 1920, when his own age range would have been between 13 and 23.  Besides, he and his camping/hiking companions were boys! That made all the difference, back then.  In another post, I'll share some of the hilarious stories he used to tell of those escapades.

With such an experienced camper for a father, and a mother who also enjoyed camping, it was inevitable that I'd grow up learning how to camp.  My earliest memory of camping involves a trip to a primitive campsite at a California Forest Service campground called Bear Valley.  It was one that my dad remembered from his youth.  (Whether or not this is in the same "Bear Valley" area as the now-popular ski area, I cannot say.)

The California Forest Service campgrounds were quite nice, for primitives. They did supply a picnic table and a nice cooking area. Instead of an open fire pit on the ground, there were well-constructed stone stoves with cast iron cook tops. These were built up to about waist height, and the wood went underneath the cook top. In this type of cooking, there is no reliable temperature control such as we have on our modern stoves, so you had better keep a close eye on your cooking, stirring often and/or moving the pot to hotter or cooler spots on the surface.

I was perhaps 5, maybe 6 years old at the time.  I remember such things as my dad having built a very special "stool"--with a hole in the middle.  That's right.  I did say it was primitive camping.  We had to go off a bit from the water source, and away from our picnic table area and dig our own privy.  Dad rigged up a privacy shelter, and a shovel was left inside.  While an "eeewww" topic for many these days, to a 5-year-old, this was novel, new, different, and high adventure!

For washing up, there was a spring with continually flowing water, but we could not see the actual source, as it had been routed through a pipe, from whence it continued on into a catch basin and on its way.  It was located within sight of our camp spot, but to the legs of a 5-year-old, it seemed like a long walk away.  I remember going with my mom to wash up, washcloth and towel in hand.  The water was icy cold. I think I only remember this because of a photo my dad took of me and another little girl of about my age whose family was camping near us.  We were both engrossed in watching the water.   For cooking and cleaning up the dishes, water had to be carted back to camp by the bucketful, and heated on the stove top.

I have no recollection of entertainment.  I'm sure my mother had things to amuse me, as I would have been too young to go on any hikes.  I know we had a campfire, and my dad sent me out a short way to collect tinder.  He pointed out dried-out "cow pies," and said that they made excellent tinder.  Not realizing what these actually were, I eagerly went out in search, and found several.  Running back into camp, I proudly proclaimed, "I found a bunch of limbers for the fire!"  I never did live down that misunderstanding of the word!

We continued to enjoy camping almost every year during my childhood, and I loved it all.  One year, I was about 12, and old enough to qualify to go on a horseback ride.  So, we rented horses and set off down a trail.  My dad had grown up in the era of horse-drawn vehicles, and had also worked as a fire lookout where the spotter's tower was an all-day horse and mule pack-in trip, so he was familiar with and comfortable around horses.
As we rode down the trail, I was having trouble with one stirrup:  I could not keep my foot in it.  Finally, I called out to my dad, asking if he could fix my stirrup.  He wheeled his horse around and came back to me.  His instant reaction was, "What stirrup?!"  The wrangler at the rental agency had not fastened it properly at the adjusted height, and it had fallen off.  We then had to backtrack down the trail until we found the place where it had dropped off.
That was the end of the horseback ride, as once the rental nags discovered they were headed back to the barn, nothing was going to turn them outbound again.  Probably our hour was almost up by then anyway.  Those horses could tell time!

More years down the road, and we were camping at our favorite spot,  Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California.  This particular trip was rather a comedy of errors.  All sorts of goofy things happened, and I documented them all with silly cartoons.
The first was the tent collapsing on top of my dad as he was setting it up.  It was a design with spring-loaded tension poles in the roof, connected to a short center post, and on the outside walls to rigid poles.  It was a clear-floor-space design, with no poles in the middle.  Except...one pole had to support the center while the rest were assembled into position.  Then, the center post was pushed up to its locking notch, and the temporary center pole was switched out to its final placement on the final sidewall.

Unfortunately, when Dear Ol' Dad shoved the center post upwards, it did not click into the latched position, and when he took out the supporting pole, the whole tent came down on top of him, with the end of the center post conking him square on top of the head.  Luckily, it was a blunt end, and his baseball cap provided a small cushion.  How do you show the  genuine concern you are feeling while laughing yourself silly?

That year, I seemed to have developed a problem with failing to look behind me while tossing things over my shoulder.  Poor ol' Dad was my victim when he passed behind my just as I finished brushing my teeth, discarding the remainder of my cup of water--yep--over my shoulder.  He caught half a cup of icy water right in the back of the neck and down his shirt it rolled.  He cringed, muttered something, but then we all laughed.  There is no point in allowing the small stuff to get to you out camping. You're there to have fun--make everything fun--including mishaps.

The particular campsite we had found on that trip did not have good shade over the picnic table, so my father had used some spare tent poles and an extra piece of canvas tarpaulin to rig a sunshade above the table.  I was my own next victim.  As I finished washing up dishes in the plastic dishpan we used, I decided  to toss the water out into the bushes behind me (yep--you guessed it), over my shoulder.  As I lifted and launched, I forgot to take into account such things of a scientific nature as clearance and trajectory.  The water went up alright, but its upward trajectory was intercepted by the underside of the tarp, and it never gained any outward direction.  The entire tub of water hit the tarp, and it all came cascading right back down on top of me in an unscheduled shower!  I was told that the expression on my face was priceless.

You know what?  I'm going to save the rest of these memories for another post.  I'm having such fun with the recollections, but I've decided there are actually enough of these stories to be worthy of another post--of bees and marshmallows and flirts, oh my!
 Meanwhile, if you're intrigued by these tales, you can check out my Hub Pages article on how to try camping for the first time.

Until then--happy camping!