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!