Sunday, June 21, 2009


Sternwheeler, The Columbia Gorge

Cascade Locks, Oregon

Just got back from a couple of days at a campground on the Columbia, in the Gorge. Rained all day Friday, but was cloudy and cool Saturday, and this morning.

Camping has evolved considerably at my house. Back in the day, I thought nothing of putting everything I needed for three or four days into a pack, shouldering a pack-frame, and hiking five or ten miles into the wilderness. Tent, sleeping bag, cook kit, food, water, latrine trenching shovel, hatchet, all that. Hike into the woods, find a clearing -- or make one -- pitch the tent, trench it, dig a latrine, put a ground cloth down, roll the sleeping bag out, make a campfire. Coat myself liberally with 6-12 insect repellent to keep from being bled dry, and good to go.

In winter camping, I'd leave a pot of water simmering on the coals, sometimes waking up to find the fire out and the water frozen solid.

Ah, the good old days ...

We progressed to larger tents when I got married and we had kids, and didn't hike in, but parked closer. Some places wouldn't allow fires, so we got a Coleman stove. Stopped trenching and digging latrines -- they don't like that these days on public lands -- but the experience was similar.

Twenty-five or so years ago, the very earth everywhere somehow got harder, and I allowed as how an air mattress or a foam pad was no longer a luxury, but a necessity. I remember one particularly cold and uncomfortable night in Snowville as I lay freezing on ground that felt like concrete when a screech owl landed on the roof of the fire station behind which we had rolled out our sleeping bags. It made a sound like somebody dropped a bowling ball on the metal.

Then the bird screamed, and if I hadn't known before, I surely knew then where its name came from ...

I decided that was going to be my last bag-only on the ground experience if I could help it.

After we moved out here, we took the kids out tent-camping. Wound up in a park that allowed RV's. Pitched our tent, and a big Winnebago pulled in next to us. Nine o'clock, we were playing cards by the light of a Coleman lantern and running out of things to do, since it was dark.

Screen door slammed open on the Winnebago, a little girl leaned out, and yelled, loudly: "Mary! Dallas is on!"

I shook my head. What kind of pantywaist, sissy camping is that? Sitting in a motorhome, plugged into electricity, water, and sewer, watching television? Jeez-Louise! Why bother?

Well, fast-forward a few years, and it's the kind of camping we do. Yeah, yeah, I know, but there is something wonderful about tooling down that hot stretch of I-5 outside Redding, California, in your camper when it's a hundred and eight degrees outside and saying, "Honey, while you're up, would you get me a Haagen Dazs bar ... ?"

Okay, so I'm a pansy, but when the rain is coming down steadily all day, lying on that dry and comfortable couch in the RV, reading and listening to wind and watery fingers tap against the fiberglass roof? Well, it has a certain appeal. Got a toilet and a shower, too.

Civilization ain't all bad ...


Anonymous said...

Enjoy camping anyway you like, I say.

However, having stayed at the same Gorge campground I've go to ask, how did you enjoy the nightly Union Pacific Serenade?

We got 4 a night. Really broke into my REM moments. Made me long for the wilderness. And owls.


Steve Perry said...

Ah, the train. Rolls by close enough that an underhand softball pitch would sail over the top of the tallest cars.

Didn't wake me up, though. Tuned it right out. (That's 'cause they don't hit the horn coming through.)

Tiel Aisha Ansari said...

My parents went the same route. I remember doing a lot of tent-and-bag when we were little kids (not in very remote sites, obviously). Now they own a small RV, the kind that's mounted on a pickup truck but has a toilet, shower & kitchen built in.

James said...

I thought I was the only one who noticed the geophysical phenomenon of earth hardening! Wow. When I was much younger, my father and I were camping at Lake Walk-in-the-Water in Florida and doing some bass fishing during the day. First night, a confused rooster lets go with his best morning greeting about 0100 hours. Crap. Then again about an hour later. And then again about 0300. Like he was on a freakin' schedule. He cut loose at 0400 hours and, during his second chorus of cock-a-doodle-doo, the night air was shattered by the sound of a 12 gauge shotgun. My dad muttered "good. someone got the bastard". We slept peacefully the rest of that night and every night thereafter.