Sometimes you need to be by yourself…
And then share that alone time with the world.
Sometimes you need to be by yourself…
And then share that alone time with the world.
For those of you whose only interaction with sand dunes is watching movies like Lawrence of Arabia I can now testify that what I always thought were actors trying to look heat exhausted and parched, isn’t acting at all. It is simply humans trying to walk up small mountains of sand that do everything in their power to imitate the experience of walking up the down escalator. What looks like heat exhaustion and thirst experienced by those lost for days in the Sahara is just as easily thigh burning frustration that ramps up to miserable in less than two minutes.
Miserable is too strong of a word, I was being dramatic. Really the dunes are beautiful (not being dramatic) and my biggest regrets are that 1. we shared the experience with hoards of other tourists, and 2. We didn’t bring a snowboard or some other device with which we could slide down the dunes, rewarding ourselves with fun for the effort it takes to scale a sand dune.
While crowds can be a nuisance when looking for desolation, they can also provide entertainment in the middle of what would otherwise be solitude (boredom). We saw numerous photo shoots in progress, mostly of girls in formal dresses and guys in tuxedos, and we saw this guy. This guy and his eagle were brought in as a prop for one of said formal gown wearing women photo sessions… because a sparkly dress in the middle of Death Valley really needs an eagle to make it interesting.
My weather app told me to expect a low of 30 degrees at night in Death Valley. We figured we could handle that. Of course once we got there my app stopped working. No, that’s not true, I had no cell reception and consequentially I had an actual vacation with no app interruptions.
The national park had just reopened after severe flooding and the sign on the road up to our camp warned that the area was closed. I loved that sign and the fact that it dissuaded the crowds from taking that road. There are in fact crowds in Death Valley in December.
The crowds show up in December because 30 degrees is much easier to deal with than 130. The crowds are much easier to deal with when you ignore the closed sign and go down that road toward Scotty’s Castle. The Castle was closed but not the camp ground.
The first sign of trouble was that strange whine the aluminum table made when we fired up the propane stove. We weren’t exactly sure what it was or why but thought it was perhaps just some sort of cold metal hot metal sort of resonance. Whatever… we had fresh carne asada to cook so we got to work. After about 15 minutes of the skillet sitting on an open flame it was still cold to the touch. Huh? I guess 30 degrees is a little colder than we thought. I attributed it to the wind chill.
Downing a whole tea pot full of anything right before bed is not the best idea but it was hot and I was cold. I am currently researching the effects of cold weather on the brain’s ability to process forward thinking. This is a direct follow up to the study I did that night of whether or not I really believe that mummy bags are intended for the sleeper to wear less clothes rather than more, in order to enjoy reflected body heat. I tested both theories that night along with an exercise in multiple midnight runs to the bushes.
Moral of the story is that I am not a genius and have been away from the camping world for far too long.
Also… upon our return we found that the expected 30 was overconfident. The thermometer registered 16.
Remind me next time to tell you about how the campers next to us weren’t cold at all since they were in a palatial motor home the size of a tour bus. But of course what else would you expect Stanley Tucci to camp in?
It is a running joke in my home that all I ever say, or the thing I am most likely to say at any give time is, “I have no where to sit down,” spoken in an exasperated voice. This is due to everyone else in my home using every flat surface available, including chairs and sofas, as a desk or shelf.
Sometimes when a guy comes home from work (where he ironically spends all day sitting at a desk) all he wants is to sit down and relax for a moment without having to compete with backpacks, craft projects, and children for seating space.
For Christmas this year, I want my own portable chair.
Campaign chairs are not meant for the living room but rather are supposed to help create a living room when one is out and about… on a campaign.
There are plenty of options in travel and/or camp chairs, but I am not interested in a primary or camo colored nylon contraption you pick up at CVS, I have those already. They work fine but don’t look fine.
How strange it is that we venture out into nature with hopes of appreciating its beauty, yet once we arrive in said beauty we vomit out the contents of our camp trailer in a large mismatched pile of trash called “camp”. I think we could do better.
I like the idea of the leather and wood tripod. I like the idea that I could quickly fold it flat and slide it into the side-strap of my backpack. I could haul it up to the top of Angel’s Landing or to the beach bonfire and with little effort find a place to rest my weary bones and spoil the wonder of my surroundings.
You see, I think there is room in the great out doors for both TR’s “Strenuous life” and the finer things. I’m not really going for the whole TR imperialist have a bunch of servants pack in my personal library and caviar, though I appreciate the aesthetic of that time but rather I think I picked this idea up from American Indians of the great plains. They were not camping per se, they were living.
I spent a large amount of my formative years living in a tee-pee. We called it camping but it wasn’t the same thing as the REI crews with their springbar tents and Bunsen burner camp stoves. We had nice sleeping mats, good chairs, a giant stove inside our “tent.” We were outdoors to enjoy the outdoors, not punish ourselves in some sort of nature flagellation.
I advocate the same in our modern world.
There is no law dictating that quick drying, lightweight, nylon and aluminum must be ugly… but most of it is and it would be nice to have somewhere to sit, in the midst of outdoor beauty, without spoiling the view with our presence.
2 slices wheat bread, well buttered
generous amount of brie’
1 slice grilled ham
2 slices wheat bread well buttered
generous amount of brie
crème and peach infused stilton
The woods gave way to Boston, which then faded into clap board cottages and crab shacks.
Having established an Americana theme of sorts we had to stop where it all started.
Having seen the rock and while walking along the main strip, Kaleo and Preston looked at each other and one of them said, “I thought there would be, I don’t know, something better.” everyone agreed Plymouth was a bit of a dissapointment.
Hyannis Port seemed as good as anywhere else so we pulled past the sign that announced opening day was tomorrow. We sat in the sand and pulled out a maple seltzer, Vermont root beer, and some other concoction brewed in no where Vermont. Whatever that “other” soda was, it was better than the others, but we still drank it all.
While sitting doing nothing three wise man can solve all the world’s problems, upset each other over political issues, and solve that too. We did all of that and still accomplished nothing. That was our intent. I think that makes us the same as congress. Except Kaleo has a cool beard. Congress hasn’t had those for decades.
It is a pity.
When we met up with Eric he came bounding through the rain to the car and with his ever present grin asked, “you guys are sure you want me to bring the boat?”
He shrugged in agreement, grinned, and bounded back to his car. That is what Eric does. He grins and bounds, and on this occasion he towed his boat to Lake Carmi on our behalf.
This was all Eric’s doing, The lake, the lean-to, the boat, and the grin. The rain was not his doing.
As is required in any camp, a fire is the first order. I’m not sure why. We didn’t need it to cook, we would not freeze without it, and it was raining. None the less we held a tarp over the fire pit, built a log cabin, and Eric handed me a box of matches reminding me that as an eagle scout I only get one match. It took me two.
Kaleo lit the propane stove with one match.
From our store he pulled five pounds of butcher cut tri-tip, a roll of fresh mozzarella, and a bag of apples. I produced a bottle of home brewed mint-lime soda. Soaking wet, smelling like camp fire, we ate like kings.
Maritime adventurers, professional fisherman, and fools will all launch a boat in a downpour. After a good breakfast of bacon and eggs, we honored our position as fools. We land lubbers marveled as Eric bounded from shore to dock and from dock to boat. Following his lead we lubbed from shore to dock and stumbled from dock to boat.
We zoomed about a bit, played around a little, then decided on a spot to settle and cut the engine. Mr. were-bear and I set up shop in the back and broke out the bottle of craft soda, Eric and Preston prepared to fish. We of course failed to pack fishing gear, but Eric and his grin were prepared to provide. He pulled from the deck a rod for himself, and ever the gentleman, handed a Lightning McQueen children’s fishing pole to Preston. The good Dr. Preston caught Eric’s grin like the flu, and cast his hook into the deep.
Grins were all they caught.
Without fish but with frozen fingers, we eventually loaded the boat back on the trailer. Camp was broken and the four of us looked at each other blankly. “Now what?”
Ben & Jerry’s? Maple syrup farm? Apple cider factory? We were unsure and decided to first go drop off the boat at Eric’s house then just pick a road and figure it out.
We unhooked the trailer and Eric stuck his head in the door as a curtesy to his wife and kids. As is the eternal law of fathers seeking adventure, as soon as Eric poked his head in the house, one of his three children threw up on the floor. His wife encouraged him to get in the car with the mancation crew, but as is the eternal law of GOOD fathers, Eric just grinned, looked over at us, and sent us on our way without him.
The three of us back in the car again, looked at a clock for the first time that day.
I used to dread that day every year. We would all be sitting in a classroom, excited to see our friends after a summer’s break and the teacher would ask, “So, what did you do over summer vacation?”
Other kids who knew, would snicker as it came close to my turn. I had the same answer every year, my answer always caused the most fuss, “this summer I wore buckskins and lived in a tipi.”
Don’t get me wrong, I loved every minute of it while it was happening, just not any of the time spent explaining it to the suburban kids at school. It was different. Different isn’t cool to suburban fifth graders. Turns out it isn’t cool to many grown ups either, as I learned in the office the other day.
My family were members of H.U.M.M. the High Uinta Mountain Men. Every summer since before I was born, my school teacher parents would load up the van with supplies, as well as us kids, and head from rendezvous to rendezvous. If you have never heard of, or been to one of these events, nothing could fully describe it.
They would range from what seemed little more than a tourists fair in Fort Bridger, Wyoming, to the strictly primitive “Nationals” at various locations including Glacier National Park in Montana. Hundreds, or even thousands, of people would set up camp; tipis, lean-tos, and wall tents, dress in buckskins or pioneer garb, and trade, barter, and compete in all sorts of contests of mountain man skills. That would be the official description. At a glance it would look more like a bunch of bearded guys and girls drinking moonshine out of tin cups, carrying Bowie knives, and shooting black powder rifles. Both descriptions together give a pretty good idea of what went on.
My dad, an art teacher in winter, would trade hand crafted powder horns and engraved knife handles.
Some kids made their business debut with a lemonade stand, I made mine trying to barter a woven sash for a cigarette lighter crafted from an antler. I found it on Traders Row, a dusty road through camp, with booths and blankets set up along side. It was an imaginative child’s treasure trove. You could find any type of animal fur, beads and broaches, knives in any size, tools, tomahawks, and any variety of clothing most appropriately worn in 1823.
At each new camp my brother and I would seek out old friends, scout new treasures, and find the lay of the land. The important things to find were: anyone selling candy, anyone selling knives, and where the shooting range was set up.
Once we knew which direction the guns were pointing we would head up the opposite mountainside.
We always set our sights on the highest point and tried to reach it before dinner time. We would hurdle sage brush, climb under scrub oak, and do our best to out altitude the quakies. The start of the summer was always a little rough as we did our hiking wearing moccasins. It would take a couple treks to toughen up our feet.