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cold camping

October 23, 2010

When I was a girl (and don’t ask me how old because that is lost in the clouds of time…must have been about ten ) we visited my mom and dad’s friends in Michigan.  I’ve talked about them before when I discussed travelling with Dad.  

One time Mom and Dad decided to take us further north on a camping trip into the upper peninsula of Michigan.  We drove up, took the ferry across the strait and found a campsite somewhere on the shore of the lake.  Again, don’t ask me which one. 

I distinctly remember that it was cold, first off.  We were all bundled up.  Dad had taken the tent, a heavy canvas affair with a floor and an awning over the door.  We planned to stay three or four days, so he had all the necessities tied on top of the car. 

I distinctly remember it was coming on a rain when we arrived.  The campground laid along the lakeshore.  There were big pines all over it and in a small open area there were two campsites. The pines were tall and the branches didn’t start until probably ten feet from the ground.  Underfoot a heavy carpet of needles had fallen everywhere .  It would have been neat if it hadn’t been so cold and damp.  There was a rush to get the tent set up and everything under canvas or stowed inside the car; although we arrived in mid afternoon, it was so cloudy that it felt like evening.   By the time the tent was erected, it was sprinkling.  Dad was sure it would ‘clear off’ after while.  We had brought our swimsuits relying on the promise of being able to swim.    HA!  Eskimos couldn’t have gone swimming in that lake!

Dad industriously built a fire in the grill or fire pit or whatever it was and prepared to cook hotdogs.  He was confident the rain would pass.  .  Fortunately Mom had been smart enough to pack sandwiches and cookies and so forth because before the fire was even burning good, the rains began to fall in earnest.  We all herded inside the tent.  We had cots set up inside, but were cautioned repeatedly not to touch the sides of the tent because it would begin to leak where we were touching it.  There wasn’t room to do much and I don’t believe we had any games or alternative kinds of entertainment because we had been planning to hike and swim and pick up neat things from the shore.  So we sat on the cots and ate our sandwiches.   Finally, the pouring rain stopped. 

 We were able to go and walk along the shore line then.  It was cold and windy; the waves made foam against the rocky shore with an expanse of bare ground before any grass or trees started.  We picked up a few heavy shells and a couple good sized rocks.  Dad forever after called them “Mom’s River Biscuits” but they were lots bigger than a biscuit.  The one I remember most was a big yellowish stone full of holes, not little pits, but holes large enough I could put my finger into them.  Some went all the way through; others were scooped out an inch deep.  The rock itself was probably ten inches long and five inches wide.  The thickness varied from between an inch and a half at the ends to three or so in the middle.   The other was a big oval gray rock full of little pits, not very interesting except for the multitude of tiny little holes. We used it to hold the door open in summer when the fan was on.

 Our ‘beachcombing’ was pursued under threatening dark clouds with a hard wind off the lake.  And there was a constant spray blowing up in our faces, dampening our clothes.  My brother and I got cold and headed back to the tent for dry clothes.  Mom insisted on continuing her scavenging.  I don’t know why.  She wasn’t an outdoorsy person, not did she have a big interest in nature.  I never tried to figure it out till now. 

 When my brother and I were dry, Dad took us on a short hike.  It wasn’t very much fun because the trees were dripping from the rain and we had to be careful not to touch anything.  The slightest contact brought showers of droplets down on our heads.   Of course when we came back we were damp again and even colder.  It was impossible to warm up because all the wood was wet and the fire was out and the inside of the tent was as damp and cold as the outside.  

 Finally, for lack of anything else to do, it got dark.  Mom thought we should put on pajamas, but Dad said it was too cold.  So instead of pajamas, we added another layer of outdoor clothes.  We had to sleep on ‘army cots.’  Did you ever sleep on an army cot in cold weather?  It is colder from the bottom that from the top.  The cold seeps up through the single layer of canvas and no matter how much padding you put under you, the weight of your body compresses it and lets the cold get through.  Putting more blankets on top doesn’t help at all.   I remember a long night with cold and thunder and lightening and wind.  And more of the same. 

 When morning came the storm had indeed passed.  But the wood was wet.  The tent was wet.  The bedclothes were damp. Our clothes were not wet but decidedly damp through.  Even Dad had to admit it was cold.  We couldn’t cook the hotdogs or any of the food.  We had eaten the sandwiches the night before. There were only cookies and some potato chips left–not a great breakfast for people who wanted something hot.   Not much was left to do but to go home, or at least back to civilization where blankets were dry and food was cooked.   We were able to fold the wet clothes and pack all of them in one suitcase.  The only-damp ones went in another and we wore the driest ones.  The wet tent was twice as heavy as it was dry so it was really difficult to get packed back in its case.  I think Dad finally gave up and settled for folding it and tying it up with the support ropes. 

As we were getting ready to leave I was standing looking in the back seat and someone slammed the front door on my hand!  It hurt like everything and slid the skin back on my two middle fingers.  Mom slapped a band aid around them and we al piled in the car.  After a few miles the heater finally warmed us up.

Funny.  I remember that trip with the most enjoyment of any of our trips.   It must have been the joy of getting warm after the night of freezing.

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