I love camping…up to a point. I’m not a backpacker or a sleep-on-a-tree-limb kinda guy, but give me a tent with a sleeping bag and some padding and I truly enjoy it.
But camping when nothing goes wrong is just plan boring. Sure, the scenery is splendid and the solitude is relaxing, but after a day or 2 of that it all pretty much lumps together.
What makes a camping trip memorable is when things go horribly wrong, or at least moderately wrong. but it’s got to be something that you can’t fix with duct tape.
I remember one camping trip to Death Valley, my favorite place to go in the early Spring, in 1970. My friend and I got to Furnace Creek in the late afternoon because my car over-heated on the trip. The old dear survived okay, but we had to wait until someone came by to give us a lift to get more antifreeze. I had a water bag, but didn’t want to chance it without the antifreeze, too. Nights in Death Valley get pretty cold.
Anyway, we got there kinda late so we had to hurry to get the tent up. Out there, when the sun goes down all you can see are stars. All of Earth is pitch black unless the moon is out. We had a Coleman gas lantern, but the little filament basket (the thing that glows) broke on the ride out. Those things are really fragile. We learned to always carry a few spares after that.
We just started to set up an hibachi to cook dinner with the little light that dusk provided us when I saw a cloud at ground level rolling towards us. As the wind kicked up and the cloud got closer, we figured out it was a sand storm. We picked up all the big rocks we could find and used them to anchor down the sides of the tent. We gathered up the food we just broke out, a couple cans of chili, a can of tamales, some hot dogs, a Thermos of now-cold coffee and a bag of Oreos (hey, camping is NOT about healthy meals) and went inside the tent. That bright idea lasted about 2 minutes. There was sand flying around everywhere!
Luckily, the car was right at our camp so grabbed the food and ran back to the car.
How our 2-man tent survived is beyond me. Good ol’ Army Surplus! As we sat in the car wrapped up in our sleeping bags watching Auntie Em’s cow fly by, we started to get hungry. There was sand in everything. To this day, I can’t eat chili or an Oreo cookie without remembering the grit.
And it was COLD! Here is was about 5PM and it was down in the 40’s already. I turned on the radio and the only station I could find was a talk station. People were calling in names of old folks’ games like Walk-Scotch, Hide-and-go-Sleep, Spin the hot water bottle.
The wind blew sand around ALL NIGHT! Keep that in mind because later on it will explain another catastrophe.
The next day went along pretty well. We did some hiking and bike riding. We even got to eat non-abrasive food. That night I blew up my air mattress. And when I say “blew” it up that’s exactly what I mean. I didn’t have an electric air pump or even a foot-operated pump. It was just me and my lips and my lungs. Feeling a bit light-headed from the hyper ventilating, I unfolded my sleeping bag, crawled in and conked out. Some time around 2 AM I woke up sore all over. The air mattress had a slow leak and was flat as a pancake and the ground unforgiving.
I rummaged through my camping stuff looking for a patch, but no luck. So I figured I’d blow up the mattress and get a few more hours before the thing got all depressed again. It took me about 30 minutes to blow it back up. I went back to sleep.
One hour later I was back on the rocks again. It seems the leak was not a slow one at all. It just developed later than I thought. I gave up and spent night number 2 in the back seat of my car.
I won’t stretch this entry out much longer. Maybe I’ll post more excepts from the journal I kept back then.
Our trip home was a very expensive one. We got most of the way home when the rear right wheel started making so very loud noises. There was a SCREEEECH! followed by a BANG! We pulled over and walked to a pay phone down the road. We called a garage and the owner came out to tow us to his shop. It turned out the bearing got sand in it and broke. Remember the sand? The guy didn’t have the bearing, but, what do you know? His brother across town had one and would give us a great deal on it.
The bearing was replaced. We handed over an ungodly amount of money and drove out of the garage. Ten feet into the street and BANG! The other bearing broke. Once again, Herb’s brother had one and would give us a really good deal especially, since we were return customers.
I had Herb clean and re-grease the two front bearings. Again, we handed over an ungodly amount of money and left. We even made it home that night.