A few months ago, I decided I wanted to go camping. Not real backpacking, poop-in-the-woods camping, although I would love to do that if I could find a willing partner and a trusty frame pack. What I had in mind was the camping of my youth - car camping.
As a child, when most families would load up into their sporty Dodge Caravan with a tv in the ceiling to spend a weekend in a multi-roomed mansion at the Outer Banks with a pool and hot tub, my father would pile the five of us and the dog into our mid-80’s Taurus station wagon (lovingly referred to as “The Hearse” and later, “The Clunker”) and caravan us eight hours north to the Adirondacks for two weeks where we’d live out of those multi-room, multi-family tents and eat spam out of a cooler. Our pool was the lake adjacent to our campsite, our hot tub the shallow area where our family beagle would pee out of fear of water. It was all quite exotic.
I remember canoeing a lot, I remember hiking, and I remember sitting around picnic table, bored out of my mind, tired of playing the same three card games with my brother and sister hour after hour, day after day. I remember being fairly miserable, but I remember it so very fondly. Miserable in that way that most things are miserable when you’re a pre-teen, not legitimately miserable.
When I gchatted a dear friend a few weeks ago, “I wanna go camping,” this is precisely what I had in mind. I wanted to store snacks in the trunk of a car, I wanted to tie a dog to a tree and watch them get stuck, I wanted to make marshmallow torches and I wanted a toilet with toilet paper within a decent vicinity. My friend was game, and created the facebook event.
The other weekend, I took off a Friday from work and went camping in Assateague with two dear friends and Bubba. I sang unnecessary car solos, which sadly did not include Phil Colins this time around, I snacked, and I generally was just presumably irritating to travel with.
“Guys, guys I dropped my thimble!”
“MV, why are you sewing in the car?”
“Otherwise I never will! Is my thimble under your seat?”
After reveling in the beauty of the Ranger’s Station, and Bubba claiming stake to a post by peeing on it, we were off to find our campsite. Enroute, we had our first horse sighting, which led the three of us to simultaneously exclaim, “PONY!” Fact: after three days, the horses become far less exciting and endearing. We pitched our tent, and I set up my parents’ glorious 1981 camping stove while the fire was started by much more competent people than myself. After a satisfying meal of brats and potatoes, we came to an unfortunate realization. Camping in October, while assuredly rids you of the pesky Assateague mosquitos that everyone curses, is quite frigid at night. As the sun went down, so did the mercury in our hypothetical thermometer (read: iPhone). I was layered up, ready to fight the oncoming gusts of wind. Soon, I looked at Bubba tied up to the tree, curled in a ball, shaking. My maternal pet guilt kicked in, and I asked my friend if I could put Bubba in the car to fight off the wind until, at least, we went to sleep.
It got cold, the fire died out, and like on all good camping trips, we were in tent/sleeping bag by 9:30p or so. I had fished the dog out of the car and had unsuccessfully tried to use his little sausage-shaped body for heat, and gave up when I received a swift back paw to the lower intestines. I fitfully fell asleep with the wind threatening to collapse our cloth structure upon us and the dog pacing around nervously.
I woke at first to the unmistakable sound of my dear little basset throwing up. I fumbled for my glasses, and once on, I realized that clear vision does one no good in the dark. I fumbled for my flashlight and by the time I illuminated the region where the noise was coming from, Bubba had gotten around to cleaning up his own mess. Worried, confused and cold, I shut my eyes to try for sleep.
Within what seems like minutes, I heard a muffled thumping on the ground by my head. I put my towel-sweatshirt-backpack-pile-turned-pillow over my head and willed myself to fall into a REM cycle. Almost instantaneously, I heard the neighing. Cute ponies, no more. They had morphed into, as my friends would later call them, Nocturnal Hellspawn. Jekyll and Hyde style, these seemingly peaceful and nonchalant creatures during the day become attention-whores and evil doers once night sets. The thumping and neighing, in tandem with the high winds and nervous, whining dog, ensured a night of, at best, fitful sleep ahead of me.
“Get back to nature!” I had told myself. “You love the outdoors!” was my mantra.
I do love the outdoors, and I did need to get back to nature, but at the moment I wanted nothing more than a mattress and soundproof walls.
Eventually, my mind began wandering. It was windy. Did we put the tailgating chairs back in the car? Would they blow into the tent and rip it, so the ponies could get in and eat my dog? (While my mind was creating such logical hypotheticals, my friend later told me she feared we would all be trampled in our sleep. This is only implausible to me, because I don't think any of us were asleep.) I could take it no more; I got up and left the tent to face the wind, the upright chairs, and the horses.
Keychain flashlight in hand, I spotted them. The two chairs were next to the firepit, completely upright, threatening to be blown into my standing form. Horses, from what I could see, were nowhere in sight.
Luckily, I smelled it before I saw it. Right in front of the tent, right below where my foot was hovering for my first step down, was the world’s largest, most hay-filled horse turd ever seen. I stepped around it, feeling a little like Kim Possible, probably resembling something more like a drunken sorority girl on an icy sidewalk. Once I got the chairs folded up and secured next to a tree, I got back into the tent for the remainder of the night’s terrible excuse for sleep.
I gave up once the sun began to greet the morn. I informed Bubba that I had been cold and he had failed at his pet duties of keeping me toasty, and that now we were going to go for an early, cold walk before breakfast.
I’m not sure what time it was. Perhaps six or seven. The morning was beautiful, and even my grumpy, sleep-deprived self could not help but acknowledge the serenity of the sunrise over a calm bay. Feeling a little more optimistic about life and the outdoors in general, we returned to the campsite so Bubba could enjoy his morning kibble.
I unlocked the car and searched. I found the bag his food had been in, but it was empty. I felt like a resident of Whoville on Christmas morning; the remnants of it were there, but not the goods themselves. Except, while there is more to Christmas than gifts, but there isn’t more to a dog meal than kibble. We had no one to join hands with around a tree and sing a festive song. I was completely perplexed. The food had been there last night when I fed him. How did it disappear? Did the horses somehow get into the car and JUST eat the bag of dog kibble, leaving the marshmallows, the sausages, the rice, the apples, the oatmeal? At that hour, with as little sleep as I had had, that was the most logical explanation I could think of. It also solidified my belief that the horses were in fact evil, and not to be trusted. The signs in the bathrooms warning me of the dangers of wild horses and how they can bite you only further confirmed my suspicions.
When my two friends awoke, I brought up the Mystery of the Missing Kibble, equal parts concerned and excited about the prospect of Nancy Drewing it up on my camping trip. I wanted to pin down the misfit pony and make him admit to his wrongdoings. He’d talk. Oh, he’d talk.
“Didn’t you put Bubba in the car last night?”
“Yeah, so? It was cold.”
“Right. But. You put him right next to his kibble.”
“No, you’re not saying...”
“MV. Bubba ate all his food for the weekend.”
“You know I’m right.”
“But that’s six cups of dog food.”
“MV, he ate it all.”
I looked at him, tied to the tree, sitting up, tail thumping, making direct eye contact with me. His tail was saying, “I’M OUTSIDE, THERE ARE LOTS OF SMELLS! DID YOU SEE THAT MASSIVE HORSE TURD? I LIKE PEEING ON THINGS!” but his eyes were saying, “Silly human, now you’ll have to feed me your food. This was my plan along.”
The rest of the weekend was lovely. We kayaked, hiked, hunted wayward frisbees out of trees, made obscene amounts of food, ate shared meals out of a pot to avoid having extra dishes, played card games, and made Bubba potatoes and fried rice. While I kayaked, my friend got to run after Bubba who was not okay with Lady-Who-Feeds-Me venturing off into the water on a piece of plastic. This apparently ended in his cell phone getting run over. I have good friends.
It was my first foray into camping on the Eastern Shore, and I do not expect it to be my last. If you’re new to Bmore, go camping in Assateague! I recommend the fall to avoid what I hear are horrific mosquitos, but bundle up, bring earplugs for when you sleep, and keep your pet’s food in an airtight, pet-tight container. You also need to be okay with semi-hygienic circumstances, as the showers are circumspect and the bathrooms only have crappy hand sanitizer and no soap. Definitely not a deal-breaker for me, but definitely a deal-breaker for some.