Monday, October 02, 2006

A First (And Last) Time For Everything

I usually consider myself a fairly “earthy” sort of person. I really enjoy nature; so much so that I drive my kids and friends crazy just admiring something as minute as a late October bloom on a fading rosebush, or a floating autumn leaf with blazing reds and oranges covering it’s delicate skin. I was absolutely thrilled this past June when a family of Baltimore orioles decided to build a nest on a tree branch in my front yard! Never having seen them in this area before, I relished watching all of their activity early in the morning while sitting on a bench, relaxing with a hot cup of tea. For the last 17 years, our annual family vacation has taken place in Lake George, NY, in a modest cabin amongst the fragrant, tall evergreens with a wonderful view of the crystal-blue lake. Yes, nature is something that usually brings me peace of mind, and a feeling of spirituality, a connection to the earth that I can’t explain.

Because of my love of the great outdoors, I thought that it would be no problem to go camping with my husband, something that I had never done before in my entire life—strange, because I really do appreciate all that this wonderful earth has to offer. What I didn’t realize is that most of what nature has to offer is better off being admired from a distance—a very sizeable distance.

At some point in what I’m convinced was a very inebriated conversation, my husband and his brother decided that they should take their camping-virgin wives to a remote spot that they had accidentally found earlier this year in upstate NY for a weekend of rugged camping. I was very wary at first, as I usually prefer to wash my pots and pans in filtered running water, not a protozoan-filled lake. And of course, there’s nothing like using an actual toilet with tissue paper as opposed to squatting by the base of a tree and using leaves. As the official camping day approached, I began to have feelings of dread. How am I going to handle not being able to shower or wash my face for two days? I guess this means no makeup…that’s a scary thought. So, with baby wipes in tow and a few of my daughter’s Pond’s facial wipes on hand, we packed up our small bags and closed up the house.

We decided to leave at 6:30 p.m. instead of 4 p.m. so as not to get stuck in major NY traffic. We went to my brother- and sister-in-law’s house to pick them up, and once he was finished packing everything except his After Nine tuxedo, we left. After doling out walkie-talkies, my brother-in-law, R., drove my husband in his car, and I drove my car with my sister-in-law, E. We had lots of catching up to do, and the ride seemed to be going pretty quick to me, since we were going towards Lake George and I’ve made that trip so many times. We stopped once to get gas and use the restroom, and once to relax and eat dinner. By the time we drove through Lake George, it was 12:15 a.m.…a little late, but we purposely did take our time.

We drove along the road that was supposed to lead us to our destination for about 20 minutes until my husband walkie-talkied me and said that nothing looked familiar. We all pulled over into a parking lot, and R. called up OnStar to help out (not my mode of choice; I prefer a good, old fashioned map myself, but since my husband and R. had no idea where they were going, it wouldn’t matter if we had NASA guiding our course). OnStar said we were going in the wrong direction, so we backtracked and went down another road. Word to the wise: Don’t trust OnStar. Especially if they sound confused, and take over 15 minutes to give you some sort of idea of where to go. We were led up a mountain road that became more desolate and dark with every passing minute. When we finally passed a sign for a town that I knew was about 30 miles east of the area that my husband said the campground was in, we decided to turn around.

On our way back down the mountain, we encountered a state trouper and asked him for some help. He took out a pen and drew on the map that we had in the back of the car, telling us “exactly” where to go. Hallelujah! It was now closing in on 2:15 a.m., and we were ready to crash. How we were going to set up camp at this late hour was beyond us, but we looked at it as some sort of “Little Rascals” adventure, and figured we’d wing it as long as the turtles didn’t march into the lake with our lanterns.

Caution to every tourist visiting the Adirondack region: Don’t trust the State Troupers. They’re bored. There’s not much going on up there, so they need to create their own excitement. As we drove down yet another road with no lights, no cars and nowhere to pull over for what seemed to be an hour (hey wait…it’s 3:15 a.m.…it WAS an hour!), we realized again that we were not headed anywhere near where our destination was, and that the State Trouper was probably laughing his fool head off by this time, knowing that he sent us to North Deliverance, USA. E. started feeling very uncomfortable stomach-wise from eating at the afore-mentioned rest stop, and was starting to get upset. She walkie-talkied R. and started yelling at him about his lack of a sense of direction, his lack of consideration, her horrendous stomach ache and something regarding the heads of turtles. He proceeded to beep back and a lovely fight ensued for about 5 minutes until we happened upon a mirage in the middle of all that darkness.

I guess mountain people need to relax and have fun just as much as the next person, but we found it awfully strange that there was a bar in the middle of nowhere and we hadn’t passed a gas station for 45 minutes. E. was happy that she could finally use a bathroom, but when she viewed the patrons leaning on each other to keep each other standing upright and the grand total of 12 teeth in the entire room, she decided to just let loose right there in the parking lot. She wiped with some Dunkin’ Donuts napkins left over from the onset of our trip, and ran back into the car. We concluded that there was no one in that bar sober enough to wonder who the stool-dropper was; they’d probably all be worried that it was one of them, and they just didn’t remember. Since there was no Dunkin’ Donuts within 50 or so miles of this town, we figured the added element of the commercial napkins would throw their brains into a tizzy.

As if things couldn’t get any worse, it started to pour, and at one point we had to swerve our cars so as not to hit what R. thought was a baby bear, and I thought was an alien. At 4 a.m., we passed by a popular ski slope and happened upon a small Alpine-themed motel. There was no one in the office, so my husband switched spots with E., and we all curled up as best as we could in our car seats to sleep. At about 7 a.m., I awoke to a tattooed, Harley-Davidson tough guy staring into our windshield. I nudged my husband in a panic, and he opened the window. This mean-looking thug actually turned out to be the owner of the motel, and in his very Long Island accent (thank God!), he empathetically asked what time we got in. He apologized for sleeping in his house next to the motel and not above the office as he usually does, but he said he couldn’t imagine anyone coming to this area on an “off” weekend, in the rain, after 1am. Ha. For $30, he let us stay in a room with 3 queen sized beds until we were ready to start our trek to find a campsite that E. and I now figured was a figment of our husbands’ over-active or liquor-induced imaginations.

After catching a quick nap and freshening up a bit, we hit the road again at about 9:30 a.m. to a camping destination that the Harley guy said we’d really like, since E. and I had had our fill of trying to find some delusional fantasyland that may not even exist. As we approached the area, ominously called “Thirteenth Lake”, our husbands realized with glee that this was actually the campsite that they had been looking for all along! After conversing about the chances of us ending up there after all we went through, and how the men could even forget the name of that lake, we pulled into a gravel parking lot with about 3 other cars. We started to unpack in the rain, which thankfully subsided to just a sprinkle here and there as we took almost 3 hours to set up camp. E. reminded me that we needed to sign our names into a journal-type book that was housed in a compartment on a small, wooden stand that was put there for our own safety in case we got lost in the woods. I was a little put off when I saw that Mike Meyers had signed in, but I assured myself that we were probably amongst hikers with a good sense of humor.

There was no denying the beauty of Thirteenth Lake. The mountains were breathtaking and covered with evergreens mixed with trees whose leaves had begun to change. The lake was peaceful and quiet, save for the sound of faint cricket chirps and the occasional call of a loon or a hawk. There was a beaver dam and felled trees that they had excavated all on their own. Since this was state land and not an “official” campground, throughout the day we would see scattered hikers and fishermen coming through the small trail next our setup.

After a deliciously campy lunch of hot dogs and hamburgers cooked on the campfire, we took turns on a raft and rowed out into the lake. We hiked just a little to sense our surroundings, and conversed with a couple in their 50’s that were backpacking their way up the mountain to camp out, a first for the woman as well. As evening approached, E. and I popped open some wine, and the boys got out their martini-shaker (what camping trip would be complete without one?) for their mixed vodka drinks. We cooked filet mignon steaks and some more hot dogs for dinner, and wondered how our digestive systems would hold up for the remainder of the trip. We hauled any food remains and garbage to the car, against the advice of one hiker who suggested that we hang our food from a tree to discourage the bears, as they’ve been known to actually break into cars when they’re hungry enough. We all decided that we’d rather have the bear destroy our vehicles than to have him sit with us staring at a bag of scraps hanging in the air, waiting for us to lower it down so he can have a midnight snack. After all, he might get impatient and decide that one of us will suffice.

About the time that we realized that we couldn’t see 5 feet past the campfire and the lake had completely been engulfed by the darkness, we heard our first coyote howl. E. became paralyzed with fear, holding a flashlight in each hand, and I started to chop some wood with an axe to get my mind off of the impending night that I would have to spend with nothing separating me from the wildlife except the thin nylon of my tent. The guys, of course, loved every minute of this adventure, although I tend to think that vodka can give one a false sense of security, not to mention a real sense of stupidity. After a few hours of playing “Guess the Noise Coming from the Woods”, we decided that the fastest way to daylight was through a good night’s sleep, and we retreated as couples into two tents.

I was feeling a little jumpy at first, but the continuing strains of “Ghetto Superstar” coming from my brother-in-law’s cell phone ringtone library next door helped to drown out the lonely coyotes and put my mind at ease. I had just fallen asleep when I heard a faint scratching at the tent next to my head. Since we had kept the campfire on for light, the shadow on the tent wall exposed a leaf that was slowly drifting down the outside of the tent. I decided to help it along, and flicked it with my thumb and forefinger. The wind started to pick up, and the rain started to fall again. I heard R. (or was it E.?) snoring, and there was finally enough background noise to lull me to sleep again.

I again awakened to another leaf skimming the side of the tent, and as I turned over to flick it off, I realized that the shadow of this leaf was heading upwards, and had four legs and a tail. I screamed and my husband woke abruptly, looking bewildered and reaching for his Machete next to the blow-up mattress.

“It’s just a lizard, what’s wrong with you?! Go back to sleep!”

“I can’t sleep! Whose idea was this?! I can’t stand this anymore! Please tell me it’s after 5 a.m., so I know that this night is almost over!”

He lit up his watch, and I saw 2:45. Oh well, I thought to myself. It’s not 5 a.m., but at least I must’ve slept a little.

“It’s 12:45.”

“No it’s not, it says 2:45!!”

“Well, you must’ve missed the ‘1’, look.”

All I could think was, how can this be? It’s only 12:45, and daylight won’t peek through this pitch dark for at least another 5 hours. How am I ever going to fall back asleep??

We lay there quietly, trying to ignore the fact that now that the wind died down and the rain stopped, we can hear the coyotes loud and clear. They’ve been calling each other all night. Haven’t they found each other yet? Apparently, it’s so dark that they can’t even see each other, and they have to play a game of howling Marco Polo until they do. The minutes rolled slowly by, and I wondered why I didn’t hit any of my friends up for a Valium before I left.

Just when I finally started to relax and drift off into a not-so-peaceful slumber, I heard the footsteps. What was even scarier was that my husband heard them, too, and sat straight up.

“What is that?!?!?” I inquired in a panicked whisper.

“SSHHHH!!!! Don’t SAY anything!!!” He anxiously whispered back.

“OH MY GOSH…IT’S MIKE MEYERS!!!!!”

I felt as if I were going to faint…give me a bear, give me Bigfoot for crying out loud, but don’t let there be some deranged nut walking around in that darkness looking for unsuspecting campers to dismember!!

“Stop it!!! It’s not Mike Meyers!!! It’s probably a bear, just BE QUIET!!!”

Whatever this creature was, it began sniffing between the tents, which actually put me in a panic that we really were dealing with a large mammal of some sort. Hopefully one that already ate dinner, I thought to myself. We waited for what seemed an eternity even though it was only about 5 minutes, and finally, the footsteps headed towards the woods and out of our camp. My husband and I tried to convince each other that a bear wouldn’t just scratch open our tent for no reason and eat us (even though he told me to get my head away from the side of the tent), and that they really didn’t like to eat people anyway, only berries and fish. Yes, that sounds good! Berries and fish, not humans! Okay, let’s huddle real close and pray with all of our might that we will fall asleep and wake to a glorious, sunny, critter-free morning.

We finally woke up around 7:30 a.m.…but not to glorious sun, only more ominous clouds and occasional sprinkles. The rain held off long enough for us to cook a delicious breakfast of eggs and bacon on the campfire, but as we were packing up to leave, the skies opened up and drenched not only all of our belongings, but us as well. Even the men were exhausted and anxious to get on the road, so after about 2 hours of soggy, muddy packing, we headed down the mountain. Good bye, Thirteenth Lake. It was quite an experience, but I will never visit your human-void, critter-laden shores ever again.

As we made our way back towards Lake George, the skies started to clear up as if to say that our nightmare was truly over. We decided to spend the day in town, and after some light shopping, a nice lunch and a great game of laser tag, we started on our journey back to Long Island. As we were driving, my husband asked me to tell him honestly how I felt about my first camping experience. Although I don’t think he was completely surprised, I know that he was slightly disappointed when I told him that it was probably my last. I assured him that although I enjoy sharing new adventures with him, to me this was the equivalent of dragging him to the mall at 6:00 a.m. for Macy’s One-Day sale, trying on 12 different outfits, 24 pairs of shoes and finally ending up at the Estee Lauder counter for a total makeover, complete with full facial hair removal.

Some things in life are strictly there for men to enjoy and I believe that camping is one of them--along with the Ultimate Fighting championship, Jackass movies and AC/DC. Other things, such as Glamour magazine, Victoria’s Secret and Nora Ephron movies are best enjoyed by women (alright, maybe with the exception of Victoria’s Secret). On the slim chance that I become melancholy for sleeping in the great outdoors, I’ll stick to pitching a tent in my own backyard, where I only have to worry about the opossums under my shed. On second thought

10 comments:

Summer said...

Great post!! This is exactly why i do not go camping!! I never tried it but i would not go based on stuff i read..i prefer a nice hotel with a nice pool and i do not have to cook my own meals.
It is true you only post one blog once in a while, but when you do you get it right!! I enjoyed reading and loved your camping experience, but never again! Right?

Lisa said...

Summer,

I have been so busy with the mundane things in life that I'm finding it hard to set aside time lately to get my thoughts down in an organized manner! I'm going to try to post more often, thank you so much for your kind words, I really appreciate it. I'm off and running to work, but I promise I will try to get to your blog (and everyone else's) this afternoon!

Take good care,
Lisa

Teri said...

Very well said chica...and so true to life - actually too true to life. ;

You are what my husband would call a "trooper." I've learned not to "troop" as much as in years past, but I do enjoy the memories.

Ciao bella...

Kacey said...

Wonderful post--- great mental visuals! True, you are not setting records with the number of your posts, but you rank right up there with the quality of your words. You make me appreciate five star hotels more and more --- after reading about your camping experience --- I'd go for a Motel 6 with a lumpy mattress! Keep writing when you have time, I'm a fan.

Lisa said...

Teri,

Yes, I talked the hubby out of "trooping" the whole family upstate for a camping trip this weekend! I think I finally have him convinced that supplies and setup for 6 people for two days is just not worth it!

This experience, believe it or not, is actually all true! I only wish I knew about blogging years ago...some of the things that have happened in my life are just too unbelievable, but dang, they would've made great blog entries!

Thanks for reading and taking the time to stop by!

Take good care,
Lisa

Lisa said...

Kacey,

Thank you so much for your kind words!! I love to write, and wish that I did have more time to get things posted. I was shooting for one post a week, but last week life went haywire, and I hardly got on the computer!

My job takes up a lot of my time, also. I'd rather be writing than dealing with the drama, but maybe someday I'll find a way to write about it! It would have to be a little "politically incorrect" in order for anyone to really get a good picture of what goes on, and I don't think I'm ready to go there yet!

Take good care,
Lisa

Nankin said...

Lisa, thanks for stopping by my blog. I loved your story of camping in the wild. I can just see yur face as the "critter" sniffed it's way through your camp.

Lisa said...

Nankin,

You're very welcome!

Yes, at the time that was truly frightening, but once we actually lived through it, it became pretty darn funny! Isn't that always the case?


Take good care,
Lisa

Big Dave T said...

Wow, what an adventure. I’ve heard that the vacations that we remember the most are the ones where we suffer the most adversity. I know my boys don’t remember all their trips to Disneyworld, but I asked if they recall our own camping trip in the Boundary Waters when we were soaked by rain, feasted on by mosquitoes, dehydrated, and nearly killed by a falling tree. “Dad, that’s forever etched in our brain,” they said.

Lisa said...

Dave,

Yes, this is one I won't forget any time soon! We wanted to bring our kids camping last weekend, but it didn't work out. Just imagining all of those fashionistas trying to rough it makes me chuckle! I think they'd be okay the first time, but I doubt they'd want to do it again (just like their mom)!

However, I don't know if they would be able to stick out what you and your boys went through! That sounds like a nightmare! Eventually, when they have kids of their own, they'll have a great story to tell them...and I bet no one's version will be as exciting as Grandpa's!

Take good care,
Lisa