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The mighty campers pitch a tent

Those of you who read me and don’t know me – though, if I’m doing my job right, that wouldn’t be the case – might be under the impression that I’m one of those rugged outdoorsman types.

You might think — just because I’ve given up my home and hit the road with my dog, sleeping on couches, boats, my car and Motel 6’s during our four-month, so far, adventure — that I’m that type that, given a pocketknife and some duct tape, can survive anything anywhere, the type that’s always pictured in their author photos as lean, tanned, and boyishly handsome in a chiseled, self-confident kind of way. They always have windblown hair, a few days stubble of beard and look as though, if you were to lick them, they’d taste salty.

Nothing, when it comes to me, could be further from the truth — except, more often than not, the stubble part, which is actually quite easily achieved, even if one is laying in bed watching TV.

The truth of the matter is I’m a bit of a wimp; and my dog — though, having logged 13,000 miles so far, he’s rapidly becoming the most well-traveled dog in America — is,  quite possibly, even wimpier, at least when it comes to camping.

Which brings us to our first adventure in camping since our trip began four months ago. During that time, my camping gear has ridden atop my car in a black plastic sack, not removed once.

Heading up Cape Cod to Provincetown, after familiarizing myself with motel prices in this part of the country, I realized it was time to finally find a campground, pitch – and I haven’t pitched in three years – my tent, and test my outdoors skills, albeit in the highly civilized climes of the cape.

I’ve camped maybe four times in my life, always with company; Ace has camped once, in the mountains of North Carolina, and was pretty much a nervous wreck, getting startled by every little sound and seeking the solace of a sleeping bag, even if it was occupied.

He, like me, is older and wiser now, and our four months on the road, I’d like to think, have made us a little more grizzled.

The decision to camp was primarily based on economics. While there are numerous dog-friendly lodgings in Provincetown and up and down Cape Cod, they carry a hefty pricetag.

So, after attending some Pet Appreciation Week festivities in America’s dog-friendliest town, I drove back to Dune’s Edge campground, which I’d seen on the way into town, confirmed its dog friendliness, and forked over $60 for two nights of camping.

I’ve decided one night of camping just isn’t worth the effort of getting the gear off the top of the car, setting it up, taking it down and getting it all packed and strapped down on top of the car again.

Unloading the black plastic sack, I found that some moisture had accumulated within, My tent, some pillows I’d forgotten were up there, and the camping cot I bought before I left, were all damp or wet. So I took everything out and laid it on ground to dry, and smoked a cigarette, trying to recall how I set up the tent three years ago.

It didn’t come back to me, so I assembled the long rods and laid them atop the tent, and smoked a cigarette, pondering what the next step might be.

Noticing some slots in the fabric, I stuck the rods through them, then sat back and smoked a cigarette.

Slowly, it was coming together – in my head, if not in reality. I realized once I hoisted those sticks, I’d having something resembling a tent. But, still uncertain, I hollered over at the tent next door, one of whose occupants came over to serve as, first, consultant, then helper.

From there, it all went up easily, and I drove some metal stakes in the ground to assure it would stay that way, because the winds up this way blow hard. After that, I put the top sheet-thing over the top, put the other rods in the places they appeared to belong, and had something resembling an entrance. It sagged a lot, but it would do.

By then, the cot had dried out, so I assembled it and stuck it inside with my slightly wet sleeping bag and my slightly wet pillows and smoked another cigarette before going to the store to pick up something for dinner. There was no grill at the campsite, and no disposable ones in the store, so we went with salmon dip, bread, cheddar cheese and salami, which Ace and I shared.

Before bedtime, which came early, I heated up some water on my propane stove top for tea and, as it steeped, laid a blanket down for Ace, telling him that it was his bed.

I’d planned to read and drink tea, but the batteries were dead in both my flashlights, so I stepped outside for one last cigarette. When I returned, Ace had made himself comfortable on the cot, which he agreed to leave only after some strong urging.

Ace remained jumpy, startled by every sound, wondering, I think, why the walls fluttered in the wind. I could see how, always living in places where the walls didn’t move, that might be a little disconcerting.

Dozing off with my arm flopped over the side of the cot, I felt something cold and wet pushing my hand. It was Ace’s nose. I petted him, then held his paw for about ten minutes. He likes that. As crickets chirped, I fell alseep. I’m pretty sure he did, too.

By morning the tent was still up. There had been no bear attacks, probably because there are none around here. I did see a spider in the sink when I took my shower (a quarter for every three minutes of spray) and pondered whether I should shout and make noise like you’re supposed to do with bears. Instead, I quietly kept my distance, moving two sinks down to brush my teeth.

Back at the tent, I unzipped it, and Ace came bounding out. I made some coffee in my percolator and drank it all before we went into town.

Night two was colder, but the sleeping bag did its job. Around 2 a.m., I was awakened by a gentle rain falling on the tent, then a not-so-gentle rain, then splashes of water landing on my face from above.

Ace was getting even wetter — and I’m still not sure where it was coming in, except maybe through the front flap, which I’d forgotten to close all the way.

By morning, everything was either soaked or damp. I skipped making my morning coffee and went to a restaurant. Ace was content to stay in the dry car.

Back at the campsite, I managed to get everything packed away — soggy tent, soggy blankets, soggy sleeping bag, and soggy dog. While reloading my fishing rods into the sack — also not used on this trip so far — I poked another whole in the heavy duty bag, ensuring that the insides would only get wetter.

We got in the car and hit the road, headed for I don’t know, but somewhere dry.


Comment from susan
Time September 27, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Love this. I have yet to go camping and really enjoy it. Invariably I awaken at 4 a.m. either frozen or wet because there’s a leak somewhere in the tent. My dogs never seem to have a problem, though, except the one time a bear startled my lab (she couldn’t figure out what it was but knew enough not to try to play with it).

Comment from Dawn the dog trainer
Time September 27, 2010 at 6:32 pm

I saw the “ohmidog” car today and found myself searching on the web for what it was. Welcome to Massachusetts! Hope the Cape was a memorable visit.

Comment from Anne’n’Spencer
Time September 27, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Hmm. They say that having expertise in all this camping stuff is the sure sign of a misspent youth. Having said that, I’d just like to share a thought or two that might help. Groundcloths are always a Good Thing, even when your tent has a plastic floor. You can use a post-Katrina style blue tarp, or if you’re really on a budget, a heavy plastic painter’s tarp from Home Depot. It needs to be exactly the same size as the footprint of your tent, which you can achieve by tucking any loose edges under. If you’re really creative and it’s not too cold, you can rig a blue tarp over your tent as well. When it’s really cold (snowing or below freezing), one of these will interfere with the tent’s ability to keep you warm and well ventilated. But when it’s damp and muggy, a tarp can be really helpful in fending off the rain. Nylon stuff sacks are cheap. You can have one for the tent, one for your sleeping bag, one for your kitchen stuff, and one for your tarps. It’ll keep things dry inside the large duffel
bag. Coleman lanterns that run on four “D” batteries are cheap, give off a delightful, cheery light, and can be taken inside your tent and hung up. As for bears, the old standby advice for car campers is to lock your food, soap, and toiletries in the car at night. The old standby bad advice for backpackers is to drop your pack and run like hell. The one time we actually encountered a bear on the trail (in West Virginia), we froze in our tracks and watched her amble off after her baby.

Comment from Pamela
Time September 28, 2010 at 7:32 am

Sounds like you are a pretty grizzled guy. It’s easy to camp if you do it all the time. The real guts comes when you tackle something you haven’t done much.

I’ll add one piece of advice to Anne’n’Spencer. Try State Parks for campgrounds. They’re cheaper. They always have fire pits. And they’re usually very quiet.

Comment from debbie
Time September 28, 2010 at 9:45 am

I love the way you write John… I’ve never went camping, and after reading this, don’t think I ever will…