Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Lessons Learned

"Exactly how 'roughing it' is this trip going to be?" asked T one night.

"It'll be fine. It'll be an adventure! I mean, what could possibly happen?" I replied.

Lesson Learned #1: Never, ever ask that question.

The trip to our campsite, located just outside of Independence, CA (Population: 534), was a pleasant, uneventful trip. We caravanned up with another couple & their daughter & grandkids (who referred to me as 'Mr. J' the whole weekend - T was referred to as 'Mrs. J', 'Ms. T' &, inexplicably, 'Ms. 10' & then 'Ms. 8' [she'd been demoted for some reason]) & made our way up the 395, through the Owens Valley &, finally, at about 530p, to our site in Gray's Meadow, which, being located on the arid side of the Sierra Nevada’s, was neither particularly gray nor very meadow-ish. So much for truth-in-advertising.

We unloaded the vehicles & began to set up camp. Our hosts told us that, in addition to reserving the site & providing all of our food for the next couple days, they also had a tent we could use.

Lesson Learned #2: Whoever designed our tent & decided that it could hold three people was being woefully optimistic. Or smoked crack regularly.

Having the car parked right next to us was nice, as we had all of our schtuff right at hand & didn't have to haul everything out. Which was really good, as we didn't have room to turn around in the tent, much less have a duffle bag big enough to carry a human body in there with us. We inflated our mattress & then went over to the main part of the site that would wind up being our kitchen/dining area/living room & proceeded to have the first of many tasty meals, again, provided by our gracious hosts. After cleaning up, we retired to the fire ring on our side & chatted a bit before hitting the sack. We crawled into our spacious accommodations & drifted off to sleep.

Lesson Learned #3: Purchase our own tent before we go camping again.

We awoke a couple hours later to horrendous pain in our shoulders & hips. This was due largely to the fact that, over the course of that short amount of time, our mattress had deflated & we were lying on the ground.

Lesson Learned #4: Test out your air mattress for leaks by sleeping on it at home before you take it out to the middle of nowhere. It's better than finding out in the middle of the night. Trust me.

We attempted to inflate the mattress again, but to no avail; our mattress had gone to Inflatable Mattress Heaven. In between rolling around, aching, hurting, swearing under my breath & dozing off, T had to use the l'il girl's room - at least 40 times (though, she'll say it was only twice).

Lesson Learned #5: When choosing a camp site, keep in mind the size of your wife's bladder versus the distance to the bathroom.

As it was dark & we were in "Active Bear Country," I escorted T to the facilities. I assured her that if a bear came charging out of the woods, I'd run & get help as fast as I could. She didn't find the humor in that. I didn't find the humor in being awakened from what little sleep I could get whilst laying on terra extra firma. I'd say we were even.

Returning to the tent, I proceeded to make an attempt at softening things up a bit, all the while telling myself "It's an's an's an adventure." I finally got our accommodations as comfortable as I could & tried to go to sleep. Unfortunately, I had Toby Keith's "Who's That Man Running My Life" (or whatever it's called) stuck in my head & kept pondering how in the world Mr. Keith expected me to feel sorry for his predicament when, according to the lyrics, he up & left his family & never bothered coming back. Then, when he did come back, he just ended up hanging out outside the house, whining & moping about not seeing your kids. Cripes, he even left the dog! What kind of country singer is he?!?

Anyway, after spending the better part of an hour alternating between the stupidity of a Toby Keith song & debating whether or not to just climb into the car & call it a night, I finally fell asleep by amusing myself with changing some of the lyrics to the song (don't ask). Five minutes later, the sun was up.

Lesson Learned #6: Toby Keith has no one to blame but himself.

Packing a change of clothes & my toiletries into my backpack, I headed to the bathroom to freshen up for the day. Unfortunately, the sink only had one spigot - the cold one. Taking a deep breath, I poured the coldest water I have ever felt over my head. Immediately, the fuzziness from the previous night's lack of sleep changed to such a startling clarity with a ferocity that quite nearly knocked me backwards. I was more awake than I'd ever been in my life.

I returned to the camp, trying to shake off the self-induced instant hypothermia. T asked me if I'd help her with washing her hair, to which I agreed. Apparently learning from my stupidity, she grabbed a pitcher full of hot water that was being heated up to do the dishes later.

Yeah. I'm a bright one, all right.

Anyway, as I have short, spiky hair, I can get away with a towel drying & some hair goop. T, on the other hand, has longer, fine hair that requires a bit more attention. She needs things like a brush & hairspray & a blow dryer.

Lesson Learned #7: A 2006 PT Cruiser can be turned into a 150hp, 4 cylinder hairdryer. Just turn the heater up on 'high.'

While we were cleaning up camp after breakfast, I experienced the first of many assaults on my person by Nature, as I felt what I at first thought was a large bug nailing me on the top of my head. That would've been preferable to what it really was. It turns out that, out of the acres upon acres of wilderness that surrounded us, a bird decided to drop its load right where I was standing (the first of two times). The real kicker is that I wasn't even under a tree - I was out in the open!

After cleaning up, we headed toward town to go hunt down a replacement mattress for us. On the way to Lone Pine, we stopped by the Manzanar Japanese Internment Camp, a sobering reminder that our country is capable of some incredible acts of stupidity. To hear the stories of these people - American citizens, no less - that had everything taken from them & were imprisoned, under the "this is for your protection" guise makes some of the things that the government is currently pulling on us all the more concerning. I'm not some conspiracy theory wing nut, but I do believe that history can repeat itself for those who don't learn from the past.


After that somber trip through history, we made our way to Lone Pine, which, despite being a town of about 7 people, has three sporting goods stores. The first (&, as it turned out, only) establishment that we entered was a sporting goods/hardware store that looked as if someone took every item that they thought that anyone might want, stuck them in a building, then shook the building, mixing everything up with no rhyme or reason.

Lesson Learned #8: Be very specific when air mattress shopping. There is a difference between a camping mattress (which basically amounts to a pool floatation mattress) & an air mattress.

Twenty minutes later & nearly $70 lighter, we left with a box full of the hope of a good night's sleep. We returned to camp &, after lunch, I set about inflating our new mattress.

Lesson Learned #9: Wal-Mart's Ozark Trail brand of outdoor equipment sucks. How did I come to this conclusion? The piece of crap first mattress, a folding pocket knife that wouldn't lock in the closed position (leading to, I'm sure, a wonderful stab to the leg at some point) & the later discovery that our host's tent ripped when it was pulled a little more that the stitching could handle (which wasn't much) have all left a bitter taste. We'll be sticking with Coleman from now on, thank you.

T & the others piled into the cars & headed to another site about 3,000 feet higher than we were. I opted to give the new mattress a spin by taking a nap. Ah, & what a glorious nap it was! While I nodded ("nearly napping..."), I got the first hint at the weather that was about to make its presence known, as several gusts blew through the area. I thought at one point I'd open the tent flaps & find a dead witch underneath it & a bunch of freaky midgets poking out of the foliage. After that, it started to sprinkle. Fortunately, our tent wasn't an Ozark Trail product (see Lesson Learned #9) & it held up quite well.

The others returned eventually & we closed out our last evening with a good dinner, a campfire & s'mores.

Lesson Learned #10: Nature hates me.

I learned the previous lesson at about midnight, when not only did the gusty, Wizard of Oz type wind start back up, it also started to - you guessed it - rain. T yelled out to God, saying "All right! We get it! We're not supposed to be out here!", while I started laughing at the thought that, if it rained hard enough, at least our mattress was holding up & we could stay afloat on it.

Lesson Learned #11: Nylon is not only waterproof, it also has amazing water absorbing abilities.

Once again, T had to go use the facilities. This was where the rather small dimensions of our tent really made themselves known. For, you see, there wasn't enough room for us to comfortably put our shoes on & trying to exit the tent by standing up (instead of the tried & true method of crawling out on all fours, due to the soggy ground) proved to be an exercise in balance, contortion & coordination. Fortunately, we were both able to get out of the tent without divorcing.

We crawled back in &, as our wonderful mattress was holding up (thank you, Coleman Company!), we soon were on our way back to Dreamland.

Upon waking up a little while later, I put my hand on my pillow to adjust it a bit & found it to be wet. A quick feel of the sleeping bag that was up against the tent elicited the same result.

Lesson Learned #12: Don't put your bedding up against water saturated nylon.

We were met the next morning by a beautiful, blue sky & snow dusted mountain tops just a few thousand feet above us. It was the first clean air we'd breathed in a week, due to the 2007 SoCal Marshmallow Roast going on all around us. We went down to the creek & poked around a bit & I followed some deer tracks up a hill until my innate dislike of being bitten by a rattlesnake kept me from following further through the brush. Not that there was a rattlesnake; I just wasn't going to chance it, given Lesson Learned #10. We returned to camp, wrung out our gear & set to the task of loading up the cars. A short time later, we said our goodbyes over lunch & then made our way back home.

When we got back closer to home, we stopped at Rubio's (we had a hankerin' for some fish tacos & chicken burritos). Neither of us being springtime fresh, T was concerned that we might run into someone she knew from work. I jokingly told her that Rubio's is the one place where I will almost always run into someone from work.

It was then that we ran into Scooter from my department.

Lesson Learned #13: Sometimes, it's just better to shut up.

So, we survived. We weren't eaten by bears or trapped & forced to live off the carcasses of our dead co-campers. No poison berries were consumed. I daresay we did pretty well for our first time out.

And we learned a lot, too.