Saturday, August 10, 2013

"Come Here Kitty" - What Not To Say When Camping

For the past several years our family has gone on an annual camping trip to the beach with my husband's childhood friend.  (Technically we missed a year because we vacationed in Hawaii instead - and I have no remorse. I'd totally do it again.)  On the day of our trip we shove all of our necessary gear (and some random crap) into every possible crevice and then squeeze ourselves into any remaining car spaces.  This year we all forgot to bring pillows, so you can see that the "roughing it" mentality must have taken over.  That, or there was no room left after the Jaegermeister, Hershey bars, gourmet coffee, and electronic chargers were all packed away.  I mean, ya gotta have the necessities, right?

I grew up camping with my family every summer, although I have since been told that taking a trip in an RV and staying at a KOA doesn't count as roughing it.  I beg to differ.  We would cram all five family members into a tiny little Toyota Chinook.  Although the name may reference salmon, you need to picture us as sardines instead.  The entire bottom area became a full-size bed... once you disassembled the table and rearranged the couch cushions to make the oh-so-comfy bed.  My parents slept here.  The area over the cab could be pulled out into another double bed and my twin brothers would sleep there.  I got one of the "hammock" beds that swung out over the bottom area.  Each night my mom would shepherd us kids to the bathroom to brush our teeth and we could not go back into the camper until my dad had gotten the metal hammock bars locked into place.  This became known as my dad's "Cuss Time", although I should point out that the tin can was not well insulated and we were privy to all of the swearing as my dad repeatedly bumped his head against the bars and his legs went numb from kneeling on the lowered table/bed.

5 of us traveled and slept in one of these
When I was about 10 they suggested I have my own pup tent outside of the camper.  I was thrilled with the idea of my own sanctuary away from them, and my dad was downright joyous.  I was allowed to use the ancient green, canvas, military-style tent.  Literally two poles, some side ropes to anchor it down, and two flaps that tied around the front pole.  But it was my space.  I read my mom's old Nancy Drew books by flashlight after I climbed into my sleeping bag.  It was heaven - until we camped at Yellowstone and I woke up one morning with a ginormous pile of buffalo dung mere feet away from my tent.  That could've ended badly.

We soon upgraded to a larger, used RV.  It was a total piece of crap.  Half of our day was spent on the shoulder of some God-forsaken highway or other, waiting for the engine to cool down so we could switch our fuel from gas to propane and resume our travels.  Every day. But it was bigger!  And with an indoor toilet that proved quite useful on cold nights, or during bouts of the stomach flu.  Did I mention that these camping trips brought us all closer while simultaneously causing us to hate each other?  That's what camping is all about.

So now my family goes to the lovely California State Beach campgrounds.  No KOA here.  The bathrooms and showers are designed so that they can be cleaned daily with a high-powered hose.  Thus, no soap dispensers, no mirrors, no towels, and definitely no toilet seat covers.  The mere thought makes my OCD friends literally shudder in disgust.  When my boys were younger I would herd them into one shower room.  I'd get everything set up while they undressed and we would pray that the shower we picked actually worked that day.  Otherwise you'd have to decide to redress and file into another shower or make a quick naked run for the next open door.  If everything went smoothly I could get us all cleaned up in about 10 minutes, or 5 quarters' worth of water (yep, you gotta pay to spray).  Of course, it rarely went smoothly.  Logan would be crying that he wanted a bath while the water spurted in different directions and never sprayed far enough away from the wall to be effective.  After carefully removing all sand from their crevices and washing off the rashy areas I'd instruct them to get dressed while I showered.  Too often I'd turn around to see them sitting down to put their pants on --- sitting in the sandy, cloudy, standing water from numerous previous showers.  Mmmm.  I am happy to say that they shower by themselves now and I can be at the campsite enjoying a margarita, oblivious of any standing water issues.

Back to the sand and the chafing.  Every year it's an issue.  My boys used to play in the breaking waves near the shore and body surf right up onto the beach.  They would accumulate so much sand in their shorts that they were weighed down by these saddlebags.  After the first day the waddle-walk would make its appearance and for the rest of the trip all we heard about was the chafing.  We tried compression shorts under the suit, cutting out the lining (with a Swiss Army knife's scissors no less), layers of underwear, wrapping their upper thighs with bandages, and finally we broke down and got wet suits for them.  That seems to have helped some, but it created neck and arm irritation to replace the thigh irritation.  I can't win.

Aside from your general sandy, grimy existence during camping you get to deal with the wildlife.  The upside of beach camping is: no bears, and minimal bug issues.  What we've discovered instead is that Santa Barbara has quite a skunk population!  Last year as we were all sitting around the campfire I heard a rustling sound and looked over to find a skunk heading my way.  Like the brave, protective men they are my husband and his friend immediately jumped up and ran for the hills, leaving me frozen in my seat, worrying that any move would cause it to spray.  The brazen little guy walked directly under my camp chair and out the other side and I finally scampered away - all while the "men" directed flashlights at our furry visitor from the bushes.  This year we joked that we should clean up early to avoid more visitors, but of course you forget such ideas when you've been enjoying a campfire with some drinks in hand.  It turns out that Pepé was digging through our trash bag, brazen as can be.  If we tried to shoo him away his tail would stand straight up and we stopped menacing our visitor.  Thankfully he ran away instead of spraying us when somebody lobbed a rock near him.

It reminds me of my first trip with my parents in the ol' Chinook.  I was that kid who followed all wildlife, believing them to be like friendly Bambi.  My parents quickly ushered me inside when they heard me calling "Come here kitty!"  Sure enough I was going after the resident skunk, trying to entice it back to our campsite.  Looks like after all these years my Dr. Doolittle skills were still in effect.

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