“Let’s go tent camping,” he said.
“It’ll be fun!” I said.
I frequently forget that I’m half-past 63, and the last time we tent camped was at White Sands, New Mexico in 2011 for the Bataan Death March Marathon. I completed the run, but the camping experience was a disaster, with winds strong enough to snap our tent poles and leave us fearing an airborne transport to the next county.
Still, on Friday the 13th, Mike and I loaded up the truck with an unopened tent we purchased before COVID-19, our mountain bikes, his kayak and my paddleboard, and enough sunscreen and snacks for an entire campground. We hugged our son Jake goodbye and headed to Fruita, Colorado.
Our plans for Friday included setting up camp, getting onto the water, going out to eat, and then letting the sounds and smells of nature lull us to sleep as we snuggled under our comforter. We’d hike on Saturday, bike on Sunday, and then head home feeling refreshed.
“You can have the shooting mat, I’ll use the Army sleeping pad.” Mike was generous in giving me the larger of the two mats, though I vaguely recalled it had no loft to it.
My memory was correct, but hey, I could sleep on anything for two nights. The tent was great, and I covered our mats with one of those soft, fuzzy fleece blankets. I removed what I thought was a filled comforter from its plastic bag—it had been years since we’d used it in a trailer we once had—and realized it was just a spread. So much for my memory.
But hey, it was really hot out, and the tent was great. We’d be fine.
We were surprised that our tent site was designated as a handicapped location but were delighted at how convenient it was to the parking lot. Mike told me it was the only site available in the whole campground—Lucky us! He failed to tell me another thing he discovered in small print when he rechecked our reservation, but I’ll get to that.
By the time we unloaded and set up our site, it was later than we’d anticipated.
“How about we walk to the Mexican food place and then just come back and chill,” I suggested. “We have all weekend to get on the water.” It wasn’t hard to convince Mike, and we did our best to hear ourselves speaking over the raucous diners who shared the patio space with us. Covid restrictions have atrophied our noisy-crowd-tolerance muscles.
“Let’s walk around the lake,” Mike suggested when we’d finished our chicken mole enchiladas. It was a lovely evening, and it looked to be about a one-mile trail around the lake.
One mile turned into several, which was good because Mike was feeling queasy, and I felt like I’d swallowed the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Evidently, Covid has weakened our dining-out digestive systems too.
“Oh, I didn’t know there was a train nearby.” I smirked at the memory of past camping experiences when train whistles had startled us awake throughout the night.
“Of course there would be.” Mike shook his head and belched.
“Ewww.” It’s pretty bad when you can taste someone else’s burp.
It was still hot in our tent when we turned off our reading lights, so we kept one end opened. Although one of Mike’s superpowers is the ability to fall asleep the moment his head hits the pillow, his gut kept him awake for the next few hours. I knew this because I kept myself awake giggling as I tried in vain to get comfortable on my bumpy, fleece-covered “shooting” mat. I have found over the years that it is better to giggle than to weep over discomfort, knowing that—generally—it will pass.
We were quick to realize that our convenient tent site was also convenient for all of the sites beyond ours. Hordes and herds of rowdy campers shuffled by our tent throughout the night, shining flashlights into our tent and occasionally even bumping into it as they passed. The convenient cement pathway meant for handicapped accessibility to our site was easier for them than the gravel pathway they should have taken to theirs.
“Hey! Get the chairs from the back seat!” A man who’d passed yelled over our tent to his son in the parking lot.
“Both of them?” Son yelled back.
“Get both of them.”
“Both of them?”
“Yes, both of them!”
“Both of them?”
“Yes, get—I’ll be right there!”
Oh . . . my . . . God. Mike was about to yell something inappropriate. I giggled.
At some point, Mike fell asleep. At another point, the temperature dropped precipitously. I pulled on my sweatpants and did my best to conserve my body heat, pulling the loose edge of the fleece blanket up and over half of my body and curling into the fetal position under the flimsy spread. And at yet another point, the shiver-sweating started. As snuggly and soft as fleece typically is, it was no comfort to me that night.
As exhausted as I was, between the Jake Brakes on the nearby highway and the sporadic train whistle piercing the night, there was a slim chance I’d sleep at all. Still, I smiled. Ah! The sounds of nature! And . . . what was that smell?
The small print on the website which Mike failed to share with me notified campers there could be occasional wafts from a nearby decommissioned sewer treatment facility. Yup. Ah! The smells of nature!
Remarkably, I must have succumbed to sleep sometime before sunrise, for I woke from a nightmare to the sound of birds . . . and brakes . . . and train whistles . . . and barking . . . and—
“Coffee?” Mike had made it through the night without barfing and had the Jetboil bubbling.
“Yes, please!” My entire body ached as I unfurled it from its flimsy blanket cocoon. The morning was bright and beautiful, and we sat in camp chairs on the cement walkway, sipping our brew and daring any would-be encroachers to schlep their gear through our site.
“Are you up for a hike?” Mike knew I’d barely slept, but there was no way we were going to hang around the campground. “We can get on the water after, and then . . . what do you think about going home?”
I was glad it was his suggestion, and happy to comply.
Our 10K hike took us along gorgeous trails punctuated by wildflowers, and we chatted with a local gal who asked where we were from.
“You live in Salida? What are you doing here?” she asked, exactly what we’d been thinking when we awoke. Mike and I looked at one another and grinned.
Back at the campground, Mike glanced at the kayak and hesitated.
“We don’t have to go to the lake,” I said. “We have all summer for that.” It was all the persuasion he needed, and we made short work of breaking camp and packing up. I texted Jake our change of plans and we made the trek home, laughing about the silliness of what we’d experienced and happy to return to the sights and sounds and smells of the nature surrounding our serene home.
“You know I live to give you something to write about,” Mike said, smirking.
“I know. And thank you! What a Friday the 13th!”
But wait. There’s more. While offloading our gear at home, I noticed a new toilet tank supply hose on the kitchen counter.
“Jake? What happened?”
Here’s where I will tell you how much damage a split $8 toilet supply hose can do to hardwood floors upstairs . . . and carpeting downstairs . . . and the walls in between.
If Jake hadn’t been home to hear the unusual noise upstairs, I can only imagine the devastation we would have discovered upon our return. Oh, and while we were driving home, my trip to North Carolina for our other son’s engagement party was cancelled due to a Covid outbreak. As I write this looking out onto our newly snow-laden landscape, I’m happy that I’d at least resisted the urge to plant all of my vegetable beds before going camping. I’m finding it difficult, however, to laugh over the piercing noise of the heating pads, blowers, and dehumidifiers strategically placed to blow and suck out all of the water from our once-peaceful home.
And while I know that this “disturbance” will pass in a week, or two, or five, I always thought Friday the 13th was supposed to be just one shitty day.
But okay. I can still giggle.
Find my other work here!
- Laurel’s Amazon Author page
- My YouTube Channel
- https://soundcloud.com/laurelmchargue (my podcast)
- @laureltheduckwrangler on TikTok
Please subscribe to Alligator Preserves on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts, and tell your friends about it! I’d love it if you “liked” the episodes you listen to, and I’d love it even more if you’d post a quick comment!