“Camping’s some good fun.” I told my friend Greg. He nodded as he pulled his tent out of its carry bag. It was one of those pop up jobs that you were supposed to be able to shake and it suddenly pops itself into a kind of dome looking thing. I had a conventional tent I bought at an Army Surplus store. It had two wood poles, each in two 4 foot pieces that fit together. I spread the tent out and crawled inside with the assembled poles. I found the grommets that the poles fit into and stood up one pole and then the other. I went back outside to stake off the side ties to find Greg shaking his pop up tent like a pit bull with a chicken. “I thought those were automatic.” I said.
“Shut up.” he replied. I walked over and took the tent from him and looked it over. I found a little placard that said hold here. I grabbed it where it said to and shook the tent. It made a sort of ploomp noise and magically turned into a dome. I dropped it on the ground. Greg said something rude and went to fetch his backpack from the car.
Back at my tent, I used a hammer to drive some stakes into the ground and soon had myself a nice big tent that I opened an army cot in. I unpacked my rucksack and made up my cot with an air mattress and my sleeping bag. I don’t mind roughing it, so long as it isn’t all that rough. I came out and Greg was looking from my tent to his and back. “My sleeping bag can’t fully unroll.” he said.
“Well, at least your tent is easy to set up.” I replied, ignoring his obvious wish for an invitation to share my tent which was more than large enough to hold two cots with plenty of room to spare. “Let’s get a fire built, keep the bug population down.” Greg looked at his tent a second, sighed, and moved off in search of firewood. I did the same. Soon we had a nice fire going and I set up my little grille over it to let the fire burn off the leavings from its last use. I’d brought some finger steaks and whole potatoes for first night’s supper. I figured we’d eat the fish we were sure to catch tomorrow. Throwing the steaks on the grille, I wrapped the potatoes in tin foil and snuggled them next to the coals to cook. We had a couple of coolers filled with ice and soft drinks, neither of us much on beer. We had a pint of R&R in case of rain and we took a chill, but it stayed in the trunk still sealed up.
In spite of the fire and the smoke it put off, the mosquito population was huge and we spent a lot of time slapping ourselves while we tried to hold a conversation. At around 11pm we gave up and decided to crash for the night and get an early start on the lake. We were only about 50 feet from the shoreline, probably why we had to deal with so many bugs. The good news was that we were alone at the lake, as best as we could tell.
Walking into my tent I immediately felt a big drop in the temperature. Sitting close to the fire had hidden how chilly it had become in the darkness. I tied the mosquito curtain off, shutting the buzzing bastards outside and took off my jeans and shirt. I slipped into a set of long underwear and crawled into my ultra thick sleeping bag. My mother had bought it for me to take on a trip into the backwoods of Quebec when I was fifteen, and it was still as snug and comfortable as the day I first used it.
I could hear Greg rustling around in his tent, the silvery plastic sides making a lot of racket, punctuated by him slapping himself against the bevy of freeloading fliers that followed him into his tent. He settled down for a bit, but after a while I heard him rustling and slapping again, along with some well chose epithets. “What are you doing, man?” I called out.
“I’m freezing and the damn bugs are killing me. I’m moving my tent closer to the fire and putting it where the smoke will flow over and around it. See if it keeps the bugs away.” He made a little more noise and then quieted down.
I was on the verge of sleep when Greg yelled “Holy Shit!” followed my a few “ow” noises. “Dammit! My tent melted!” This I had to see.
I crawled out of my nest and stuck my head through the wind flap but kept the mosquito net closed. Sure enough, a huge hole was melted into the side of Greg’s tent. He’d put it too close to the fire and after a bit the heat had caused the plastic tent side to virtually evaporate. He had some burns on his hands from touching the hot plastic. “Okay,” I said, “get your stuff and bring it in here. But if you let any mosquitoes in I swear I’ll pour a canteen of water in your sleeping bag.” Greg gathered his stuff and, in a move much faster than I thought him capable of, whipped it into the tent with him right behind it. He laid his stuff out and we both crawled into our sleeping bags again. Minutes later we were both asleep.
Waking up I looked at my watch. It was 6:30 in the morning and I could hear Greg moving about the camp and I caught a whiff of bacon. I climbed out of my sleeping bag and dragged on a pair of jeans and a shirt. Stepping out, Greg pointed at the grille where a frying pan sat with eggs frying and bacon sizzling away. “Ta da!” he said. I fetched a couple of little bottles of orange juice from the cooler and tossed him one. He caught it one handed while he shove the bacon around with a fork. Breakfast always tastes especially good out in the woods, made over a fire. We finished up and took our dishes and stuff to the edge of the lake and cleaned up.
It took both of us to pull the canoe off the roof of the car. Greg had built the canoe from a kit he bought at a Spokane outdoor store. I have to admit it was a neat looking thing that was essentially a framework of metal tubing with a wooden gunwale. Canvass was wetted and stretched over the frame in a repeated process until finally being tacked to the gunwale. We carried it down to the lake and pushed it into the water. I got in and moved to the bow and Greg gave us a shove and hopped into the back. We each had a tackle box and a freshwater rod, and we’d bought some worms from a bait shop on the way into the hills. We decided to fish in the middle of the lake, what with it being pretty shallow. At the deepest point it was fifteen feet and the little lake was just one step above a pond. It was maybe a distorted circle 800 feet across.
Greg got his line in first and immediately got a bite. He reeled in a beautiful 15 inch rainbow trout. I got my line in and had the same luck. With such an auspicious beginning, we could see ourselves catching our limit in no time flat. Two hours later we were both still waiting on our second fish. “I think we caught the only two fish in the lake.” Greg grumbled.
“You might be right.” I answered. Both of us noticed that we had a couple of inches of water in the canoe. It was almost simultaneous. “I think we have a leak.”
“How could that be?” asked Greg. “It’s not like we’ve hit anything. We’re just floating here.” Still, there was water in the canoe and it was starting to fill faster. The water was maybe three inches deep. We looked at each other and then grabbed our paddles and started toward the shore. About 50 feet from the shoreline, the canoe skidded on the muddy bottom and stopped. Both of our tackled boxes were floating and the only reason we hadn’t foundered and sunk was the shallow bottom of the lake.
We got out of the canoe and wrestled it upside down, dumping the water out of it. We righted it, retrieved our gear and our two fish and dragged it all to the shore, our steps making sucking sounds in the muck of the bottom. When we listed the canoe, it weighed a ton. It was a lot heavier than when we carried it to the lake. We leaned it against a fallen log and stared at it a while. “I think I should have painted it.” said Greg.
“You didn’t paint it? I thought you used urethane or something to let the canvass show through.”
“No, I thought canvass was waterproof. I mean, your tent is canvass and it sheds water.” said Greg.
“My tent is saturated with waterproofing and other chemicals. Can’t you tell by the way it smells?” I asked, astonished.
“Well, I thought that was you and didn’t want to say anything, what with you letting me stay in it.”
We spent the afternoon trying to cast from the shoreline and Greg caught two fish and I got zip. When we cooked dinner in the late afternoon, water was still running off of the canoe. The fish tasted pretty good, all fried up with more potato and some cooked canned corn. As we ate, we decided that maybe instead of staying out for four nights as we originally planned, we load up and go home in the morning.