20191027 001063 11 minutes
Camping 9/11 Peter Potts

After their experience with the hurricane,Julia had looked at the other tent sites to see which ones best withstood the extremes of weather. They were using an umbrella tent, with a fly to keep off the water. The tents that handled the storm best were the old fashioned ones, with metal legs. So at the end of the season, Julia looked for a year-end close-out sale and bought a new tent with metal poles. It was very cheap and didn’t have a fly, so the next year, when bad weather was forecast, the big tarp was called into service again to cover the whole thing and keep out the rain. It was hilarious. It was so big it completely covered the tent, with lots to spare, leaving no opening for the doorway. With the excess material gathered up over the entrance, and crocheted together with their trusty white clothes-line for rope, it ended up looking like a Victorian bonnet, with frills around the door. But it did keep out the rain.

A couple of times, particularly when the weather wasn’t good for walking, shopping or beach-combing, a distant renowned camping store beckoned. It was another three hours driving each way, but it seemed to have some irresistible magnetic pull which negated the agony of spending another six or seven hours in the car. At least the gear would be useful, but for some reason the journey always seemed to be in the pouring rain.

That time the rain started about ten minutes after leaving town, but on the return journey it cleared about half an hour north of the campsite. They had been in downpours continuously all day, and expected to fine that the tent had floated into the bay when they returned. Among their purchases were fancy new camp-beds to keep us up off the wet floor but they were debating whether to cope with another flooded night, or to pack up and go straight home. When they arrived at the camp-ground they discovered it hadn’t rained at all since the morning and everything was completely dry, but the new camp-beds were great – once they figured out how to assemble them.

The year of 9/11 was really eerie. While having dinner and sitting outside watching the stars, they were used to seeing the lights of lots of planes criss-crossing the sky. The campground was on a flight corridor and some planes were obviously on a Northern flight path, very high, others on the Western path, lower, and still other smaller planes on local flights flying fairly low. In 2001 their camping weekend was immediately after 9/11, with hardly any planes twinkling in the night sky. All was quiet. Spooky. Being soon after 9/11, it was in everyone’s thoughts. After that there were more planes every year, and the then current year was pretty much back to normal.

The previous couple of years had been relatively calm, apart from the mosquitoes, bunny rabbits, and, of course, the snake. Peggy had gone to the bath-house, and Julia was waiting in the car, when the infamous blood-curdling scream once again rent the peaceful atmosphere. She rushed over, not knowing what to expect, only to see an innocent little garter snake slithering out of the door. That’s camping. The bath-houses used to be horrid, but had improved a lot. Not nearly as many creepy-crawlies to accompany you. It was actually quite civilized, with red ceramic tiles, a proper shower with real hot water and all the appropriate facilities.

The previous Fall Peggy decided they needed a bigger tent, with space for their traditional knock-down, drag-out game of rummy, or to read in, when it was too cold to sit outside comfortably. She found one on the Internet and was immensely proud of it. It was enormous. She e-mailed Julia pictures and it looked wonderful. And she also acquired a fancy camping table and chairs for their card game. The tent had two flies, so the rain or wind forecast wouldn’t pose a problem.

That trip was a record for tardiness, and it was too late to stop at the local pottery store, for their usual “pottery fix” on the way up. The potter did wonderful work and they had never missed stopping there since discovering him on one of their earliest camping excursions. But instead, the Grist Mill was open and provided an opportunity for Julia to feed Julia’s flour addiction. The stone-ground flour tasted great in pancakes on Sunday. Despite their lateness in getting to the camp-ground, it was about 5.30 p.m., the evenings were long in June so there was plenty of time to put up the new tent.

After putting down the tarp, Peggy ceremoniously emptied the tent bag onto it. With the tent opened out they bent down to pick up the tent poles.

“Er… where are the poles? A tent usually comes with poles, I think?”

“That is all they sent,” Peggy replied. “Just what was in the bag. I haven’t touched it since I got it. I figured everything would be there.”

“Where did you get it from? If you got it on e-bay heaven knows what you got.”

“No, it was from a reputable big camping place. I’ve bought several things from them and haven’t had any problems. It was called a reconstituted tent. It sounded o.k.”

“Certainly the pictures you sent me looked fine – there were poles and flies on that tent.”

“So what are we going to do? We have rope. Maybe hitch the tent up to one of those little trees?”

“No,” Julia said firmly. “The first thing on the agenda is to have a large glass of wine and relax and try to figure out how to handle it. Those trees are much too small and too far away to be any help.”

Last time it was poles and no tent, this time tent and no poles. She didn’t even dare to wonder what would be the next disaster. Eventually a kind fellow camper, who had been watching their stumblings, went over and suggested putting the picnic table inside the tent, to give it some height. He had apparently approved of their first having a glass of wine while considering what to do and figured he would try to help!

Once inside the tent, the table told Julia it wanted to be up-ended, which gave it much greater height. So their b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l new tent spent its first night ignominiously with an up-ended picnic table inside it. And their first night again saw their feet in sleeping bags inside big garbage bags. But the tent was much quieter, despite its funny shape outside. And, boy, did it look funny.

Saturday dawned reasonably fair, but with a miserable forecast, so, feeling strong, after breakfast at the fancy coffee shop in town, they decided discretion was called for, and withdrew the table from inside the tent, put it back on its feet, folded up the tent, and went to fold up the tarp.

“Er.…. What’s that?”

“Ummm. I hope not…”

The tent poles were lying on top of the tarp, with the flies underneath them.

Being heavier than the tent, they had fallen out of the bag first and the tent had somehow fallen on top of them. All their strenuous endeavors, their figuring and finagling, had been completely unnecessary; all their bad-mouthing of the company that had sold the tent, unjustified; all the commiseration lavished on them by their fellow campers, unwarranted. Luckily both of the groups who had offered help had left by this time, so they didn’t see what utter imbeciles they had been dealing with. But at least the tent was complete for the next entry into their continuing camping saga.

Had they been a little less pig-headed, and decided instead to pack it in immediately, they would have found the tent-poles and could have had a proper tent, with plenty of room and two good nights’ sleep. They would almost certainly not have gone home on Saturday, but would have stayed the regular two nights in the magnificent new tent.

Their decision to return home held, what with the bad weather forecast and the tent being already down. Instead of driving home that night Julia stayed at Peggy’s house. It did rain a little in the afternoon on the trip home, and the following morning there was evidence of overnight wetness, but nothing could disturb either of us, sleeping between real sheets after a good dinner, a bottle of wine and hot soaking baths.

There’s nothing to make you appreciate the comforts of home like sleeping in an upended picnic table!