Camping has never been something I was good at. If camping is, in fact, something one can be good at. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, I do. It’s just that camping for the sake of camping doesn’t thrill me. Camping in my world has always been the prerequisite for something else. Like whitewater rafting down the Ocoee. Camping is part of the big picture but not the whole picture.
My first foray into camping came in about 1978 when my RA group from church went and camped at Lake Lurleen. My most vivid memory of that trip is that someone told me that it might rain that night. I was afraid that the tent would collapse if it rained so I cried and ended up sleeping on a cot outside the tent next to my dad. That was the beginning of my considerably less than stellar camping career.
It would be another 6 or 7 years before I ventured into the great outdoors to camp again, this time with my brother-in-law, his brother, and my two nephews who were probably about 7 and 9 or so at the time. I was excited. After all, I was older and wiser and braver. Maybe not wiser and braver but I was older and I knew that if the tent collapsed I would probably be able to make it out alive. Even if I did get trapped I knew that the oxygen wouldn’t run out in the 10 or 15 seconds it took for me to be rescued.
So, we loaded up the truck and off we went to Coosa County(no, we didn’t move to Beverly…Hills that is)to what is in camping circles commonly referred to as an “improved” campground. My best guess is that this means there is an electrical plug and a bath-house a couple of hundred feet away. There was a place to rent canoes, a small store with snacks and supplies, and lots of other people camping also. I rather enjoyed it. But it was not good enough for my brother-in-law, Jimmy. He and his brother William decided that it would be a good idea to go somewhere more secluded.
We loaded up again and after driving through the woods on not much more than a logging trail, we ended up parking the truck about 15 feet away from the water. They said that we were on the backwaters of Lake Martin but it didn’t look like the Lake Martin I was familiar with, with all the boats and people everywhere swimming and skiing and engaging in all sorts of aquatic revelry. In fact, I couldn’t even hear a boat. Or a car. Or even see an airplane. It wouldn’t have surprised me to have heard a woman screaming, though, as where we set up camp was eerily similar to a Friday the 13th movie set.
This is when things began to get interesting. Apparently the trip from the campground to the middle of nowhere got everyone quite grimy, so the first order of business was to take a bath in the lake. First of all, you can’t get clean in a lake. I don’t care how much soap you use. Rinsing off sweat with muddy, fish-poop water does not constitute cleanness. Secondly, I’m not certain why it was necessary to be in a state of full undress for a “bath” in the lake. Others did. Needless to say, I did not take part in the cleansing. Everyone else appeared to enjoy it, though. I just sort of hung around inside the tent until the festivities ended.
When everyone was good and “clean” we settled in to do some fishing and swimming. Fully clothed. It wasn’t long, though, before the sound of birds chirping and wind blowing through trees was replaced by what sounded like gunfire and a tank engaged in a battle of armor in a war. Turns out it was Junior. Junior was Jimmy’s and William’s uncle. I liked Junior, at least what I knew of him. He lived not far from me. To say the least, though, Junior was a little rough around the edges. I was a dyed in the wool mama’s boy. I still am. So as you might imagine, I was a little afraid of Junior. So, up pulls Junior in a old station wagon followed closely by Hoss, another uncle of theirs. They each had a woman with them, their wives I assume, and there were two younger kids, boys, with Junior.
I don’t feel like I need to give a long biography of Hoss. I think the kind of guy Hoss was can best be summed up by sharing this little anecdote: Hoss got shot once, I believe it was at the Greek Goddess Lounge but I can’t swear to it, and all it did was make him so mad that he beat up the guy with the gun. Hoss was not a big man but apparently could handle himself quite well when it came to fisticuffs and bullets.
One thing that can occur when one is stranded in the middle of the woods is thirst. The thirst I had that day probably ranks in the top 5 thirstiest moments of my life. Number one would still be the time we kayaked down the Coosa River and by the end of the trip I was seriously considering taking a huge swig straight out of the river. Forget Dysentery, I was dying of thirst!Anyway, we had run out of everything but some water in a cooler. The two kids who came with Junior, one of which almost drowned after being at the campsite for about 10 minutes, were drinking Cokes. I remember thinking how good an ice cold Coke would be if I could just get my hands on one. Rather than simply ask for one, my nephews and I began to conspire on how to get one out of the cooler in the back of the station wagon without being caught. As if Junior would have had us drawn and quartered if he were to catch us attempting to purloin one of those 12 oz. cans of pure, icy-cold joy. In fact, I’m sure he would have said, “help yourself” had we actually asked for one. I can honestly say that that never crossed my mind. Guess teenagers really don’t know everything, huh?
We were able to procure one or two of the Cokes without being detected and apparently that was enough to sustain us through the rest of the trip as it was rather uneventful after that. A little swimming and fishing, one more night, and then we went home. Turns out that for all the racket and reputation for roughness that had preceded Junior and Hoss, they actually were pretty nice to kids. Junior was the rescuer of the kid that almost drowned. They’ve both passed away since then but I don’t suppose I’ll ever forget that weekend deep in the woods of Coosa County on the backwaters of Lake Martin. It’s one of those stories that you want tell to your son about your childhood to make him understand that you were a child once, too.
That is unless you want him to go camping with you.
Camping can be fun. I actually have a couple of tents and sleeping bags that get pulled out every now and then when I’m cleaning out the storage room or Gabe wants to “camp out” in his room and sleep in the sleeping bag. Maybe it’s time for him to take part in that time-honored rite of passage; actually sleeping in the woods in a tent with his dad.
Or it could be that it’s time for me to ask a buddy of mine if I can borrow his 5th wheel camper that comfortably sleeps 6 and has a bathroom. I hear Fort Toulouse is beautiful this time of year.