The cool night air and the smell of fireplaces burning here and there this time of year makes me want to go camping… until I really think about it for a while. I know a lot of you still enjoy it, but I have to say that I am not the intrepid explorer that I was when I was say… 12 years old. Back then, laying on the hard ground, swatting mosquitoes in a tent packed with other wood smoked kids was actually fun, probably because we didn’t care about sleep, safety, comfort or hygiene.
We would all hop into my dads old four wheel drive pick up, head out east of town to the most isolated piece of dry ground in the water soaked woods that we could find. It was all “Lord of the Flies” from there. Staying up all-night; playing with fire and fashioning spears. The number one rule was “Don’t be the first guy to go to sleep.” Making life miserable for the guy who made that mistake was quite often the highlight of the trip. (Sorry about painting you red Ralph)
The last “boys” camping trip that I’ve been on was just a few years ago. My brother invited my friend George and I to join him and his friends at their camp near the North Canal. Of course by camp, he meant a circle of rocks with a fire in it, surrounded by completely bare ground (mud) and cypress trees with a few rusty nails and ropes decorating them.
When George and I arrived with our tents, sleeping bags, coolers, old guy medication, etc. it was just getting dark. We quickly set everything up and joined the other guys around the fire. It was fun being “young boys” again, sitting around the fire, telling stories, talking… laughing. Then around midnight everyone started to fall asleep… basically in whatever spot and position that they landed in. Soon, I was the last conscious camper, so I stood up, surveyed the body’s sprawled about the camp, stretched, yawned and headed to my tent.
And so began the longest night of my life.
I stuffed myself into the sleeping bag, breathed in the cool night air, listened to the deafening quiet and then closed my eyes. Just as I started to drift off… “SNNNOOORRKkEE!” My eyes snapped open. “PPPFFFLBUT-BUT-BUT!” I sat straight up and listened. “George!” I sneered in a whisper. I peeked out of the tent. Sure enough, the grotesque snoring was coming from his tent and not from some other stinky animal. I looked around my tent and gathered up everything I could find and then waited there with it pulled tightly against my head. “SNNNOOORRKkEE!” I could still hear him! After what seemed like hours of squirming, cursing, cramming socks in my ears and wrapping shorts around my head, I kicked everything off of me. I lay there with my hands clasped over my ears. Finally, I said out loud “That’s it!” I scrambled out of the tent, walked over and kicked my friends’ big feet through the side of the tent. “George!” “PPPPPFFFLBUT-BUT-BUT!” “GEORGE!” Nothing. There I stood at 2am with my fists on my hips, shaking my head. (How could he be dead and still be making that much noise?) I looked over at the truck. “Ah-Ha!” I whispered as I opened the door and crawled inside. I shut the doors, rolled up the windows and squirmed around, trying to get comfortable. Then I lay still for a moment; blanket over my head, listening as my ears rang with silence, until “SNNNOOORRKkEE!” I yanked the blanket down off of my face. “Are you kidding me!” I moaned. It sounded like he was inside the truck! I sat up and buried my face in my hands. “Oh for Pete’s sake… his poor wife… How could he still be married?”
At daybreak I was still leaning on the steering wheel looking through baggy eyes at the smoldering fire, my brother and all his friends. They hadn’t moved all night and were still sleeping soundly, sprawled in every direction around the camp. Then, just like the rising sun… it dawned on me, and I slowly started bumping my head on the steering wheel. When you’re all over age 50, it’s no longer the first one to go to sleep that suffers… it’s the last one.