I love to camp.
Sitting by a fire and staring at the stars while listening to the coyotes kinda camping. It's good to be still and quiet and know. It's even better with a good friend who knows good stories.
It's also good to hike and kayak and play in the water.
It hit 112 degrees in the state park the day before our camping trip, and we are in Texas, in August, which by anyone's standards is a dumb-ass time to go camping, so we went with more of the relaxing recitals and the contemplation of flames than the more active and participatory camping occupations.
The "we" being the priest with the pot in her car and myself.
I've been camping in this park since I was in college. It's less than an hour from my house. It used to be visited by me and about six other people, but since they reintroduced bison to the habitat, and then let them roam the park freely, it's popularity has sky-rocketed. You've actually got to make an advanced reservation to get a campsite.
The bison are fabulous.
But, I get ahead of myself. Before you can commune with the canyon and the buffalo spirits, you gotta get there.
To get there from my house, you have to drive down forty-four minutes of flat, straight, rural, West Texas road. One mile of that length is spent on FM 207. Perhaps you remember that I've mentioned recently that this road is my nemesis?
This time it was really out to get me. Even though I only had to drive on it for a single mile, that mile was hideous. We sat at a stop sign for a long time, waiting to turn onto the road. A farmer pulling a load of liquid fertilizer sat in front of us. We waited and waited and waited. We couldn't proceed because of the second sign. That sign said "Wait Here for Pilot Car". The only driveable part of the road was a single skinny caliche lane, so traffic had to drive from first one direction, then the other, taking turns. You couldn't see any movement of any kind for miles in either direction. The farmer was getting antsy. He got out of the truck, leaned on the bed and stared accusingly first in one direction, then the other.
At long last, a glint on the southern horizon.
It move closer, incrementally, at an excruciating pace.
The glint became an dusty red pickup. None of the banners or flashing lights that identify a pilot car were visible. As it got closer, you could see the driver, hunched over the wheel, barely able to see over the top of the dash. He was wearing a greasy straw cowboy hat and thick glasses. He looked like a turtle, driving a truck. He was about 113 years old
Obviously, he was not the pilot car, but he'd either (a.) not been able to see/read the warning signs about not venturing out into the road construction zone without a proper guide or (b.) he didn't give a shit.
The farmer in front of us got back in his truck, turned on the ignition and shrugged his shoulders. As soon as the turtle-looking guy passed us, at a stately 17 miles an hour, the farmer pulled out behind him. I followed suit. I figure the farmer and I were thinking the same thing. The red truck turtle man had obviously lived a long, and hopefully happy, life and if he got creamed by on-coming traffic or construction trucks, he'd serve as a warning and the rest of us would have time to swerve out of the way.
We drove our mile and turned off on yet another road, headed for the canyon.
Almost immediately, my tire pressure warning light came on. That was followed quickly by smoke and a thud. I had a blow-out.
It was noon. In August. On the asphalt.
And I'd never changed a tire before in my entire life.
I'd never even bothered to find out if there was a jack in my truck. Thankfully there was. So, with Jay holding the dogs and occasionally the owner's manual, I changed the damn tire.
I felt completely bad ass.
But of course the spare tire was flat.
Once again however, bad-assery prevailed because, even though I'd never learned to change a tire, I had purchased one of those electric tire pumps at the Ye Olde Auto Parts Store. Best twenty bucks I ever spent. 10 minutes of airing and the wimpy donut was more or less ready to go. We got back on the road.
We managed to drive all the way to Quitaque without any further incident. Upon arrival I pulled into the same garage that my friend Cyn went to for help the last time I took someone(s) to the canyon with me. A flying rock from a lawnmower shattered her driver's side window. While she was driving. Not fun. Maybe it's bad luck to hang out with me at the canyon?
The old guy manning the garage, looking lonely and doing nothing but fly swatting, was more than happy to air up my spare. He gave me a lecture about not driving over 45 miles an hour or for more than 35 miles on the tiny tire. And then he lectured both of us about hiking in the heat and how much water to carry and when to turn back. He was nice enough about it, but did grumble about how he'd rather lecture us than go hunt for our bodies.
I suspect he wouldn't really mind either option. It would be something to do, and it's not like he'd have to be the one to drag our bloated carcasses out of the canyon.
When we got to the ranger station, we took turns going inside to purchase our passes and staying outside with the dogs. Jay left and returned in about five minutes.
It took me nearer fifteen.
I got stuck with the shiny new park ranger who very much reminded me of a young Miss Ballbricker. She gave me a lengthy lecture, elucidating ALL the rules. I guess I appeared not to be taking it seriously enough because about halfway through she stood up to try and stare me down.
It didn't work. I am taller and I've been staring for way longer. But I tried to smile and even paid attention.
Perhaps we should take it as a compliment that either of us looked capable and even willing enough to engage in mid-afternoon hiking in August in Texas. In reality, I am much, much lazier than that.
We found our site and went about setting up the camp. I discovered I forgot the tent stakes, but that was not a big deal as we are weighty enough to hold the tent to the ground without them. Luckily, it wasn't windy.
Note to self: buy tent stakes.
I learned some things on this camping trip. I learned my dogs are not good campers. I have faith that they will improve, but so far they are real bad at it. I learned that the traveling communion kit does not contain a corkscrew. Sure, the holy water comes in handy for keeping the vampires at bay and all, but sometimes you just need a damn corkscrew. Wouldn't you think there would be one in the kit? How else are you gonna open the communion wine? I learned that buffalo footprints are very deep in lake mud. Sink right up to your knees before you even know you stepped in one. I learned that it's a good idea to leave the top off of the tent, not only for viewing the 'stars at night' that are 'big and bright'...(You fill in the rest, native Texans, and don't forget to do the clapping.) but also because Jay didn't want to sleep in a "big old Ziploc bag". She made an excellent point.
And I learned that the raccoons are still bastards.
I've had a few run-ins with the sneaky little thumb-havers before. I thought I knew how to deal with them and their little switchblade-fueled thievery. I was wrong.
Deep in the night, I awoke to a sound that I immediately recognized. Raccoons scavenging across the top of the picnic table. My valiant four-footed protectors never even stirred. I listen for a moment, then shined a light out in their direction. I heard them scurry off, taking the Styrofoam cooler with them. They headed for the non-existent hills, their ill-gotten gain in tow.
I scoffed at them, knowing the cooler, which had recently housed some bad-ass smoked ribs, was now totally empty. It might smell fantastic, but that Styrofoam was gonna taste like nothing. With a sneer at their ignoble retreat, I turned over and went back to sleep.
At some point, I was awakened a second time. I could have sworn I heard the lid to the second cooler - the big plastic one - close. I flashed the light towards it, quick as a thief myself. Nothing there. Nothing about. No noises.
I went back to sleep.
The next morning, we perused our campsite, but nothing was amiss. Jay saw the empty cooler lying abandoned a few feet into the brush. We laughed at having outsmarted the little demons. Then we started searching for the tea.
I gotta have tea. And my preference is the aforementioned loose leaf Earl Grey. I was desperate. Almost as desperate as Jay who is sadly addicted to coffee, a beverage I refuse to even entertain the thought of. She was steeling herself to survive the impending daylight with just tea. Only now we didn't have any tea. We couldn't find it.
That pissed me right off. It was a brand new tin and it was the good stuff, which doesn't come cheap. I was working on all sorts of creative epithets to hurl at the wildlife, while stomping around the picnic table. But just as I was getting really wound up, Jay yelled triumphantly from the depths of the provisions bin. She'd found the tea, right where I'd hid it the night before so as to thwart any five-furry-fingered skulduggery.
We were saved.
I was saved, that is. She was still going to have to make do with a different type of warm caffeine than what she really wanted.
Jay made a fire. I made the tea. We kicked back in our chairs and watched the sun creep higher into the sky. Until we got hungry.
We had a choice between cinnamon rolls to be cooked on a skewer like an over-sized marshmallow or bacon, egg, cheese and potato burritos, already made and just waiting to be warmed on the fire. We decided on burritos, but knew eventually we'd eat the cinnamon rolls too. 'Cause camping is hard work, right?
I opened the cooler and stared down at the busted can of cinnamon rolls.
Those greasy little pilfering pelt monkeys! They had gotten into the cooler and whacked the rolls, leaving them lying ruined in the icy water. They did it on purpose, just to get back at us for messing them up with the Styrofoam decoy cooler. We grumbled and cursed a bit, but our hearts weren't really in it because: breakfast burritos. Yay!
Jay sloshed through the murky melty ice to retrieve the package of burritos and salsa.
And sloshed some more. And began to look concerned.
The raccoons took them. Took the whole damn bag. Left no sign of it behind. It was G-O-N-gone! And then they shut the cooler behind them.
We were bereft. And more than a little chagrined at being so handily outsmarted.
In the end we survived on a few pieces of watermelon, some kick ass tea and the knowledge that if we could limp along for an hour of driving at a slow enough speed for the donut tire to survive, we'd be in a town where Kay at the Something Special Restaurant makes a damn fine breakfast and some absolutely stellar fried pies.
We packed up our camp and hit the road at a grandmotherly pace.
Just as we rolled into Ore City, my tire pressure gauge came on. Again.
But first, breakfast, which was well worth the wait.
When we left the restaurant, each of us clutching a white paper sack with a fried pie inside, I told Jay I was going back to the tire shop we passed on the way into town. It was one of the very few viable businesses in this very small town and they'd been open when we passed by.
She got lost while trying to follow me.
(Those of you that have been to Ore City can keep on laughing. The rest of you might want to watch this documentary about the town. It includes footage of our breakfast spot and the tire shop.) ((Those pies, y'all...oh my gawd!))
Of course, in this town, getting lost was something easily remedied and we ended up standing on the periphery of the tire shop property with the dogs who wanted to sniff and pee with impunity. From there we had a nice view of the guy who was crawling in and out from under my truck putting on the new tire. He had really great...hair.
They got me fixed up with a fresh rubber in under fifteen minutes, on a Saturday morning, for an excellent price. Problem completely solved. Jay pointed her car in the direction of a distant interstate and headed off to buy green chilies and write a sermon. I took the back roads for home, glad to be able to drive the speed limit.
One and one half blocks from home Parish (the dog, brother to Chapel) expressed his opinion of the whole trip by throwing up all over passenger seat.
The whole thing was really a bit of a mess. But it was so much fun we've agreed to do it again in November. Just as soon as it gets good and cold!