Thursday, October 24, 2013

Camping with Lewis and Clark

A couple months ago my son, Nathan, gave me a book about Lewis and Clark, and it finally worked its way to the top of the pile.  I’ve always been intrigued by those two and the 45-50 men who made up The Corps of Discovery (the name that Thomas Jefferson gave the expedition). Their journey across the new nation and back again took place between 1804 and 1806, and it seems impossibly difficult from my 21st century perspective.

The trip covered 8,000 miles and lasted over 2 ½ years. They had to bring most of their supplies and trade with the Native Americans for the remainder.  They had to hunt and fish for their food, and they slept outside or in drafty cabins they constructed. Those guys knew how to camp.

I respect them and their successes, and yet I find no compulsion to duplicate any of it. I’m not shy about my feelings about camping: I don’t like it. But lately I find myself sleeping in campgrounds. 

The problem is with Rhonda, my wife. She likes nature; she also likes taking advantage of my agreeable nature. I have gone on record saying, “I don’t care where I go, I care where I stay.” I enjoy traveling, but I require comfortable accommodations.  She has discovered a weakness in that position and is exploiting it with a travel trailer.

The last two weekends I have been found sleeping in state parks. The purists argue that anyone who does not cook over a fire and sleep on the ground is not actually camping. Fine, but I contend that GPS, Gore-tex, internal-combustion engines and other modern improvements make any present day claims to “roughing it” seem rather tame compared to the early 19th century traveler. I’ve just taken it a step further by pulling my cabin behind my truck.

When we pull up to the camp site I dispatch Rhonda to scout out the area and assist my backing, lest I smash into a boulder or waiver into a neighbor’s tent. She is skilled in selecting just the spot where she is neither visible from any of the truck windows, nor as a reflection in the mirrors. She waves her arms and leaves the utterance of discouraging words to me. Backing the cabin (trailer) into the camp site can be just as tricky as portaging a canoe or keelboat, but at least Lewis and Clark had help.  

Our breakfast is not unlike those of The Corps of Discovery.  It is cooked over a fire, except ours is fueled by gas. The eggs and toast are still prepared in a skillet, and I suspect a Spam-like meat substance was also enjoyed by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, as Spam lasts forever.

One night we had no heat and the outside temperature dropped to around 30 degrees. As I lay in bed freezing I wondered what old Meri and Bill would do. So like a good camper I got out of bed and lit a fire Well maybe not a campfire, but a fire just the same.  It’s not easy lighting an oven’s pilot light in the dark. Being true adventures we went against all convention and used the oven to warm the trailer for a while. So that was kind of the same as those early explorers if you stretch it a bit.

In the morning I set out across the chilly campground in search of a warm shower. But I what I found instead was a cold shower that froze me to my core.  

Camping. I bet Lewis and Clark were grumpy in the morning too.

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