I went camping last weekend.
Anybody who has spent at least five minutes around me knows that camping isn't exactly my raison d'être. In fact, I am what is known in the outdoorsman circles as a "colossal pussy" (or cattus maximus in the Latin).
My stepdad J.R. recognized these wimpy tendencies in me back when I was 10 or 11, and felt it was necessary to step in and protect me from my own potential gayness. He made it his mission to make me a man.
He took me fishing, which I didn't think I would mind so much. My dad had taken me fishing a few times, which usually meant taking the boat out for a few hours and clowning around while drinking beer (him) and cola (me).
Unfortunately, for J.R., fishing meant getting up at some ungodly hour in the morning, usually before everybody else had gone to bed, and driving out to Lake Texoma. Then we'd take the boat out on the water and stay there for 14-15 hours. Talking, moving, or breathing loudly were expressly forbidden as they might frighten away the fish.
He also took me deer hunting, which I utterly loathed. It also involved getting up in the middle of the freaking night, only this time we hiked in the freezing cold and then sat still for hours, just waiting for those bastard deer to provoke us by eating or walking by.
I actually shot a doe when I was 13, which did quite a bit to assure J.R. that I wasn't a lost cause. However, after having to gut it, hang it up, and skin it, I decided right then and there that I would never shoot another deer again.
The next year, J.R. started letting me hunt by myself. So I started smuggling a book out to the deer stand so I'd have something to keep me occupied. Every once in a while, I'd raise my gun and fire a shot into the ground or into a tree, just so anybody listening would think I was paying attention. ("I shot at a buck, but I didn't see a blood trail. I must've missed him completely!")
When I went away to college, it was the end of my great outdoors experience. I swore off hunting, fishing, and anything that involved crapping behind a tree.
Until last weekend, when I went camping.
My brother-in-law Nick organized the trip and invited me to come along. "It'll be fun, Bubba*," he said. "We'll get there around noon or so and set up camp, then we'll hit the river and do some canoeing or tubing. After that we'll grill some steaks, have a few beers, and hit the hay. Next morning, we'll sleep late, have some breakfast, and maybe do a little fishing."
It actually sounded like a lot of fun. Nick extended invitations to his cousins John and Cree, and asked me if I would pass the invitation on to IX and Sean. However, by the time the weekend had rolled around, everybody else had backed out or declined. So it was just me, Nick, and my 7-year-old nephew Christopher.
As far as wilderness excursions go, it wasn't really fraught with hardships. We drove to a campsite and pitched our tent near the bank of the Brazos, next to a grill and a stone picnic table.
Canoeing turned out to be a bit more melodramatic than I'd expected. Christopher was really eager to go, but he lost interest in our journey downriver after approximately .004 seconds and spent the rest of the afternoon whining, pouting, and crying. All I can say is that Nick has 1,000 times more patience than I do when it comes to that kind of stuff. I love my nephew dearly, but as I was rowing, all I could think about was getting home and standing in front of an open microwave until I was sterile...
Apart from the canoeing, the rest of the our wilderness excursion was relatively pleasant. It was hot, around 101 I think (that's Fahrenheit, for any damn foreigners or metric-loving hippies who might be reading this), and there were enough insects crawling around to qualify as a biblical plague, but we were all just so happy to be off the river and in the shade that we didn't care. Plus, there was beer.
We grilled the steaks and baked some potatoes, and afterwards Christopher roasted and ate about 748 marshmallows. It was dark by 9:00, so the three of us crawled into the tent and crashed out on the air mattress. I eventually fell asleep listening to the distant, blaring stereos of other campers and the sound of big ass bugs thudding against the side of the tent.
I woke up once in the middle of the night, when I heard something howling just outside the tent. It was too dark to see, but I'm pretty sure it was a coyote. I should mention I've been deathly afraid of coyotes ever since I saw a documentary about how hard it is to kill them. You can throw a coyote off a cliff, drop an anvil on it, or even strap an explosive rocket to its back, and it just keeps coming back.
I can't remember where I saw this. It was either Animal Planet or Cartoon Network...
Anyway, the next morning we all woke up groggy and sore (air mattresses only help so much, you understand). After we ate breakfast, as we broke camp and packed up, Nick asked what we wanted to do next. He suggested fishing, but said he was wide open. I told him I didn't care. Whatever he and Christopher decided was fine with me.
At first, Christopher was excited about fishing. However, given his attention span on the canoe trip, I had a feeling that wouldn't last. A few seconds later, he was asking if we could skip fishing and go look at some nearby dinosaur footprints, and maybe play on the big, plastic dinosaurs that were set up around there. However, this idea lost a lot of appeal when Nick told him that we wouldn't be visiting the gift shop.
Somehow, the idea of going to a movie was introduced. I can't remember exactly how, but I think Nick threw it out there as a joke. However, Christopher was really excited about it. And to tell you the truth, the idea of sitting in a cold, dark movie theater for a few hours sounded really appealing.
So the three of us--filthy, mudcaked and sunburned--drove back to Dallas to catch an 11:00 showing of Batman Begins. It was, by far, the highlight of the camping trip.
Nick's already planning a trip for next year ("but we'll go later in the year, when it's cooler"), and Christopher has already forgotten how much he hated canoeing and can't wait to go again. I'm still undecided, but I'm thinking I'll probably go. After all, we did have some fun.
And besides, X-Men 3 should be opening about then...
*As I may have mentioned previously, my family has saddled me with the nickname "Bubba." My sister has called me that since she was a baby, and my nephew Christopher picked up on it because "Uncle Chris" was a little too difficult for him to manage when he started talking. And now, it's pretty much stuck. I don't really mind, although it still seems a tad bait shop...