© 2023 Robert Sickles
I have a hard time being non-judgmental about luxury campers. Those guys in big rigs push a button that automatically levels and hooks up everything. They take a soak in their jacuzzi, toss a roast on the rotisserie, then recline for a night of big screen TV in their push-out rec room. Linda and I once went to an RV show at the arena, and saw one of the largest RV’s in the world. A semi pulls this monster and it requires a wide load pilot car and a rear driver like a long fire truck. It has a master bedroom suite on the 2nd story, a hot tub and fireplace on the lower deck and two garages, one for the Jeep and the other for the trail bikes and kayaks. I ran out of fingers counting the number of axles. Good grief. For the owner of such a toy, the terms “miles per gallon” and “small footprint” would be meaningless. Glamping, they call it. I think I'm more into slumping.
My wife and I have usually gone about camping and road trips like a rigorous exercise in self-denial. Of course, we have modest means. And we, or rather I, enjoy the challenge of roughin’ it a little it. I knew my backpacking days were done when I married Linda. I'd need to hire a team of Sherpas to trek the wilderness with all of Linda's trunks and suitcases. It was a pretty big move for me when we stopped using our 2-person tent and bought a tent-trailer. Heaven help me if I have to buy, tow, park and maintain anything bigger than that.
When planning a trip, do we pack for every possibility? No, if we need something we can get it on the way. Exploring a local hardware store or farmers’ market is part of the fun of connecting with folks in a different part of the country.
Plan a detailed itinerary? If we do that, we may miss a glorious wrong turn. I will never forget that dead-end siding road that angled off the highway, where we watched the surfers catch the last wave at sunset as eagles returned to the cliffs.
Shop for all the latest gadgets to make it all smooth and easy? Why? Couldn’t we MacGyver it instead? It’s amazing all the problems you can solve with a ball of twine, a multi-tool, a tarp, a roll of duct tape, and a bag of bungies.
Allow ample time for relaxing? Well, yeah, that one is always smart! We learned the hard way that there’s nothing like taking a trip, once-in-a-lifetime , squeeze-in-everything-possible in two weeks, only to hit the heatwave of the century. Boo-hoo, outdoor concert and rose garden—today we should picnic by the lake under the willows.
The results of this “philosophy” are mixed, and there have been some very memorable fiascos, too. If you happen to be a movie scriptwriter looking for ideas for your next vacation-gone-wrong farce, call me. Here are eight dishes, starting with an appetizer of Escargot:
Looking forward to an economy getaway with the all the kids, we and another couple borrowed a guy's backfiring clunker of a motorhome. It was a weird jerry-rig of missing parts, body putty, fiberglass patch, kitchen cupboard full of filthy rags, bald tires and faded paint. It was one of those old blob-shaped Dodge models. Obviously, we nicknamed it Escargot, and we suffered all sorts of scorn and ridicule at the campground. But at least it’s still a treasured memory of our two families’ forty-year friendship.
Daytime temperatures and humidity must have been ideal for an apocalyptic hatch of deer flies one summer. It’s like a death by 1000 tiny bites. And to have that coincide with a bout of stomach flu… it was impossible to pack up and leave that sorry little campground under the giant trees. Boy, howdy! It took liberal applications of Jungle Juice for every 40-yard dash!
And who packed for that week of camping, anyway? How is it we only had that one little yellow flashlight, the Big Bird one? And girls, why was it slowly dimming out down at the bottom of the latrine pit?
Great Aunt Edna died and we had to tie her to the roof rack… no, wait, that was Chevy Chase’s movie.
Young girls paddling across the pond to a waterfall in an inflatable dinghy… damn, I guess I should have tethered the oars.
We weren’t aware of this. Did you know that the old Samsonite suitcases had aerodynamic qualities? At optimal highway speed a piece of luggage in the car's roof rack can break the bonds of gravity, with enough lift to come unbungied, then go frisbeeing far off into the wilderness. I pictured it crashing at the feet of a very perplexed elk. (I would think it’s not easy to perplex an elk.) “Dear Mt. Shasta Forest Service: If you happen upon a ladies’ blue swimsuit, possibly hanging on an elk’s antlers, please mail to Linda Sickles, 3706 88th Street…”
Instead of the normal blistering and peeling, something weird happened to my lips when they got sunburned on that yacht trip. It’s like they inflated to double size and protruded all puffy and pink. They remained that way for the whole week. Someone asked, “Whoa, what happened, Ubangi Bob? Use your mouth to pick up a hot pork chop off the grill?”
We recommend not attempting any method of cooking whole chickens over an open wood fire without some sort of fire containment strategy at the ready. It’s amazing how fatty those Arkansas chickens were, and how fast the fire rose up and engulfed them and almost everything nearby. And yet, we tried it again the next year, and with the same results. Naturally, I coined Burning Chicken for our annual beach cookout. I had in mind we'd build a big driftwood chicken and burn it in effigy. And now, around these parts, the Burning Chicken event is a thing. (See below, my tongue-in-cheek Burning Chicken t-shirt design. If you don’t get that, it’s a parody of Burning Man. And if you don’t get that, well neither do I.)
The barometric pressure drops, the hair of my neck stands up, and I see the birds and little critters scurry for safety. Lightning storm coming? Earthquake? Not necessarily. In my experience, those are some of nature’s subtle signs that a wife and two adolescent daughters are coming into synchronized PMS. I could see their glaring eyes even in the darkness of night. Lesson: just be mindful of the lunar phases when planning a week on the lake.
To be fair, I’ve had my breakdowns too. It’s a rule of thumb: A tent trailer vacation must include at least one, if not all, cussing fits over some critical part leaking, missing, clogged, burst, corroded, depleted, burned out, stolen, smashed, left at home or accidentally stripped off by the menu board at the drive-thru espresso hut. And, naturally… your replacement parts are out of stock at RV World.
A tick, fire ant or chigger? Not sure what that was that crawled into my shorts and gnawed a hole into my privates. Very memorable for all who were present.
“Mommy, is it OK to let the little kitties into my tent?”
“Good girl for asking first! Aw, let me see them… But, oh God, no no no no… those aren’t kitties, Sweetie! Hurry, let them go to find their mommy before she misses her babies. Ew!”
Sorry, I couldn’t resist, this one never actually happened to us! But it may as well have!
Robert was very kind when he described our experiences on the road because he did not attribute many of them to me. But the flu and the lips those were my addition to the trips. In addition, the lack of packing flashlights was probably because I was more focused on the girls and I bringing along our jump ropes. Gotta keep up with our exercise!
Loved the synchronized PMS comment. But I’ll see if Eddie comments on the episode we shared at the Outer Banks with Joey. Wives and kids went back to the house while we three stayed in the ocean a little longer. Bad move. We still have no idea what kind of wee water beasties swarmed us climbing in our suits. It was a simultaneous look of horror as we three raced out of the water to the outdoor showers desperately trying to rid ourselves of the critters biting our naughty bits. Ah, outdoor life!
Tent camping or camping by any name is usually a blast. All those interesting experiences just rarely happen at home sweet home.
O...my! What fun!!!