Wednesday, September 29, 2004


Our writing assignment: What did you do this summer

In the Rugged Outdoors with our Northern Neighbors
by Steve Johnston and read on 9/29/2004

It started on a pleasant day in August, I remember well. Perfect weather, in fact, for a fully provisioned road trip to the Northwest District’s Wilderness Camp. A six-hour drive from Spokane, it’s situated on the far northeast corner of Kootenai Lake. Discounting our apprehensions, my wife and I had crossed the British Columbian border without a hitch. We had prepared for the questions we’d be asked.
The actual camp is reachable only by boat. I would suppose the island is about 80 acres, and not a building on it. Ah, a wilderness camp that lives up to its name. Upon reaching Johnson’s Landing one takes the bright-yellow tarp out of the tool shed there and displays it prominently on the wharf where it can be seen by the campers. One of them can be counted on to tell the camp manager that some more brave souls would like to hitchhike to the island in his outboard motor boat.
“Honey,” my wife queried, “did you bring extra batteries for the flashlight? ... And did you remember to bring the flashlight this time?”
I’d grown more conscientious since forgetting one too many items on other vacations. “Yes,” I replied. “And the extra film and the mosquito repellant, too,” in case she had those on her list of concerns.
It was after disembarking on the island that we found the better campsites had been taken. After all, some folks spent two weeks at camp and knew the value of arriving no later than early afternoon. We had made a short side-trip, so our delayed arrival made the change-of-pace boat trip closer to supper time.
Ashore, we were greeted by Mason, a sixtyish Unitarian from Vernon BC. He looked approvingly at our pile on the sandy beach: our blue ice chest, packed boxes containing nonperishable food and drink, the tent and sleeping bags, other bags of clothes and miscellaneous, and our collapsible beach umbrella. Then he exclaimed, “It sure looks like you’ve got enough there for at least a week.”
He told us the situation with the campsites and pointed out several places near the main beach that might be suitable for us.
“Check this out,” Gail said.
What I saw was a flat area, at least 4 meters square, with no rocks or other obstacles.
“That’s got to be at least 4 square meters,” she added, reminding me we were in the land of the metric system.
I studied the ground only to find it wasn’t earth at all, but sand. I had a tenderfoot’s knowledge of camping, apparently, and naively figured ground was ground and level ground was best. But we set up the maroon and white dome tent, thus committing ourselves.
With everything stowed inside except the food (in case of bears) and the umbrella, Gail and I were able to unwind at last. We fed ourselves, then took a tour of the camp and met a number of campers (of the several dozen in residence). We both felt warmly welcomed.
At last in our double sleeping bag, we were at peace with the world. Silence everywhere prevailed.
Presently, Gail made some stirring sounds. I also heard her remark, “This ground feels awfully cold.” and “I can’t understand it, but the sleeping bag is damp.” Gail had glimpsed why we were in for a night of hell.
I felt it, too. Moisture was coming through the bottom of the tent. To myself, I said disconcertedly, ”Sand can’t hold moisture, can it?”
I quickly acknowledged the truism: Damp sleeping bags on cold ground don’t retain heat.
In the morning we heartily welcomed the sun and the promise of its heat. After breakfast, Mason came by and listened to our tale of woe. We were extremely relieved when he told us a family would be headed home in a couple of hours and their fine campsite could be all ours. Once the sun dried out the bottom of the tent, we had no more distractions from pleasure during our stay.
Three days of peaceful relaxation and fresh air came and went. With the memory of that one unpleasant night at the Camp and some food having spoiled in the heat, neither of us minded the fact that the food gave out. It was now the morning of the fourth day, and it served as an excuse to head toward home a day early.
Gail was reading the road map to review the route to our alternate destination. We hadn’t driven far along the 90 kilometers of lake shoreline, when the beauty of the scenery prompted me to reminisce, “You know, we’ll never forget seeing the aurora borealis.”
“Well, true.” Gail said in a way that got my attention. “There’s no disputing that the Camp provided a lot of fun -- considering -- and we both got our novels read. You took plenty of pictures. We didn’t see any hungry bears when we went hiking on the trail. Also, nobody got hurt by falling off a rock ledge.”
There was a pause, but I remained listening.
“Nonetheless -- you being the type who likes to plan -- I should tell you now I don’t think I’ll be ready to rough it again anytime soon.”
And that’s why, this summer, we drove northeast to Hot Springs, Montana and lingered for a romantic week in a picturesque motel featuring a bubbling hot spring.
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