Friday, June 1, 2007

The Griswolds Go To Canada

Our clan has never been camping. We always thought it would be too difficult (dangerous?) with little kids. OK, that's a lame excuse but it's the best I can come up with. So, now that our youngest has turned 10, we decided to join my wife's brother and his family for their annual Memorial Day camping extravaganza to the Pinery Provincial Park in Ontario. Beautiful place right on Lake Huron. We pulled into our site only to find that everyone surrounding us -- and I mean everyone -- was a professional camper.

Yeah, and here we were with our newly bought tent, a bunch of tarps still wrapped in their original packaging, 14 pocket knives (somehow the boys thought that packing a pocket knife, or two, would automatically transform them into "campers"), a few pots and pans, a camping stove that we had never used and ... well, you get the picture. As we unloaded our van I felt the pall of an unidentifiable doom descending onto my shoulders.

Oh wait. No, that was just rain.

We had done a practice tent set up in the backyard at home, but that trial run did NOT include the somewhat more complicated task of identifying the "perfect" spot on which the tent should rest. I won't bore you with the details but I will offer advice to those rookie campers who are less experienced than we ...
  1. Though you doubt the odds of it, it may rain every day you are there.
  2. Probably not a good idea to climb a tree to saw off a branch that is encroaching on the "perfect" spot for your tent. First, it's illegal (as your neighboring campers will soon let you know). Second, hanging parallel to the ground and sawing don't go well together. I offer as evidence denuded forearms and a bruised shoulder.
  3. As for sawing, may I suggest a sharp saw that does NOT jump out of its assigned groove to unapologetically attack your too-close-for-comfort thumb. The Frankenstein resembling gash you get from such an encounter will ache for the rest of your camping trip and bleed profusely, thereby posing the danger of attracting vermin.
  4. As for vermin, leaving the bread on the picnic table when you leave the campsite area is not a good idea. Yes, the vermin can identify food even if it is still in the "wrapper." Failure to adhere to this guideline will render you bread-less for the rest of your stay.
  5. Raccoons are bigger than you think. When you hear them rummaging around the campsite after you've called it a night, shining your flashlight in their beady little eyes will not faze them in the least. However, if your wife is looking over your shoulder as you do so, her blood-curdling scream may attract more unwanted attention than you desire.
  6. Everybody can hear everything you say from the tent next door. 'Nuf said about that.
  7. Kids DO NOT understand the concept of keeping the sand, dirt, mud and water on the OUTSIDE of the tent -- no matter their age.
  8. Though you may think you're really smart hoisting a giant tarp above your campsite to protect you from the rain (did I mention it rained all weekend?), and though you may actually think you've done well to have the tarp drain away from your tent -- if the tarp drains to a point that is uphill from your tent, the water will eventually find its way downhill to puddle at your tent's front door.
  9. Smoke follows ugly too.
  10. It will take you 8 days (or 9 showers -- whichever comes first) to get the smoke smell out of your hair.
  11. Lake Huron in May is really stinkin' cold.
There is more but I forget it all. Having said all that I must also include the good stuff ...
  1. The Great Lakes have THE BEST round, flat skipping stones on Earth.
  2. The Official World's Record for skipping a stone is 16. This includes an estimate of 6 or 7 for that part when they seemingly hover on the water with miniature skips right at the end. This record is not contestable -- even in a court of law.
  3. Your kids will never forget the skipping stones contest. They will, however, collect buckets full of those perfect skipping stones for use on small ponds around your home neighborhood. Being calm, these ponds could provide the perfect location to break the Official World's Record for skipping a stone ... stay tuned for updates.
  4. Though the water temperature on Lake Huron approaches absolute zero, you must still enter the contest to see who will be the first one to go all the way under water. It's a test of manhood -- even if your wife wins.
  5. The Official World's Largest Ant Hill is in the Pinery Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. We almost stepped in it.
  6. On the hike when you find the Official World's Largest Ant Hill, you may not stay on the well-marked trail meant for hiking. That's boring. Climbing steep cliffs, wielding sticks as weapons, and finding the poison ivy is much more fun and memorable.
  7. It is possible for teenage (and pre-teen) boys to spend 3 days NOT surgically attached to a computer or video game but outside in the fresh air. In doing this they can also thoroughly enjoy themselves -- even if it is raining outside -- and not declare that they are bored or that there is "nothing to do."
  8. "The Camping Song" and "It's Gonna Be A Fine Day," when played from the stereo speakers of your van at 270 decibels, will cause you, and many of those around you (some of whom you have never met in your life), to dance and jump around like complete fools. This especially true when said songs are played immediately following a downpour and prior the next one starting.
Camping is the best vacation because the fun doesn't end when the trip is over! When you get home you get to set up all your tents and spread out all your tarps again to clean off the sand, and dirt, and mud, and water (on the inside AND outside of the tent). Then you get to dry them and refold/repack them all for a second time. You get to hose off all your chairs, air out all your sleeping bags and wash all your clothes (8 days or 9 times, whichever comes first) to get the smoke smell out of them.

It's the vacation that never ends -- especially if it rains every day.

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