Lions and Tigers and Gators, oh my
I went camping a few weeks ago. I say “camping,” but I’m not sure how much pitching a tent next to a parked car counts as camping. I mean, my neighbors on one side had enough tents to make a small village, and they were only outside for as long as it took to zip and unzip the netting. The neighbors on the other side spent their days playing video games and watching TV.
But I went camping. Because I wanted to go hiking. Which was a laugh, because most of the trails were crushed gravel, and that’s not hiking. That’s a nice stroll in the park. At least it was a change of scenery, right?
So there I am, in 90 degree Texas heat, setting up my tent, and I discover several important things:
- Aluminum stakes bend as soon as you look at them. I don’t remember them doing this the last time I had the tent out. Maybe the ground is harder in Texas?
- My inflatable mattress wants to be a slip and slide. It slid all over my tent floor with wild abandon. I poke and prod it a few times, trying to remember if it did this before, and give up. Maybe it will stay in place while I’m sleeping? I can weigh it down?
- I forgot my pillow. I blame this on packing for car camping: since you can kind of just throw everything in the car and organization is optional, it’s easy to forget the really important things. Like pillows.
Never mind, I think. My tent is pitched and I’ll go for a
Ten minutes into my walk, I discover the route I want to take is closed. However, the path forks here and I can take another route. Because I treat planning and directions as optional bonuses, I have no trail map and no idea where this trail goes. This would be worrisome if I were, say, in the wilds of Canada, but I’m pretty sure I can’t get lost and die in this park. Probably.
I was right on that score, and it’s not long before I find a map of the trails and establish a new plan. A couple hours later, I am looping back on what I expect to be the last section of trail, and then my campsite, and then dinner.
That’s when I run into the alligator:
I apologize for the photo quality. I brought my regular camera, but I forgot its memory card. This was taken with my phone camera on max zoom. If you think I actually got this close to the alligator, you’re insane.
The bike you can see in the background belongs to someone who biked right past the alligator without seeing it, hit a “Trail Closed” sign, turned around, and went “Oh, shit.”
His son was with him and freaking out a bit, but after a few minutes they both slipped past the alligator safely and went on their way. I went on my way, too, resigned to adding an unexpected additional mile or so to my hike.
But hey, I thought, at least I would sleep well.
As it turns out, my air mattress continued its slip and slide imitation all night. The only time it wasn’t sliding out from under me was when it was deflating.
If you think I should have just given up and slept on the hard ground, I refer you to the list above. The ground was so hard it was bending my tent stakes, and I didn’t even have a pillow to help things out. Retrieving and reinflating my mattress every few hours was much better than doing nothing at all.
The next morning, I decided to get a quick 3 mile walk in before getting in the car, to loosen up after my rough night. I had somewhere to be so was on a timeline, but I knew I could get the walk done in time.
I refer you to the above statement, re: maps and directions.
The walk was supposed to hit two trails. I had an image in my mind of those two trails that turned out not to be at all how the trails went. And so, after about 2.5 miles, when the trails were not doing what I expected, I got nervous. If I was going to make my appointment, I was going to have to turn around very soon to have time to hike back 2.5 miles. But if the trail would just loop back like I expected, I would only have another .5 mile to go.
Compounding my doubts was that the name of the loop I was on had been unfamiliar to me when I took it. Was that because memorizing the names of things has never been my forté, or was it because I had taken a wrong turn and was on the way to Timbuktu?
I did the “one more bend” thing a few times, but there was just more trail.
I turned and hiked the 2.5 miles back, going as fast as I could and mentally congratulating myself on packing up the campsite before I left. Even allowing for a quick shower, I ought to be on time.
As it turned out, I was probably within a few hundred yards of the loop hitting the main trail again, meaning I walked an extra two miles for no good reason. I guess that’s what I deserve for not reading the map better.
I did see a few deer on my powerwalk back to my car, and I nearly ran over an adolescent alligator on my way to the showers.
For a first time out in a few years, it was not a bad trip. I mean, my tent didn’t leak or anything. Wait… it didn’t rain. Well, all the parts of the tent were present and accounted for, anyway, even if a bit bent.
I have some new tent stakes to replace the worst of the bent ones and a new mattress to replace the slip and slide.
Next time I’ll try to remember the memory card for my actual camera, which doesn’t take the best ever pictures because it’s over five years old now and the digital revolution has long since left it in the dust. But it’s still better than my cell phone camera.
So next time I run into an alligator, maybe the photo will look like an alligator.
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