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Tatum: Take my tent … please!

Posted: March 24, 2015 6:23 p.m.
Updated: March 25, 2015 1:00 a.m.

Today’s reflection is about things I just don’t do anymore.

Take camping. Really. You can have it.

In a way, it’s a shame my Beloved and I don’t like camping anymore -- it means we are no longer young rubber people unfazed by no money and lack of creature comfort. We still love the outdoors. And it wasn’t that long ago that both of us enjoyed such outdoor adventure. But these days, we’ve learned that Motel 6 and box wine is about as much “roughing it” as we can stand.

Like most lessons, we learned this one the hard way.

One fine spring weekend a couple of years ago we thought it would be fun to load up the trusty old Jeep and head to Edisto Beach State Park. We had scored a campsite on the ocean side of the park -- steps away from the beach -- the weather was good, and it was too early for mosquitoes and no-see-ums. In short, we looked forward to a restful, pleasant, inexpensive weekend.

We got a friend to house/doggie sit for us and after reminding him several times -- orally and in writing -- to keep the back door unlocked and assuring him there was plenty of beer in the fridge, we took off.

The sun peeked through wind-caressed palmettos as we pulled up to our campsite, nestled picturesquely between the concrete block bath house and the footpath that led to it. I remember thinking, “Well, that’s convenient. At least I won’t really have to commune with nature should she call during the night.”

Then we tried to pitch our tent.

We soon discovered trying to get a tent stake into the ground here was about like trying to hammer a rubber spike into a concrete driveway. Come to think of it, that’s exactly what our campsite looked like.

Then I noticed that ours was absolutely the only tent among hundreds of RVs parked as far as the eye could see.

We pitched the tent and decided to go exploring. That was nice. We walked for miles on gloriously deserted beach. We rode our bikes all over the island, even stopping for a heavy fried seafood supper and a couple of beverages. Finally, we pedaled back to camp, tired, but happy with the knowledge that all that exercise, fresh air, fried seafood and beer would guarantee a restful night’s sleep.

As night fell, the soothing sound of whispering surf and ocean breeze gave way to the rattle and hum of RV air conditioners. Then the endless march back and forth to the bathrooms began.

Eventually, I got used to air conditioners, sandals slapping hard earth, and muttered conversations and drifted off to sleep.

Then, just before dawn, Nature hit me with a serious wake up call.

“Oh, Jimmy,” she sing-songed. “Remember everything you ingested yesterday? Well, it’s time to give it back -- and I mean right now!”

To my horror, I found myself trapped in my nearly empty air mattress, frozen stiff into this dead cockroach position, every muscle in body aching, my legs and back inexorably locked. Worse, I couldn’t find the zipper to the tent door. Passers-by probably thought a small geodesic dome was giving violent birth to a barefooted, hunchbacked mutant beach critter which only communicated in brilliantly colored blasphemies.

Somehow, I found the zipper, infantry-crawled my way out of the tent, and ran to the bath house without stepping on glass, rocks or sandspurs; once there I ignored the cold, slick, wet concrete floor.

On my way back to the tent, I ran into my Beloved. She wished me good morning -- at least, that’s how I interpreted the phrase, “Pack up that @(&$#&* tent and let’s get the %$W* out of here now!”

Funny, I never knew she could speak in tongues.

Then along came Chatty Cathy. Everyone has met her, at one time or another.

A short, squat, campground dawn patroller, she suddenly appeared at my left elbow, string pulled, arms waving, and launched into this endless verbal barrage.

“Hiya sawya puttin’ up that tent yesterday you must be crazy whya wanna do that you need a Winnebago love ours dontcha want coffee my husband won’t drink coffee he’s got a prostate big as a bloomin’ onion my ungrateful kids yaddahyaddahh…”

At that moment, I could have cheerfully given myself a lobotomy with an ice pick. I glanced at my Beloved, who was doing her best to keep her head from exploding.

We set new world speed records getting out of there.

Then my cellphone began chirping like a baby bird convention. Seventeen text messages, all made between about 9 p.m. the night before and five minutes after we left the campground, the first 15 from our next door neighbor’s phone.

 As it turned out, at about the same time we were settling in for the night, our house sitter had locked himself out of the house; he slammed the back door before unlocking it on his way out to retrieve dog bowls. Somehow he managed to convince my neighbor -- who found him rummaging around in our garage in the dark -- not to shoot him or call the cops. He eventually called a locksmith -- a weekend after midnight emergency call across the peninsula -- to let him back in the house.

We were concerned, of course. But as he reassured us in about text number 12, I’m Freezing. Dogs r fine. Can see them on couch w keys, cell phone, and pizza.”

A couple of years later, I ran across an article about a travel adventure I’ve been curious about for some time.

“Hey, Babe, want to do that canoe trip where they paddle all day and sleep in trees?”

She wasn’t interested.

She can still speak in tongues.

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