Thursday, June 21, 2012

To pitch a tent

And the battle with the winged wolves

Last weekend I went camping with a few good friends on some private land adjacent to my favorite lake, the great Lake Superior. We had been checking the weather every day that week and were well aware of the storms we were about to subject ourselves to. However, we couldn't wait to get our journey underway and decided to head north anyway. Our trip up Highway 13 was highlighted by a black bear and a quail trailed by its chicks along the roadside, and foreshadowed by dark clouds gathering in the west. We hoped to outrun the rain and make camp in relative peace and harmony, but that didn’t quite happen.

Upon arrival my comrades and I were nearly stricken from the woodland cliff under sheets of rain, but we had come prepared and immediately began construction of a not-so-intricate tarp canopy. We strung ropes from everything available. Ropes from tree trunks, tree branches, a cinderblock, a rotten post, even a kitchen sink (I’m not kidding). The process proved to be more like sailing than camping, as the large tarps turned out to be better designed to catch wet gusts than keep us dry in wind topping 30 mph. Somehow though, between tying knots, shouting at one-another, and getting soaked to the bone, the three of us managed to construct a dripping, unstable, hem-haw excuse of a shelter to set up tents beneath; high-fives ensued.

Of course, just as we had finished our camp making, the wind calmed down, and the rain slowed and ceased. Nature’s cooperation was extremely appreciated at this point, and after changing into dry clothes, we made a fire and settled in. The rain only returned in short intervals throughout the rest of the evening and it seemed the trip would be enjoyable after all.

The following day we visited Superior’s south shore for sun, swimming, and hiking, but we were instead greeted by hordes of tiny black biting flies - and when I say hordes, I mean truly unbelievable numbers, like something out of a Lord of the Rings movie. Also known as buffalo gnats, these tiny monsters pilfered blood from our feet, ankles, and legs with absolutely no mercy. Needless to say, we didn’t last very long and ended up running back to the cars where we sat for a time in an effort to regain sanity.

Back at camp, the flies were less invasive, but still caused problems. To combat the creatures, which we began to call winged wolves, we made a big, smoky fire and even lit a chain of smoke bombs out of desperation. The camp was filled with gnarly, colored, smelly smoke, and succeeded in chasing every living thing out of the area except, you guessed it, the flies. Eventually it became the group consensus that we had no choice but to adorn pants, socks, shoes and long sleeves despite the humid weather. Our best weapon at this point was our higher mammalian brains, or as some kept screaming, “Mind over matter!” Finally, evening cooled the air, and the winged wolves and smoke began to dissipate, allowing everyone to regain homeostasis.

Sunday was our final day of the camping trip, and it was beautiful. I woke to sunshine and a light breeze. The birds were singing, the lake was calm and peaceful, and there wasn’t a single fly in sight. We spent the day packing up gear, tearing tarps down, and reminiscing all the inside jokes that had developed over the weekend; Sunday was the finest day of the whole trip.

As I write it now, the hard facts alone start to sound like the makings of a disaster, and I believe that word was used more than once during the various natural assaults we endured. The truth of the matter is, though, I had a great time anyway.

The time I spent hoisting tarps in the rain and combating tiny creatures both physically and mentally was time I chose to spend doing those things. At any one of those points we could have turned in, tucked our tails between our legs, and rented a hotel room back in town. Instead, we prepared the best we could ahead of time, fought the elements together, and experienced a rewarding, bond-building adventure that the group of us will talk about for the rest of our lives.

This is important because fulfillment is earned, not handed out. Reflection, appreciation, adoration - that’s all stuff that happens after the hard things are overcome. Therein lies the reason we camp, it’s an adventure. Camping is a chance to build your own micro culture, test yourself, and explore.

The act of camping helps us surrender control of our environment and therefore surrender stress over all the things we cannot control. When you are in the woods, you’re not concerned with what other people think, your appearance, or your bills. When you are in the woods there is no McDonald’s, there is no Internet, there are no vehicles or telephones or televisions. The decisions you have are much simpler. Out there, nobody is trying to sell you products, you’re not subjected to subconscious marketing every hour of every day. Instead, you have three things to concern yourself with - food, water, and shelter. Anything beyond that will be uniquely you, finally without outside influence.

As children we don’t have a lot of tough choices to make. We’re not asked to make decisions that will affect our livelihood, our relationships with others, or our status in society. Instead, we concern ourselves with exploration, and play, and our next meal. Tell me how that doesn't sound appealing.

This week, I want to remind you of the most fun you’ve ever had camping. Who were you with, where did you go? Do you remember the bad weather and the bugs, or do you remember the people you were with, all the things you laughed and joked about, the stories you told, the connections you made?

There are several camping opportunities right here in Price County: Smith Lake County Park and Campground, Wabasso Lake Recreation Area and Campground, Twin Lakes Campground, Solberg Lake County Park and Campground, Smith Rapids Campground, Sailor Lake Campground, Pioneer Park and Campground, Lake of the Pines Campground, Emily Lake Campground, Connors Lake Campground, Big Falls Campground, Big Falls County Park and Campground, and river canoe campsites up and down both the north and south fork of the Flambeau River. For more information on any of these, I suggest visiting and looking under the Lodging menu for campgrounds. Take an inexpensive weekend adventure close to home sometime and see what happens - learn, live, play.

“You are led through your lifetime by the inner learning creature, the playful spiritual being that is your real self. Don't turn away from possible futures before you're certain you don't have anything to learn from them. You're always free to change your mind and choose a different future, or a different past.” - Richard Bach “Illusions”

See you out there,
A woodsman in training.

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