Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Camping is Fun. In Retrospect.

I am not a new camper. I have camped my entire life. For ages. My parents mushed me down into their sleeping bags when I was a newborn, for Chrissakes (not to kill me, to keep me warm, you sickos!).

Camping this past weekend kind of sort of kicked my ass.

Since we were driving to Western Mass. on Friday, the weather obliged us by pouring buckets of rain. As in, torrential freaking stuff. The kind of rain that appears only when I am driving a great distance, and finishes soon after I arrive at my destination. It was still misting a bit when we began setting up camp, but with no guarantee that it would stop, we figured we'd better get that tent pitched. (I love a pitched tent almost as much as I love a third grade boner reference! Woohoo!)

Once camp was made, we decided to set out for a survey of our surroundings. We brought along the GPS, hoping we might just happen upon a nearby cache. No luck there. Although the scenery was gorgeous, we just couldn't seem to drive close enough to the coordinates of a cache to actually seek it out. Instead, we went back to the campground to go for some hikes around the pond.

Deep in the woods, negotiating twists and turns, we came upon an area so boggy that someone had rigged up a series of bridge-like lumber and logs to use in crossing it. This would be great, if it weren't for the fact that the logs were so old and decrepit and covered in algae that just to put a hiking boot on them could send you skittering to the ground. So there I am, balancing helplessly on a soggy rotted piece of wood, trying to gauge the distance to the next soggy rotted piece of wood, when my foot slips and sends me into the ankle-deep mud. "Shit!", I exclaimed, unceremoniously hauling my soaked boot out of the muck and climbing back onto a nearby log. Sean was way ahead by this point, and didn't hear the ruckus. I looked ahead, wondering if I could make it without falling again and twisting my knee more seriously. Then I looked back and realized it was farther that way.

With a labored sigh, I resumed sliding and jumping across the bog, all the while clutching at the flimsy branches that hung off surrounding trees. Far ahead, Sean had emerged into some kind of break in the trees. "Hmmm" I heard him utter, "It's, ahh, clearer up here, honey!"

I made painfully slow progress across the bog, relying far too much on the branches that whipped in front of me to keep some sort of balance. When I emerged triumphant, to join Sean at the break in the trees, I saw why he had "Hmm'ed".

We had reached the parking lot.

This episode pretty much set the stage for the rest of the weekend, during which we repeated the exercise several times. The big difference would be to substitute "rocky steep-ass side of a mountain scramble" for "bog", in most cases.

But still, fun times were had! Pork chops were cooked over the fire! Marshmallows were roasted! Scenery was seen! We learned that distance on a GPS is "as the crow flies", meaning that .3 miles over a trail down the rocky side of a mountain is really more like 1.5 miles and that we really, really should have packed water! (Note to self: ALWAYS take the damn water!)

Fun times were not always had after dark, when the air mattress utterly refused to stay inflated for the entire night. One of us had it worse than the other, being that one of us out-talls and out-weighs the other by a good amount. So one of us mooshed down the air in the air mattress and slept on the hard ground, and the other was thrust into the air and kept rolling down on top of the ground-sleeping one. This would have been a situation for the lighter and shorter of us to feel some guilt over, if it weren't for the fact that the heavier and taller was snoring at decibels loud enough to wake hibernating bears. And this was snoring despite repeated slappings, shovings, and "SEAN! YOU ARE SNORRRRRRRRRRRRING!!!"'s.

One of us was rather grumpy every morning.

North Adams is a gritty and pretty town, though. There are churches scattered all about, tall steeples jutting into the sky, taller than the mountains around when you are just coming down the hill. It is a city simultaneously of rebirth and death, the new Mass MoCA bringing tourism and a thriving arts community; but lovely victorian homes still sit boarded-up and forgotten. The cemetaries seem vast and expansive, the places of employ more scattered and harder to find. The grass and the leaves on the trees were a vibrant green, something for once coming close to rivaling the greens I remember from Maryland.

Mt. Greylock was a fascinating ascent up a looping, rambling, narrow mountain road where the trees grew thick and lush on either side, and we were barely protected from the drop straight down by a few small concrete pillars. We took several trails at the summit, almost straight down and straight up on the way back, trails where I wished I had exchanged my pants for shorts so I could better see where I was placing my feet, trails where you needed both hands to help you get down the scrambles. (Trails where a road would suddenly appear after you had just negotiated a steep sharp rocky stretch and were panting with the effort...)

Natural Bridge Park was fascinating, if not as breathtaking as one would expect. It's a cavernous gorge carved through soft, smooth marble by a dammed river. (Damned river!) Stairs all around make different viewpoints easily accessible, but the drop is still enough to make you feel slightly weak in the backs of your knees.

We spent the warmest of the days (at least, it seemed that way) at Mass MoCA. I loved it, absolutely loved it. I'm kind of an art fiend as is, but I didn't expect to enjoy it anywhere near as much as I did. Sean even liked most of the exhibits, which is saying something about the accessibility of the art itself. Sometimes, contemporary art exhibitions tend to be so obscure as to intimidate mainstream viewers, but it wasn't so here. If only I hadn't left my camera in the car.

The ride home was long and quiet, me dozing on and off in the passenger seat and Sean pulling off for an orange drink when he needed a pick-me-up. Coming home after a vacation, however brief, is always hard. But the cats were eagerly awaiting us at the door, meowing happily and rubbing against us.

And Sean didn't snore that night. Thank GOD.

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