The first order of business once we finally finished the interminable task of unloading the car and setting up the tent was finding firewood before it got dark.
I might add that one of the only things I was actually looking forward to during this camping trip was sitting in front of a fire and roasting marshmallows. Daniel made the mistake of commenting, as we hauled things from the car, that it was such a shame we wouldn’t be able to have a fire, whereupon I fixed him with a look and informed him he underestimated me and we would be having a fire no matter how small. He knows better than to argue with me when I look at him like that, but I could see the skepticism in his eyes. Nonetheless, he obediently went meandering along the path to find some sticks. . . and I traipsed straight through the thick brush and into the bit of woods lining the river and began grabbing all the wood I could find. A surprising amount, once you dug under the initial layer of…woodsy things. I mean, I did poke myself more than once. And my hair kept catching on branches. And it appeared that a lot of the wood was there for a reason since it had very large thorns sticking out every which way. But I grabbed them anyway, because I WOULD have a fire. When I came out with an entire armful of (granted, skinny) sticks, and met Daniel dropping off his single (okay, it might have been two) sticks at the fire, I took the opportunity to tease him mercilessly as he stared slack-jawed at my pile. But he made up for it by following me into the woods and obtaining not only a goodly amount of branches, but three or four thick ones that were about five inches round and nine feet long…or so they seemed. A good half hour later, we had quite the nice pile of sticks next to the fire, good enough, we figured, for at least an hour (it lasted two!!).
Then Daniel began pulling out food while I started the fire – and I might add that I didn’t have to use any fire starter. Daniel was suitably impressed.
The huge branches were too large to snap or cut, but, upon Daniel’s suggestion, we stuck them partway into the fire and then just pushed them forward as they burned. At first, I admit I was inclined to complain about having to gather wood, but it cheered me considerably when I remembered that every time the emigrants stopped they would have had to scrounge for wood as well, and at least I didn’t have to pick up buffalo chips!
Of course, while unpacking dinner, we realized we had forgotten all the things for s’mores…but at least I had fire.
The rest of the evening went admirably, and unexpectedly, well. I chopped and seasoned potatoes without the tinfoil or oil blowing into my face or the potatoes filling with sand. Daniel got the water and pans to heat up on the stove without the wind constantly blowing the flame out. And I didn’t even need a sweater. All in all, it was a rather pleasant evening, and we were reminded of several things to put on the list, which was, of course, the whole point. After doing dishes, I did decide I might bring paper products along for more stressful evenings, though. And dinner was delicious – pork chops that didn’t have sand in them, veggies that were warm, and potatoes that cooked quite well in the coals of my delightful fire. (if you are wondering about all these references to sand and wind, I’ll refer you yet again to my post Pioneer Days and Camping)
So, by the time we crawled into the tent around 11pm, I made the mistake of comfortably thinking perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Content warning! The following section discusses bodily functions. I apologize if this is TMI, but it turned a rather nice-ish outing into “Why do I ever need to go camping again??“
As soon as I got tucked into my sleeping bag, two things happened. One, the temperature outside started dropping rapidly. And by rapidly, I mean exponentially. And two, the cramps started. Yup, my body decided that this night was the perfect night to give me constipation and diarrhea issues.
No way was I getting out of the comfy, warm sleeping bag to traipse down a path to the outhouses that suddenly seemed very far away. So I laid there for the next hour, grimacing at the side of the tent as cramps gripped me with so much pain that somehow I was sweating and cold at the same time, trying to concentrate on the random cow that kept lowing in some field across the river. Until I realized I didn’t really have a choice anymore. I clambered out of my sleeping bag, waking Daniel up, grabbed one shoe, then the other, only to realize it was Daniel’s shoe, decided I didn’t care, and put on Daniel’s shoes and sweater, and took off down the path. Did I say earlier it was a five minute walk? That five minute walk suddenly seemed like ten minutes. Possibly fifteen. And for all of you people who love camping, I dare you to still love it when you have to sit in a spider-infested outhouse in 35 degree weather dealing with diarrhea for half an hour.
By the time I got back to the tent, I had, in addition, convinced myself that Daniel was sitting up, worrying that I had been attacked because I had been gone so long, and unable to check on me since I had his shoes, his coat, and no phone. I am not sure if I am pleased or displeased to say that such fears were unfounded. I could hear his snores before I even reached our campsite.
I climbed back into the tent, waking him up again, crawled back into my sleeping bag, and Daniel, perceptively watching me shiver, piled four layers of blankets on top of the sleeping bag and….NO. NO, YOU JUST FINISHED. YOU DO NOT NEED TO GO BACK TO THE OUTHOUSE!
I determinedly alternated between shivering and sweating as I fought back the cramps again for another half hour before I gave in. Back to the outhouse I went. This time, I could have sworn our campsite had moved a mile away from where it had been before and…seriously? The greenery poking through the Ohio Canal on the other side of the path looked like it had frost. I picked the other outhouse this time, hoping it did not have a spider similar to the one that had been crawling around next to me in the other one.
This time when I made it back to the tent, Daniel was actually awake and waiting for me, which I appreciated, because I wasn’t sure I would ever stop being cold again in my life, and he had blankets ready for me. For the third time that night, I crawled into the tent, under my sleeping bag, and my very kind husband heaped ALL THE BLANKETS on me, resulting in eight layers of blankets and, after about ten minutes, I finally stopped shivering.
That’s when the insomnia kicked in. Yup. No longer in pain, no longer cold, I still stared at the tent wall, wide awake, yet simultaneously tired. I actually don’t know how long it took me to fall asleep–just enough to be annoying, but considering how annoyed I already was, it was probably only about half an hour to an hour, bringing us to probably between 2:00 and 3:00 AM when I blessedly fell into a very deep sleep.
Until my body woke me up again around 4:30 AM to inform me that my bladder is the size of a thimble and therefore, wanted to visit the outhouse again, despite having been there only a couple hours earlier. Like, seriously. In the wee hours of the morning, having actually fallen asleep, it seemed much more scary to venture out to the outhouse at the other end of the world by myself. So, after laying there fighting it for another half hour, I rolled over, checking my phone and effectively waking Daniel up so that I could ask him to come with me. Which he did. Because he is a good man. The grass was definitely crunching with frost beneath our feet, in case you were curious, and I spent most of the trip wondering why anyone in the entire world liked to camp.
We made it back to the tent in record time compared to my earlier trips, I dove under my eight layers of blankets, and…insomnia struck again, letting me know that my earlier episode had just been a teaser. I laid there and listened to the first birds begin to sing, I listened to the roosters crow over and over and over again as if we hadn’t heard them the first time. I listened to birds that sounded like they would have been better off as frogs join in. I watched as the light around me grew more and more bright. I listened as the woods next to the river came so alive with song I couldn’t distinguish the birds from each other. And finally, as full light filtered through the tent and I was contemplating just getting up, I fell asleep.
It was the extremely noisy campers around us and people running on the path next to us, not to mention the dogs from the camp next door that liked to run by our tent, that woke us far too quickly around 9:30.
I was probably not the most pleasant companion for breakfast and cleanup, but Daniel handled me admirably, and by the time we finished packing up and were set to go on our hike (OUR FOUR-MILE HIKE WITH ALMOST NO SLEEP) I might have even been cheerful. But I would like you to know that, if it were not for my dedication to researching my book and fulfilling my dream of following the Oregon/California Trail, I would never set foot in a tent again.