I am a camper. It’s in my blood. Family legend has it that I was potty trained while camping because I was fascinated by the pit toilets. That fascination has long since ended, but I continued to enjoy camping. And I am not talking about deluxe 5th-wheel airconditioned houses with wheels. I am talking about tent camping.
Camping is what my dad wanted to do with his vacation time, so we camped. And for many years camping for my family meant Boulder Lake near Mountain. My mom explained to me that they began camping at Boulder Lake long before I was born, when it was a County Park; by the time I came along it was part of the Nicolet National Forest. My mom told me that the County Park didn’t even have picnic tables, there were just a handful of little clearings where you could pitch a tent.
The earliest clear recollection that I have of Boulder Lake was walking with my mom down to the boat landing in the morning. There was a machine there where you had to put a 50cent piece in and it spit out your ticket stub for the day. We were walking, my hand in hers, when suddenly we heard some yelling, then a black bear burst out of the brush and ran across the road about 10 feet away from us. A woman followed the bear, armed with a frying pan that she was waving menacingly as she continued to yell at the fleeing bear. She stopped in the middle of the road, satisfied. She told my mom that she was frying bacon and the bear had invited himself to breakfast. They both laughed. The woman returned to her campsite and we continued on to the boat landing. I learned that true camping women had fortitude as we would name it in the Church – a gift of the Holy Spirit. John Wayne would have called it grit.
I grew to love camping. The first major purchase I made was camping related. I had finished working my first summer at the paper mill, earning money for my college tuition. Between my scholarships and the job, I had my tuition bill paid and still had a nice sum in the bank. I can recall the evening at dinner when my mom and dad told me that I should treat myself for all my hard work. They had never suggested such a thing before. I didn’t argue. Next day I headed downtown to Denis Sports Shop and bought my own camping gear – Coleman of course – cabin tent (real canvas), stove, lantern and heater. 43 years later they all still work – they don’t make things like that anymore.
When I got married and got a job and earned my first week of vacation there was no doubt that we would spend it on a camping trip. So, we headed up north to celebrate our first anniversary (romantic heh?). The first morning I discovered a problem. The gasket on the camp stove was cracked and you couldn’t build up the pressure needed for the stove to burn. Michelle simply said, “Well build me a cooking fire”. And so, I did. And she made pancakes and sausages over a camp fire. They were not only edible; they were delicious. I knew I had married a woman with grit and fortitude – a real camper. As the knight guarding the Holy Grail said to Indiana Jones, “You chose wisely!”
We enjoyed many camping trips with our own family through the years and Michelle rolled with all of the punches. All until one of our last trips. We were camping at a fairly remote little campground in the U.P. The weather had been fickle at best, miserable at worst. On Saturday we headed into Baraga to attend Mass. Over there the sun was shining. After Mass in a beautiful little church, we stopped at the Bishop Baraga shrine and enjoyed this tribute to the “Snowshoe Priest”. There was also a little roadside park with a series of little waterfalls that we hiked and enjoyed. Then we headed back to camp.
The closer we got to camp though, the worse the weather turned. By the time we pulled into the campground the sky was spitting rain and the wind made it sting your face. I went to the screen tent and started getting things out for supper when I noticed Michelle standing, looking out to the lake that was churning with three-foot whitecaps. I went over and asked what was wrong. A drop of rain water dripped off of her nose. She never even turned to look at me. She just blurted out, “All I know is that we passed a lot of nice restaurants that are dry and comfortable and I don’t want to sit in this miserable weather to eat!” Message delivered.
We got back in the truck and found a nice place, ordered a drink and then a nice steak dinner. It was the one and only time that we went “out” for supper on a camping trip.
The weather cleared while we were eating. We went back to camp and had a nice fire. The lake settled and we took a night paddle around the shoreline. The stars were brilliant.
That night when I kissed her and watched her snuggle deep into her sleeping bag, she looked contented. It takes some grit; it takes some fortitude, and it takes some wisdom to know when grit and fortitude aren’t enough. That my friends, is the complete recipe for a happy camper.