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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Camping Is In Tents

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to do something I haven’t done since I was a sophomore in college some 17 years ago. I went camping. Now, there’s a reason I haven’t done it in 17 years. That reason is that the ground and I aren’t on the best of terms. It’s hard and cold and unfeeling, and I’m applying 280 pounds of weight in one spot all the time. That’s like having a needle sticking in your back, which is what it felt like sleeping on the ground Saturday night.

When I was a young Mongo, and not so angry, I used to go camping at Prince Gallitzin.  If not staying there, we would visit our friends who had a camper up at Cutty's campground, which is in between route 711 and 31, in Saltlick, PA.  But the most recent trips I went on were in college, either camping on the fringe of Ocean City, MD or at Shawnee State Park.  However, this weekend, we stayed a little closer to home, just deep enough into the mountains of Fayette Nam and into Somerset County.

We took the little one and the LP (La Papa as my wife and her friend used to refer to my father-in-law as when we met) up to visit my sister-in-law at Scottyland which is way up there in the Laurel Highlands, near Seven Springs. Now, Scottyland is one of those places where people get rooted in their camping ways. They pay somewhere around $1200-$2200 a year for a site. Some have no hookups, which they call “primitive” and some are full supersize sites, which the other campers call “snob knob”. Some people, up there, take their camping seriously. One trailer looked like a mini two story house, complete with a stone walled deck and outdoor wet bar.

The site we stayed at was right on the lake, which to be fair was more of a pond that you could walk across. It was along the main drag around the “lake” where campers were butted up against each other and most people know what their neighbors are doing at 2AM when the lights go out.

We pitched a tent… not in a good way… in the back yard next to the fire ring. We spent the bulk of the day fishing for the same blue gill and watched the drama unfold in another scintillating episode of Red Neck ER as two guys from the Off-Off-Off Broadway run of O’ Brother Where Art Thou performed CPR on a fish that had swallowed a hook. The action was suspenseful in that it took them at least 30 seconds to get out an entire sentence. One guy was stationed to our left and the other guy was stationed to our right and they proceeded to have a conversation over top of our campsite that was just quality stuff and I could hang on every word…. From a noose… in a tall tree.

“Heeeey…. Dooo yooou haaaave some neeeedle noooose plierrrrrs?”

“No, we don’t.”

“Ohhhhh, allllllll riiiiiiiight. Thannnnnks.”

Then his buddy chimed in from the bank on the other side of us.

“Whaaat haaaapened?”

“Welllll, I thiiiink heee swallloowed the hoooook.”

The next hour was spent watching as both men, knelt on the ground over the fish, performing open mouth surgery trying to retrieve the hook.

Really? Now, I’m no fisherman, which is apparent from this story, but I would think that the fish should have been dead long before Cleetus over there spit out the word, “hoooook.” Which means, why be delicate? Gut the dead bastard and retrieve your hook. Still, as I said, I’m not a fisherman, so I don’t know if a fish can live for an extended period of time with a hook in its belly. I know if can probably live a lot longer than it can sucking wind on the bank of a pond. What was so special about that hook? I’m guessing it Cleetus’ last hook or only hook or maybe these two just weren’t the brightest crayons in the box. When my wife asked me how long can a fish live out of water, I replied, “Till the end of a Faith No More video.”

After Red Neck ER went to commercial, we took a tour of the campground, performing a ninja mission to retrieve a picnic table. One was supposed to be at the site but there wasn’t one. We also got to see what the “primitive” sites were. These were sites that had no plumbing or electric. You were roughing it with a few wooden outhouses along the way. Paddle faster, friends, methinks I hear banjos.

After that, we ate. We ate good. I had homemade deep fried potato chips, hot dogs, chili, awesome clam dip, deer kabobs, and bacon and cheese stuffed jalapenos. Now, we did all this with full awareness that the men’s side of the bathhouse was locked due to, what I was told was “fecal vandalism”, and that the toilet in the camper was not working properly. So, needless to say, there were some tense times in the tent.

Now, the best way to disguise the sound of that dinner coming back on you is to go joy riding in the golf cart. The wind will carry away any fumes and the sound of the engine will cover up the audible. One thing I learned about golf carts at the campground was that most of them had huge tires and lift kits. Apparently, there was some correlation between the size of your truck and the golf cart. Also, this being Southwestern Pennsylvania, you can rest assured that a lot of the campers, no matter how run down and awful they appeared, were fully equipped with a 47” or better flat screen television hooked up outside and tuned to the Steelers-Buffalo game. Some things are non-negotiable when it comes to camping. Meanwhile, I had no cell reception the entire weekend. Other sights to behold was the construction light trees set up to illuminate what must have been a phenomenal game of corn hole. So phenomenal that they couldn’t just quit because of darkness. We also saw one of those huge Paul Bunyan statues that scared the crap out of my kid.

At the end of the night, we sat around a fire that proceeded to cook us like marshmallows. My legs became Deep Fried Woods Off. I’m pretty sure that stuff shouldn’t be exposed to an open flame and our fire big enough to be picked up by Curiosity on Mars. The kid crashed and my wife and sister-in-law nearly did after taking a late night golf cart ride down through the primitive area where an overturned outhouse prompted my sister-in-law’s drunken statement, “They shipped the flitter!”

In the morning, I punched the ground for making it so hard on me and we gathered up our stuff and headed home. We drove on out of the campground, passing by the glittering beer cans that littered the corners of each site. The Sunday morning dew mixed with the effervescent remainder of Milwaukee’s Beast and Budweiser, with just a subtle hint of Skoal filled saliva. Ahhh, camping.

From what I was told, there is a guy with a bit of a mental handicap that goes around and collects all the beer cans from the various sites. If you ask him about the owner, he will tell you that he is a “peepee and an asshole”. And, if that wasn’t enough of a visual for you, he points to each body part as he announces it; hopefully in the right order.

So, that was our camping trip and I will never forget all the good times; fish surgery, flitted shippers, peepees and assholes. Those will be my memories.

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