“Oh … look at that!” Seán exclaimed as he screeched to a stop and abruptly lurched off the road at the old Minglement. Thankfully, it was a ‘local’ behind us who forgave the somewhat erratic maneuver.
“What’s up?” I said as Seán’s terrier jumped off my lap to leap over to Seán’s side and look out the window. “See! A perfectly good portable charcoal bbq right by the side of the road!”
In the time honored, Vashon tradition, of course seeing something alongside the road means ‘stop abruptly without signaling, veer off the highway and take a look at whatever caught your eye, and if slightly useful, cram said object inside, on top or alongside whatever vehicle you might have’ . And better yet, whatever you see is free. Newcomers, sadly, have taken advantage of this Island custom lately and deposit real junk in front of places other than their own property.
Well it turned out this was a good find and as we loaded it, John said, “Sure wish we’d had one of these in our young camping days! Would have made things a whole lot easier!”
That question led to us swapping camping stories of various trips gone somewhat awry and that is how we arrived at telling these stories. They are mostly true, although Seán did some research on the length of ‘five forks’ and came up with some potential exaggeration… Which I rationalized to him that in those days they made shorter forks… because we had shorter arms.
I related how flaming marshmallows not only set a tent on fire but left a smell that lasted on the tent for years.. A smell that my Mother used as a reminder to impose good camping behavior on me.
It all started with a camping trip to the Mt Adams area with Gene Amundson and his family. It must have been 12 of us in two overloaded cars with a giant tent on top. In those days everything was ‘war surplus’, and that old tent was surely surplus, although looking back I’m not sure from which war it was surplus from. It was heavy oil soaked canvas.
The trip up was a long one and we got there and built a fire while our Dads fished. After an early kid’s dinner of hot dogs, we roasted marshmallows. In those days we cut our own roasting sticks out of whatever thin green saplings were available.
Soon Gene and I engaged in a war of dueling flames of marshmallows at the ends of our springy ‘swords’. Somehow in our swordplay, a flaming marshmallow was flipped over to the tent which our dads were trying to erect. Shortly thereafter some yelling erupted that we think included some bad words followed by ‘get the water bucket you..@&)/&$!’
The flaming bits had landed in a dry pile of pine needles trapped in a tent corner from the last use. Well up to this point, Gene and I had been known troublemakers, but like cats, even though our parents knew we were always up to no good, it was rare we were ever caught in the act. This time though we were fairly busted and assigned a lot of cleanup jobs. Our sisters smirked endlessly at our descent into the servant class and delighted in leaving dirty dishes for us to wash. I’m not sure of what additional punishment was ordered, but it was a long time before we were allowed to roast marshmallows over a fire.
Sean related an even better story!
It was cold, dark, and raining “cats and dogs.” I had to pitch my army tent on a side hill on Denny Creek on the Snoqualmie Pass road. There just wasn’t enough room for the nine guys from the Vashon Boy Scout Troop 294. The campground was full despite the weather. Water was streaming in from the upper side of the tent and soaking my poor surplus sleeping bag. During the night, I had rolled down the hill and was lying up against the side of the surplus shelter half. They called it a shelter half because it was only good for a wind break or lean-to. You needed two shelter halves to make a tent which was held together with buttons across the top and they always leaked.
My mistake was that I tried to sleep on a side hill with a torrent coming down over the rocks above me. The next day, Uncle Bruce, our scout master; and my Father as assistant scoutmaster came over to assess the damages. Uncle Bruce wasn’t our “real uncle” and my tent wasn’t the only one hit. We didn’t have the smart covers that the new tents have by slipping a “fly” over the top and tying it down; thus making the camp waterproof.
In the army, we used the “buddy system;” by joining our mutual shelter halves to form what we called a “pup tent” and this one leaked. People asked the next day what I was doing with two shelter halves when I was only issued one. I was supposed to have a “buddy.”
Uncle Bruce immediately saw what my problem was. I hadn’t dug a ditch to divert the torrent and then it really started to rain.
“Pack up!” was the call coming down from the cadre and we had to get on the move. I was trying to roll my soaking wet sleeping bag and folding the heavy and wet shelter halves so I could get them down the side hill. “We are going to eastern Washington where it never rains!” Uncle Bruce called out.
The first stop after the pass was the fishing pond for kids that the miners in Roslyn had built to attract tourists. The problem was with balancing-on-planks over the swampy back-eddy in the Cle Elum River; and not being able to catch a fish. The fish were beautiful and right under the planks, but they wouldn’t bite. You could set the worm and hook right on top of their heads and no luck! Our next camp was going to be on the Columbia River at Vantage where arrowhead chips were scattered over many acres of the dry part of the river bottom and I don’t know how deep they were because there were plenty on top.
You can’t see it now; because the field of chips is under water from the new dam