Camping off Block Island and other unmentionables
September 08, 2012
I owe myself this post but it was pre-empted by the arrival and re-dispatching of Lucia which took precedence for perfectly good and sane reasons.
When I was small, my father took my brother off into the woods to camp. I believe they were gone for the weekend and I don't know if it was a hike in and carry on your back or a drive to a camp site and cook on a camp stove. All I remember was being flat out incensed that my five year old brother did this sort of thing because it was what 'boys' did with their fathers while seven year old girls stayed home with their mothers and I was completely missing the fact that through all this I was being raised, side by side with my brother by wolves, in tents and otherwise. There was no gender differentiation going on until I hit puberty and then all hell broke loose. We were the very same sort of wild animal, he and I. Neither of us the least bit protected from the elements which resulted in both of us self sufficient in ways most adults can't even conceive of today. Anyway, that event stuck with me because while families might camp together with all the trappings and near comforts of home, mothers still don't traditionally walk their daughters into the woods. They just don't. I'm going to guess it just doesn't occur to them to take themselves off to the woods.
I didn't hike her into the woods. If I'd had the wherewithal, time, what have you, or if I was even vaguely interested in walking myself into the woods at this point, I'd have done it although I'm not sure how her father would have felt about that but in the end I took her to a family camp ground in Rhode Island. Turned out we'd probably have been better off walking into the woods because despite the onsite ranger and fully staffed, 24/7 front desk, things still had a tendency to get out of hand after 10 PM. I wished to be armed at one point. On the other hand I might not have blog access right now...
We only had four days and three nights because I got a late start. I can't even remember why I got a late start at this point, I just know I did. Probably something about not pushing the envelope. I think I needed to find a tent too. Last I knew I had a tent in the lower level of my split level ranch where things get stored in plain sight and we don't do much down there except laundry and there's an elliptical and a guest room and a half bath. It isn't particularly cluttered and it's hard to miss things like camping gear. I knew just where to look. I threw it down between the couch and the elliptical after the last overnight at the drop zone and that's exactly where I expected to find it. Except I didn't find it there. I made a quick call to Numbah One Son hoping like hell I'd loaned it to him and knowing perfectly well that since both crash pads were open and draped over the couch it couldn't be because he'd have one of those too. Two sleeping bags were gone; one of the full size adults and the midget kid size. Oh bloody hell.
I turned the house upside down on Saturday. There isn't a lot of room to hide things. I don't have THAT much closet space and the house was thoroughly cleaned and turned upside down when Baby Brother sent in the cleaning service from hell in, oh, I don't know, February? Why move a tent and two sleeping bags? I'm guessing I still have a sleeping bag because one was in Elizabeth's room where it lives in case of sleep overs. The tent is just gone.
I didn't want to buy a new tent. I went to Walmart. Crap. No way in hell I'm buying the low end Coleman tents. I know perfectly well what happens to those in weather. I don't want to spend $300 + on a Northface or equivalent either and I know there's middle ground because I got the Kelty online last year. Online. Finally I give up and head down the road to the Outdoor Sports, prepared to suck it up and go back for the Coleman with the assumption that I'll be heading home or to a motel if the poo hits the fan.
Sure enough Outdoor Sports has exactly what I expect, really awesome backpacking tents. I'm in heavy lust. Last time I spent money on a really good tent was eight or ten years ago and technology has come a very long way. I tell the man this is all really quite wonderful but I don't backpack in anymore and I sure as hell don't spend that kind of money anymore. I tell him I lived through lightning, hail the size of golf balls and torrential sideways rain in a Kelty last year and the tent was fine. He gives me a look and says, OK, sometimes there are flukes. I tell him he's full of bull pucky and that there IS a middle ground and while I didn't expect the Kelty to make it through too many more of those, I did expect it to make it through another couple of years of decent use.
In the end he sold me the floor model of something he didn't really have in stock anymore. It never did sell well and I think it's been discontinued. It's called a minibus 3 and it doesn't have crossed poles which I think is a bloody miracle (probably that's been going on for awhile). It's got double seals and a bathtub bottom (they all do now) and apparently we don't fold tents and flies now, we stuff the freaking things into the sack (can I have a hallelujah from the chorus, please?). I think the backpackers took one look around here and decided it just wasn't cool enough. I think the family campers with money took one look at it and decided there was no way in hell they were sleeping that squashed up against their kids.
Hey, I have something to say about sleeping in small quarters. It stays A LOT warmer in the tent. I'm just sayin' is all. On our last night a tent went up after we'd gone to bed. It was humongous. The size of a small one room cabin. Bigger, actually. It even looked like a cabin with windows painted on the outside to make it look homey. I'm surprised there weren't painted on window boxes. Many very tall people could stand up in that thing with loads of clearance. It's the sort of tent that takes four people to put up (I can't even call that sort of thing pitching), four people to take down and you WILL have to fold it very carefully. There will be folding cots inside. It will be very comfy. And mofo cold at night toward the end of the summer. They left all their food out, non perishables sitting on top of four coolers. Two large SUVs with CT plates parked haphazardly up against the picnic tables. They must have been flat out exhausted because nobody so much as stirred when we were on our way out around 8:15 the next morning. Maybe Rhode Island doesn't have bears (um...) but it sure does have critters.
Elizabeth went to camp this year and it wasn't Girl Scout camp. I was oh so bummed. Bathrooms and showers in the cabin. Sniff. No canvas tents on wood platforms. No mildew in the canvas duffels and actual sheets on the bunks. Sigh.
She took to the tent like she was born in it. I probably could have hiked her in without a worry in the world. She didn't blink. The neighbors bothered her. The camp sites were good sized so they weren't right up against us but she resented the company. They were noisy at night which didn't scare her but she wanted to sleep and considered the flat out rude behavior completely unacceptable. At one point it scared the bejesus out of me but I'll get to that.
Here is the minibus 3. You're not really going to fully appreciate the name until a later shot when I've backed way off. Backpackers will cringe and families just won't tolerate the lack of space. I think it's cool as hell and the guy was dying to get it the hell out of his store.
From back here we can pretend we are alone in the forest and indeed, the first night maybe we were. I think we were. I don't think it got crazy until night two.
Northface had no intention of people hanging lanterns therefore there are no loops in the center of the tent. There are small side loops for hanging things like, oh, I don't know, wet shorts? I strung clothes line and strung up one of our hurricane lanterns. We have two and they get a lot of use given how often we lose power for days at a time at home. This kid is ecstatic. And she stayed that way.
In the morning there were only three things going on: Coffee, fried bagels and cold cereal. We've whittled this down significantly. I was on VACATION. And I was exhausted. Notice the new camp stove. The old one rolled over and died during the first Girls Gone Wild long weekend in Frisco with Cielo, CG and Florkow. I finally gave up and replaced it. Notice that it doesn't have an electronic igniter. There is a very good reason for this. The electronic igniters on Coleman camp stoves blow. Not as in blow up. They just blow. Not worth the money, you end up using matches anyway.
Cielo, CG and Florkow: I did NOT let all the propane out of one of those little mini things this time. I'm just reporting the facts...
All I have to say in my defense is that I had to pee so bad I couldn't see straight and my assumption is the ladies facilities are always closest to the camp sites... which are apparently on both sides of the bath house...
While using the facilities there were two people in the shower. They were talking. One had a VERY deep voice and I thought that was really a bit odd but who am I to judge. So there's an adolescent girl with unfortunate hormones. Stuff happens. Also, there was this white paint all over the inside of the stall with the words, lick it, you know you want to, scratched in and for the life of me I just wasn't following... and then I came out and there were the urinals and I'm thinking, huh, unisex, how unlike Rhode Island and then we went outside and I looked at the sign and looked up at the young couple sitting on a post and said... nobody saw that... and promptly tripped over my feet sprawling face first in the dust.
Had I been paying more attention to the shower conversation in the men's bathhouse I would have been prepared for the shower with no controls and no sign and the metal box on the wall with a quarter shaped slot. I had exactly two quarters. We were both exactly disgusting and on our way to Block Island for the day. It was important to be at least somewhat stink free. I didn't realize I'd shoved my last two quarters into the controls of the handicapped shower until the water was running and realized there was no way to get the hand held shower thingie up over the bar and so we showered squatting on the floor, hair first and rinsed and then soap and then conditioner and you have NEVER seen washing happen this fast except maybe under ice water conditions. I think we had, as it turns out, 3 minutes. It was a bloody miracle. Elizabeth said, you didn't shave your legs. You haven't shaved your legs in days.
Too damn bad.
Turns out the kid got seasick on the high speed ferry which turned out to be a dehydration issue. Note to self - LOTS OF WATER. There's really nothing you can do with yourself on Block Island if you feel like hell except find someplace to lay down, preferably with an umbrella and a cool drink. And a good book. On a pink towel. We were not prepared for the beach but apparently the beach was prepared for us. Block Island is not Nantucket. We will go back.
At the end of the day she felt better and I needed to have sun blocked my pasty white self with spf 50. When you haven't seen the light of day in over 12 months, even lying under an umbrella halfway clothed isn't enough.
I don't remember the food unless it was fun. I don't think it gets much better than this anyway. Look. It's art as far as I'm concerned and I've mastered it. Elizabeth was still at the, light them on fire and suck out the goo stage. We discussed the fine art of marshmallow toasting and I just shrugged and said, you know, YEARS of practice but she knew better. I'd had this down by the time I was her age mostly because I didn't care for goo alone.
And so it begins with intention...
And ends in mastery, of one sort or another... (hey. they didn't fall off the stick.)
There were spiderdogs... (that one isn't nearly done, it's just paused for a photo op)
And cocktails with our regular roasted weenies...
And when we went to the camp store to buy all that firewood (because you can't carry across state lines anymore and I kind of get that)... there were these and she asked her eleven year old version of
But really, the craziness all started the second night when the neighbor in the site to our left came home and started collecting firewood at maybe 10:30? 10 PM is lights out, by the way, or at least all noises out and besides, if you're going to collect dead fall, do it on your own damn site, please, right? Personal space and all that? At 10:30 at night you DO NOT GO CREEPING ABOUT 2 FEET BEHIND SOMEBODY'S TENT!
Remember the sheriff from last year's trip on the road to Damascus who nearly made a side arm sprout off my right hip? He whispered right in my ear... 'It is your God Given Right To Bear Arms...' or something like that. I am still not entirely certain if channeling Sheriffs from the South is a good witch or a bad witch... based on results... I'm gonna say good. This time.
I was out of that tent nearly roaring except I remember to hold my shit together. This creature was already scuttling back toward it's own site. I couldn't tell gender on account of the raincoat with the hood pulled all tight around it's face (it was a perfectly pleasant evening) so I called out, hello! hello! and it kept walking away.
So I chased it. You know I did, right?
I chased it back to it's own lair and made it turn around and look at me.
I still couldn't tell what it was but I will tell you this, if it hadn't been at least my height, looking me right in the eyes, I'd be telling you right now ET camped next to me for two nights, eyes bugging out and everything. So I decided to be pleasant, if not straight forward and all direct like.
Me: Uh, you're collecting firewood right behind my tent is scaring the crap out of my daughter (not. it was scaring me). Could you not do that please?
ET: Oh! Yeah! Been there, done that! (huh?)
Me: OK, Good, because I'd really like to get some sleep, ok?
ET: OK, sure.
Me: Great, good night.
Nothing like a menacing mother. ET didn't make another freaking sound.
In the morning there was only a car. No tent, no nothing other than a bunch of kindling that had been collected directly behind my tent. And then I remembered I'd taken very carefully laid out kindling off that fire pit the night before because I thought that site was empty. Ah crap.
Shortly after we were up a woman gets out of the car and I realize ET is sleeping in her car and this is why the site looks deserted. I stole her carefully laid out kindling that was downright ritualistic the way it arced across the pit in exact patterns collected and arched just so.... oh, damn, bad ju ju all around. ET, I am so, so sorry. ET is most assuredly not living on the same plane I'm living on but she doesn't bother us again and we don't bother her.
Later on that evening she hasn't returned but she's collected a fair amount of wood from the camp store in the big white, stuff 'em full as you can for $6.99 and two men in a pickup truck come by and start throwing it in the bed of the truck. Oh HELL no.
I wander on over and ask if they know anything about the woman who's been staying at the site and they admit that they don't. I explain that she doesn't have a tent but I expect she'll be back given the amount of wood she's amassed she'll probably be looking for it. I suggest she's a little off and explain about the night I had to deal with her behind my tent. You never say two thieving rednecks throw firewood out of the bed of a pickup so fast in your life. Or at least I haven't. I mean, really, who leaves THIS much firewood behind? Actually there was about twice that, this was all I could get in the frame. And also, the same night as the creeping there was a chain saw that went on and on and on at about 10:15 and I finally had to call the ranger station and about 20 Yoots from Quebec pitched maybe 10 tents with about as much fuss and noise as I believe you can make and still get those tents pitched and some of them just gave up and crashed on tarps... and finally I really do wish I had a picture of the house tent but I don't.
I have this instead. The frame of my minibus 3 with poles that don't cross (and by not crossing, I mean that the blue poles do not cross in the middle which is actually a very big deal). The fly and the tent get stuffed in a sack and while I'm still twitching a little over the lack of folding, it really is cool as hell. I mean, it's not like you don't have to take it out of the bag when you get home anyway.
On the very last day we went back to Block Island because we never did get to ride the rental bikes we meant to ride on Monday. Now here's the thing. We live in a time and place where kids don't just get on bikes anymore. And when they do get on bikes they wear body armor. Elizabeth has a bike that's so small for her I swear if she got on it now her knees would hit her chin. It has the old style brakes where you just pedal backwards. She's not been out of the driveway much and only ridden a few places with her dad. In other words, Elizabeth is nearly 12 years old, in the 7th grade and really doesn't know how to ride a bike.
I taught my daughter how to ride a bike on Block Island. And her helmet didn't fit. And she kept pushing it backwards. And somebody actually had a small cow on facebook about this. Eff off already. Seriously. Are you kidding me? GET A GRIP!
We started in a gravel parking lot. I remember my last experience with the man and the last nanny and Cletus on Nantucket and how bloody awful it was when Cletus fell off because her skirt tie was caught in the chain and the man and the nanny just rode off together and left us there and I sat there on the side of the road while she cried and thirty minutes later I had that thing worked out of the chain (it was in there that bad), the chain back on the bike, her tears wiped off and we were riding back toward the center of town. Eventually we ran into them coming back the other way looking for us. I remembered how hard it was to learn to deal with the island rental bikes when I was hardly ever on a bike anymore. I don't know when Cletus was last on a bike. So here's Elizabeth who can hardly deal with a bike at all and she's got to learn now.
So the gravel parking lot. Around and around and around we go and she tells me she can't turn the thing and I realize every time she's heading toward the road she forgets to turn soon enough and puts her feet down so we work on that. I realize when she's scared she stops pedaling so we work on that. I just yell PEDAL PEDAL PEDAL YAY ELIZABETH enough times she starts to get the hang of it. And then we work on the hand brakes.
Eventually it's time to hit the road. The roads are nice and wide and the drivers aren't the same sort of berserk you get on Nantucket. There are lots of pedestrians and when you have a mom riding behind a wobbly kid yelling pedal pedal pedal You Can Do It!!!! you get applause sometimes and a cheering section other times and always people get out of the way but what you never get is bad manners. That was kind of cool.
She was afraid of the hills. The going down part. We got past that eventually because we need the momentum to get up the hills. And after that we got reallllllyyyyyy close to discovering the unadulterated joy of speed. It only took a few hours to get from this:
We drank a lot of water our second day on Block Island. We did go to a Rhode Island beach in the middle, by the way. It wasn't that we meant to spend the entire time going back and forth to the Island, it's just she was so sick the first time and she loves the place so much (she's been with her dad) and we missed the high speed ferry by literally 90 seconds the second day but it really didn't matter all that much. In the end we parked ourselves at Ballards again because we could. And I needed to rest because a three hour drive home is a three hour drive home or maybe it was three and a half or four because I got a little lost and you have to tell Siri EXACTLY where you want to go. You cannot just say, I'd like to go to the Post Road please because even if the Post Road is half a mile from where you happen to be parked she might head off toward Nova Scotia and you'd be none the wiser until 45 minutes later when you crossed the second state line in the wrong direction. If you're me, that is. Siri is fired. She wasn't even repentant.
Ballard's Beach belongs to Ballards which is at least a restaurant and bar and maybe even there's a hotel attached, I'm really not all that sure. I know it can get damned expensive to eat or drink there but you're welcome to haul in your own. This, for example, is a $14 Bloody Mary. Don't judge. I drank it with my power bar. Nom.
People in Rhode Island still smoke a lot, by the way. That was really interesting.
So the thing about Ballards is that you have to actually walk through the restaurant a little bit to get on the beach. Just a little bit. It's daunting I think to some but in you go. And if you need the bathroom you just walk right through the outside bar where the band is playing and there are the most beautiful beach bathrooms I've ever seen. They belong INSIDE the restaurant. Except they get kind of sandy. I was ecstatic. The band didn't suck either. The beach was diversified. I appreciate that very much. This is not Nantucket. Granted, it's lacking the charming cobblestone streets and those amazing old old old houses and beautiful gardens but it doesn't have those crazy people with all that money flinging about like gummed up spit in the wind either.
And it doesn't have any bad memories. At all. Four years after the fact and there's still no way in hell you could get me on a ferry to that island.
On the way back from Nantucket I remember sitting next to my husband watching a couple in front of us holding hands and wishing he would hold mine. Not happening. I remember being unbearably sad. Now I'm just lonely a lot of the time but not unbearably sad.
On the way back from Block Island sitting next to my daughter as she polished off the rest of her ice cream, my face still burning from spraying spf 30 all over it (the stuff you spray on your body, NOT your face) I'm not seeing sad.
Although I will tell you, Lucia was home last weekend to pick up a few things and get her driver's license (but it turned out DMV had Saturday off) and we were at Walmart in the Ladies undergarment section because she needed some 2 dollah panties and I held up my favorites and she looked at me with her jaw on her, um, those things in the way of her jaw hitting the ground... and said,
Lucia: ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?!!!!
Lucia: WOMAN! YOU ARE NEVER, EVER, EVER GOING TO GET LAID AGAIN!
Me: Hey, don't dis my 2 dollah panties, it's not like they're spanky pants. They don't go up to my waist and they aren't those nylon granny panties... WTF?
Lucia: Good God, Mother. No, really, go home and throw them all out. Everything except for a couple of backup pairs for laundry day and That. Is. It. I am serious about this. Bad bad bad ju ju.
Lucia: Go out and buy yourself some real undies, OK, Seriously.
Lucia: What the hell is wrong with you?
Lucia: Nough said. Just do it.
Now I don't care if that's TMI, it had to be said because it's the God's honest truth. What you put on under those jeans says a lot about how you feel about yourself. Some women can run around in those 2 dollah Walmart cotton panties and feel like a goddess. I am not one of them. I suppose I could get that way but I'm just not wired like that. When I wear that stuff it means I'm absolutely on the shelf and wrapped in plastic.
I'm a black lace thong under ripped jeans and a flannel shirt kinda girl. Always have been and probably always will be, in one form or another. Underwear is an accessory, to be worn with a great deal of style or simply not at all.