Janet Sheridan: It ain’t what it used to be

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Janet Sheridan

Because I had happy memories of camping when young, I didn’t object when Joel suggested we intersperse motel stays with camping during our road trips.

But, trying to recapture the fun of trekking through the dark of night to an outdoor toilet is like trying to wear the swimming suit I wore at 16 — doomed.

Our recent camping ventures have included views of breath-taking beauty and wildlife sightings we’ll never forget, but some of our tenting experiences make a colonoscopy seem festive.

I remember a night in the Snowy Range of the Medicine Bow, when I lay awake and worried that our bodies wouldn’t be found until the August thaw.

The temperature in town hovered at 95 as we loaded our camping gear, so I anticipated a sweltering experience. When I pack for a trip, I find it difficult to imagine any weather other than what I am experiencing at the moment.

That night, we pitched our tent on frozen ground among snowdrifts.

We crawled into our sleeping bags fully clothed, and piled towels and extra clothing on top. We slept fitfully, disturbed by the chattering of two sets of teeth and the need to massage life back into our numb noses.

The next morning, we comforted ourselves by splitting a pound of bacon.

A year later, having forgotten our frostbite, we packed for an extended trip to Glacier National Park and Canada. My cautious nature prefers reservations, while Joel thrives on spontaneity.

After our first night on the ground, I crawled out of our tent in full self-righteous-martyr mode.

Every campsite at Glacier bulged with children hitting each other with sticks, aromatic clouds floating from smoking grills, and adults in flip-flops waving from their reserved spots as we drove by.

We abandoned our notions of camping and decided to get a room at the park lodge.

Fortunately, before handing over a credit card, we asked to see the last room available — a closet in the basement with a door that didn’t quite close, a questionable bed and a leaking toilet.

We then thought we’d take our chances outside the park. We should’ve paid for the swayback bed behind the boiler room.

The only campground available in Babb, Mont., consisted of a pasture full of thigh-high weeds bordered by posts designating 10 tent sites. Each site had an individual Sani-hut, long overdue for dumping.

And nothing else.

It’s hard to snooze on clods and tromped-down weeds with heavy Sani-hut odors clogging your head. The next morning, I didn’t need bacon to comfort me; I had my virtuous thoughts: “I told you so, Mr. Spur-of-the-Moment; but would you listen? No-o-o-o-o!”

The next summer we toured South Dakota and planned two nights at Custer State Park — in a reserved site.

The park boasted scenic vistas, a buffalo herd and a refreshing contrast to the Badlands we had toured earlier: amenities difficult to enjoy on a day of record-breaking heat and humidity.

It’s hard to pitch a tent when sweat streams into your eyes, drips from your chin and slicks your hands.

After dinner at an air-conditioned lodge festooned with portraits of Teddy Roosevelt and animal heads, we sat in our camp chairs, stared vacantly at a discouraged stream lined by motionless trees and dripped.

When we decided to sedate ourselves with sleep, we lay on top of our bags with our arms extended and our fingers and toes spread to minimize the increased heat of skin contact.

I appreciated the brilliance of my husband anew when he commented, “Hey, Janet, you’ll sweat less if you don’t blink.”

At dawn, we sought comfort in our air-conditioned truck and headed toward home.

Who knows what camping fun we’ll have this summer.

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