Camping Trip, Pt. 1

Last week I went camping with my family. Not gonna lie. The first few days were stressful and weird. And our trip commenced immediately on the heels of my wife Rita taking (and passing) her US citizenship examination. It was our second time since our son Joaquin was born, a little over two years ago.

Boy with squirt gun.
Joaquin is going on a bear hunt! He’s not scared!

Joaquin loved his first camping experience last year. No joke. He’d just learned to walk a couple months prior. So he proudly showed off his skills, rambling up and down the little slopes around our campsite at the edge of Schroon Lake. When he’d get stuck or stumble on a root, we’d whip out the camera before running to rescue him because nothing seemed to faze him. Our two dogs took the trip in stride as well. Maybe there were fewer mosquitoes. The site was certainly one of those manicured types. The sort where you pull your car up and make your camp right there within easy reach of anything you didn’t want to stockpile inside the tiny tent you’d be sharing with blanket-hogging insomniacs who fart through the night.

This time was different. So different.

A friend told us about one of the few places in New York State to boast old-growth forest. A place called Five Ponds Wilderness. Also in the Adirondacks. But much further north. What our friend related to Rita and I captured attention and worked the imagination. He described hundreds upon hundreds of dense, uncut forest accessible only by boat- at least if you didn’t want to drive several hours out of the way to enter the wilderness from its northernmost tip. As soon as we got home from our friend’s place Rita was already planning the adventure. In a few days, we knew exactly when we’d be leaving and how long we’d need. This adventure was not going to die in our minds. We were going. I couldn’t have been more excited. This was going to be a wonderful way to celebrate the completion of the sale of my late mother’s house, one of the last big things remaining in the settlement of her estate.

Weeks went by. The sale went smoothly. The couple that bought the house were lovely people. Taking time off from work hadn’t posed an issue. Thankfully. And I hoped this time off from my job would finally give my hands the time they needed to recover from the chronic swelling and numbness that came and went from one day to the next. This was going to be great!

So excited was I on the night before we left, after helping Rita practice for her citizenship exam I decided to stay up and pack. I rushed up and down and all about, discovering I didn’t know where anything was. True to form, I’d failed to plan, pack, or anything. Rita assured me that she’d handled everything, even packed the car while I’d still been at work. All I needed to do was pack my clothes. Then she rolled over and went back to sleep.

Boy covered in mud.
Joaquin goes au natural.

Clothes? Oh no, my clothes! Were they clean? Shit, shit, shit…And where was my compass? Knife? Rope? When I opened the hatch of Earth-and-Sky (our old Subaru) to see what Rita had put together… “Oh lord, what fresh hell this?” I wondered as Joaquin’s toys and shoes tumbled to the ground. The dogs’ stainless steel water bowl slipped down, bounced once off the bumper and hit my foot, finally settling underneath the car.

Rita is a good planner. She can schedule the shit out of anything. She cannot pack. Sleeping-bags were loosely bundled, held down by the weight of IKEA bags overflowing with odd admixtures of their clothing and cooking supplies. I didn’t even look inside the coolers. I realized instantly that this was my fault though. Packing all this would have been my job. I’d gotten off work late. Worse, I should have prepared all this earlier in the week like I had said I would. At some point, while waiting for the laundry cycle, I passed out on the couch. After shifting my clothing into the dryer I stumbled upstairs to bed and a couple hours of decent sleep.

We rose early. The drive to Albany for the USCIS exam and interview went well. We were only 15 minutes late. Rita passed with flying colors. The LatinX guy who interviewed her, he was new to the job and treated Rita with sincere warmth, respect. She’d be a US citizen soon. This came as huge relief, given the bizarre obstacles and delays she’d faced in the past two years just trying to get to this point, thanks to Trump. Now we had a real reason to celebrate. “We aren’t out of the woods yet,” she said. “I don’t take the oats until September.”

I was dumbfounded. “Oats? Like oatmeal?”

“No, I when I swear the oats.”

“Oh, the ‘ohhhth,'” I said, drawing out the vowels and hissing the consonant, smirking.

My lovely Rita flipped me the bird as we sped away from the tollbooth onto 87 North. We both fell silent for a while, thinking about the future. Joaquin happily munched on tater-tots I’d gotten him from Dunkin. The dogs watched the landscape slip from stands of broad-leaved Bigtooth Aspen and Red Maple into rolling hills dominated by Eastern Hemlock, White Ash, and Paper Birch.

About sixty miles or so into the trip from Albany to Stillwater Resevoir and Five Ponds Wilderness, we stopped at a Stewart’s to gas-up the car and get me more caffeine. When we piled back into the car to get back on the road the woman in the white SUV with Texas plates, who’d been behind us at the pump, passed us. USCIS was boldly lettered across the side of her SUV. She smiled at Rita, waved, and turned right, exiting the gas station. She was heading back toward Albany.

“Was that a coincidence?” I asked.

Rita looked pale. “I don’t know. We’d just been chatting while you were getting coffee inside.” I reminded her that there’d been that program recently canceled whereby US government agents followed random travelers from airport to airport, just wearing strange clothes or sweating too much. We turned over the possibilities for the next thirty minutes but came to no firm conclusions. “Weird,” she declared finally and we changed the subject.

We arrived late in the afternoon. The air was already starting to thicken with dusk. For our first night, we camped on the south shore of the reservoir, at a campsite that wasn’t on the map. The proprietor of the local general store had told us it was a “secret spot.” Turned out it was a favorite fishing hole for people as far away as Maine and Pennsylvania. Their cars, pulling boat trailers, kept arriving. Kept? Okay, it was only two cars. But still. Rita and I chafed to rent a boat and get as far away from people as we could. We couldn’t help but worry too though. The biting insects were as bad as I’d ever seen. We were bitten head to toe by the time we took shelter in the tent. Our little Kino had it worst. His face had a dozen welts from mosquitoes and flies had savaged the back of his neck. He didn’t scratch the mosquito bites at all, but the fly bites drove him crazy. The dogs weren’t getting away with anything, for all their fur, either. The flies swarmed Steve in particular like he was their idea of a popsicle. Mamba received a few bites on the tup of her nose and ears. No matter how much insect repellent we’d rubbed on or sprayed it’d always been just maybe a ten-minute reprieve if that. Rita and I discussed whether we were up for this. So when we hunkered down for sleep we all did our best not to be too ticked-off at how badly this adventure was starting. And then the downpour began. Followed by thunder and furious flashes of lightning. Rita sat up all night, watching this from the tent’s front screen. Terrified that the dead tree someone had hacked a huge chunk from didn’t crash on us.

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