Of all the questions I’d collected in advance in my mind, I found myself going off the cuff more often than I expected. At least he began to talk some, even if we also experienced long stretches without speaking. The scenery leant to the quiet, and every once in awhile I caught him singing softly along with the radio. I’d sometimes glance out the window as if looking at the passing landscape, but instead closed my eyes and listened to his low voice.
“Do you always start your camping trips on Friday?” Having always camped overnight, and for just one night, I wondered what difference the extra hours would make, especially since the sky began to darken despite our not having reached our camp.
“I always drive up on Friday. I wouldn’t wear my camping clothes around town all day for no reason.” Suddenly the red shirt made absolute sense. He always stopped in the office on his way to the mountains.
“So you’re starting out later than usual tonight?”
“Yes.” I felt like I ought to apologize, but he invited me.
“Do you have a routine you like to follow when we get to the campsite?” I wanted to be helpful and all indications so far was that he put more thought into his excursions than he did in my invitation.
“Yes. Tent first, then the campfire, then latrines. Then normally dinner and clean up, which includes putting all food items in the cab.” Bear safety. I liked that, although it cracked me up that he included bathroom breaks in his routine.
I wondered about stargazing. It’s one of the things I enjoyed most when I started camping, although in the summer, it doesn’t happen until late since the sky stays light so long. I wondered if he even appreciated common dark-sky camping experiences, or if he went to sleep shortly after sunset. At least he told me enough about our pending arrival that I could be helpful. The rest I would wing.
When we finally parked, the clock in the truck showed nearly nine o’clock. We’d driven past two campgrounds during the nearly full hour on this gravel and then dirt road. The isolated site he picked, while lovely, as best I could see in the fading light, offered no surrounding facilities or neighboring campers, and more importantly, no restrooms. A pressing urgency wasn’t imminent, but I surmised this experience would be more rustic than I originally expected. Sleeping without my air mattress didn’t even touch what this outing might be like.
He started removing the net from all sides of the truck and neatly tucked it in the one empty corner of the truck bed. He reached into the blur of gear and amazingly pulled out a lantern, which illuminated the area, especially when he placed it on top of the cab. I assumed I would start with my tent, but I didn’t know where to set it up, so I hoped for him to select a site for his tent and I would simply put mine next to it. I didn’t see a fire ring so that wouldn’t be done until after the tents were erected, but it also eliminated an easy clue as to where the tents would be placed. I began to feel useless and just like a dumb city girl lost in the woods.
“Since it’s already getting dark, why don’t you go ahead and take the lantern and dig your latrine behind those trees over there?” He pointed up a low hill on the far side of the truck.
Excuse me? Dig my own latrine? Oh my. I really was a dumb girl lost in the woods.
Thinking plausibly and practically, I knew a few small bits of information after my first few weeks with the forest service: waste facilities, or in this case, my hole in the ground, were required to be more than one hundred yards from a water source. I couldn’t see the water source in this darkness, although I could hear it. I wondered where it was, and then I wondered what I might take with me: shovel, lantern, but what else?
Oh my gosh! The roll of toilet paper! I love me! What a brilliant decision to throw that in my bag. I navigated to the opposite side of the truck, pulled out my backpack, then returned to the cab and transferred my roll of saving grace into my backpack. I might have even kissed the roll if I knew with certainty he wasn’t looking. And then the city girl in me realized I am digging a hole in the woods in which to poop. Of all the ideas that passed through my head over the past twenty-four hours, this was never one of them.
I tried a practical approach to this new realization. “I can’t tell where the creek is, so are those trees an adequate distance away?”
“Yes.” He reached up and grabbed the lantern for me. He then turned on the truck headlights to illuminate the area that would eventually become our campsite.
Okay, here I go then, I thought to myself, and wandered off into the woods. I should have sprayed myself for mosquitoes before I left.