Camping, Great Or Otherwise
The first summer I began camping wholeheartedly, I didn’t always have the best results. The rain, or just my inexperience, left me sleeping in my SUV as often as I slept in my tent (see Our Last Inanimate Night Together from January 2021). When summer ended and I began the long haul back to Florida from Wyoming, my overfilled vehicle mandated that I tent camp. I departed the Big Horn Mountains and travelled north to Great Falls, Montana, to awash myself in yet another Corps of Discovery outing. In addition to the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center, one of the finest among many similarly named facilities, I wander the walk along the Missouri River and gaze upon dry waterways that once flowed so abundantly, the members of the expedition spent a full month hauling their canoes around the collection of waterfalls – the Great Portage.
In need of a good night’s sleep and only having done a minimal amount of regional research, I am one of the last arrivals at a private, city RV park. Yes, I prefer a less “hopping” location, but I planned to be on the road at a reasonable hour to see the real highlight of Great Falls: the Great Falls. The corner of the site at its entrance, just across the road from the Sun River, avoids the larger fifth-wheel trailers and a healthy collection of tents fills the grassy lot. Even closer than the RVs, just outside the park entrance, a local watering hole, light on the water and heavy on other adult beverages, beckons to those who aren’t tent camping for the thrilling adventure of reliving the portage, great or otherwise.
Sleeping soundly in a tent requires, ironically, a dearth of sounds in the vicinity. My favorite campsites are the ones I have completely to myself, rather than the ones where the entire campground hears the dinner bell from the neighboring campsites (see Sand, Water, Snow, Deer, And The Last Blueberry Muffin from January 2019). I also spend the last hour when I should be nodding off listening to the sounds around me hoping to hear an owl hoot or a cacophony of frogs and crickets when I ought to be sleeping. I find myself almost giddy to be in a new place, under the stars, fortunate enough to enjoy the journey of travel. I’ve left jobs to prioritize this opportunity.
But not this opportunity: I awake in the early hours of the morning, with the temperatures hovering in the mid-thirties, happy that I am warm enough and dry enough. My neighbors, unfortunately, are quite saturated themselves. In addition to stumbling back from the bar, they are also stumbling to get inside their tent. In their drunken awkwardness, their dog, decides oh-dark-thirty is the ideal time to cruise the tent acreage. Likely everyone tries and fails to ignore the mayhem. I know. I am one of them. Beckoning a dog cannot be done both quietly and effectively, much less when boisterously inebriated. I have enormous respect for anyone who could possibly sleep through the effort to corral Elvis, and his drunken owners, back into their tent. I don’t manage to fall back to sleep easily or awake early and well rested to see the sun cast its first rays onto what Meriwether Lewis described as the “…the grandest sight I ever beheld…”. I couldn’t even get up and going before the rabble-rousers. On the upside, Elvis has left the campground.