Saturday, May 26, 2007

Camp Fabulous

So! When I turned 40 last October, I asked all the party guests to bring me gift certificates to places where I could buy camping supplies. I figured that like cocaine and alcohol, camping could be addictive. But unlike those two, once you buy the stuff the first time, it's a pretty cheap addiction. Surprisingly, I have enough friends who follow instructions that I ended up with like $1000 worth of camping dollars. Two tents, one tent return, two sleeping bags, one stove, one spectacular steel-belted cooler and eight bajillion little crazy specific camping items later (egg holders, anyone?), I was ready and waiting for the Schedule-X-Weather window to open wide. As luck would have it, it was over Memorial Day weekend and I just couldn't bring myself to go camping with the hoi polloi over the Camping Cliche Weekend of the year. But! A friend suggested going from Thursday through Saturday and since I lead a life of leisure and can take off on weekdays, I thought this an inspired solution. The die was cast! Or the cast was dyed! Whatever that phrase is.

The decision was made to go to Frozen Head State Park, conveniently located in between Brushy Mountain State Prison and the Oak Ridge nuclear reactors. Sleep tight! It's a gorgeous park, just out of the way enough that the only people you run into are, uh, well, prisoners and cancer victims. Either way, they just want release.

The trip from Nashville to Wartburg (yes, WARTburg) on Thursday was done just past the crack of dawn and my friend Jeremy had sheet marks all over his face for a good five hours. Some people are Morning People. Jeremy is not one of them. He's more like a 3 o'clock Person. But! He paid for a breakfast burrito at Sonic so he's a friend of mine!

We arrived at the park and selected our site after dealing with a woman who spoke so s-l-o-w-l-y that I actually thought at one point she was talking backwards, just a midget and a red velvet curtain short of "Twin Peaks." We selected Site #3. This park had tent pads, which are hard to hammer the stakes into, especially if you forgot to bring a hammer. I'm just saying. However, there were all sorts of fossilized relics lying around, just pick one of those up. Indian arrowheads? Tiny hammers! Bang away.

Once I passive-aggressively bossed Jeremy around into setting up his own tent and most of the rest of the campsite while I sipped wine from a coffee cup, we settled in for Gourmet Camping Meal #1: food on a board (©KT). Cheeses, sausages, bready-type things. Perfect for a hike afterward. We hiked up to Debord Falls, which was already almost dry and then further to Emory Gap Falls, which was completely dry. Save us, Al Gore! Both were pretty but anyone who comes to Frozen Head like in a week will be sorely disappointed unless Katrina-style rains hit.

We saw Great White Trillium and Solomon's Seal and remnants of lady-slipper and that fairy-something, the ones the fairies are supposed to live under. Lady's mantle? No, that's not it. Something like that. I had a little shovel with me, since I was perfectly prepared to commit botanically felonius crime - they have Indian pipe at this park, people! - but I never did find anything worth stealing. I even had a cooler designated for plant-stealing! But it came home empty unless you count that Fresca can I put in it.

We hiked back down Bird Mountain (which honestly felt like an incline more than a mountain) and started prepping Gourmet Camping Meal #2: Salmon with Curried Cous Cous and Cucumber Yogurt Salad. Look, just because I'm living outside doesn't mean I have to eat like a savage! Fresh ground pepper is not too much to ask! Jeremy was in charge of cooking and he did a great job, folding everything up into packets of foil. All weekend long, packets of foil. Foil, foil, foil. Lots of foil. Now here's where things get fuzzy. Alcohol is prohibited in Tennesse State Parks, but we approached this policy with more like a, hmmmm, Don't Ask, Don't Tell attitude. Three bottles of chardonnay later, the lantern was crooked, there was a strange pinecone in my tent, and I had lost three games of Scrabble, even though I played great words like OVARIAN and was only one letter short of being able to play BLOWJOB. I staggered to my bedroom thingie, whassat called? - tent, I guess and passed out with my COFFEE cup in my hand. It was COFFEE, Ranger. I SWEAR.

Fresh as a daisy on Friday, we hopped out of our tents and Jeremy made Goumet Camping Meal #3, a polenta, sausage and egg scramble. MMMMMMM, I would eat this every day. If someone else would make it. You can also see in this photo that I was clearly the winner of Best Tablecloth in the campground competition....

Then we hopped onto the bunny trail, and did a five-mile round trip sort of deal, with streams and wildflowers and ridges and hemlocks and trilliums and all that. The surprising thing about Nature is that it's sort of the same plot over and over. Then: lunch! Gourmet Camping Meal #4, giant sandwiches with tapenade and fancy stuff, and ham and turkey. Like GIANT sandwiches. That is a jar of pickled green beans in the background. FANTASTIC. Then: naps! Oh it's my favorite part about camping so far, the naps.

After lunch, we had new campers next to us, an optician with tattoos and his wife and a young kid. The young kid latched onto us and kept coming over and socializing and to make a long story short, he was hugging us and saying "are you my best friend?" like within eight seconds and before you knew it, his parents were giving him this whole lecture about how he should be less friendly because we could be murderers and he could end up dead (we could hear this whole speech) and then the rest of the night you could see him staring out the tent windows while we sharpened the knives. We should have been more bloodthirsty in appearance, but I was wearing plaid shorts and there's a limit to bloodthirstiness when you're clad in Madras, I think. The parents were right to give the speech, but I hated being portrayed as a villain. He was a nice kid. I hate that that's what the world is like, that you can't be nice to a kid. I mean, I helped him find roly-polys under a rock. But I'm the Campground Murderer. So you watch for me, because I might as well live up to the label.

So then more wine! Ssssshhhhhh! Don't tell! Then Gourmet Camping Meal #5: pork skewers with fennel and onion packets (more foil!). This was great; I'd make it at home.

Then off to the slideshow at the amphitheater given by Ranger Kevin. Ranger Kevin! So funny to have a 21-year old ranger named Kevin! He was also wall-eyed but very nice; it was his fourth day on the job and you couldn't see the slides because it was still too light and the state park people won't let him work longer hours so he gives the slideshow in the daylight. That seemed so....governmental somehow. But he kind of has a great job, the summer ranger who gets to live in the best spot in the campground in a pretty big RV. We were jealous as we walked past it back to Site #3, where we polished off a box of French pinot noir. Sssshhhhhhhhh!

We were still being eyeballed as Campground Murderers by the five-year-old next door.

Then Saturday morning, we had a rerun of the sausage and egg thing, but instead of polenta, we used leftover fennel and potatoes. Best Food Ever. I'm serious. Then we packed up and drove back and all the way back, I was planning my next camping trip. The whole thing was great fun: the air, the stars, the muffled sound of campground laughter, the occasional deep pop of a campfire, the faint scent of a faraway skunk.

I can't wait to do it all again.


SP Rankin said...

I want that tablecloth. And those fancy eggs.

nbm said...

couldn't you have tortured a squirrel a little bit, just to validate your reputation? anyway, sounds great and I'm definitely having you cater my next camping trip.

Margaret said...

So glad that I'll have Jeremy for anti-morning person reinforcement when I am in Nashville.

Debi said...

That's my kind of camping.

Katie said...

Oh my gosh! you are truly a camper. Somehow I thought camping was a figment of your imagination. However, now that I knwo about sharpening the knives, I understand.

It sounds fantastic.

Susan said...

dg strong has a blog?!? Unbelievable!

Great camping post. Wonderful tablecloth. And I would love the recipe for the polenta and eggs thing. Do you have to cook the polenta first, or does it cook with the eggs? Inquiring minds must know.

dweiner said...

Wow, dg. That's so good it makes me want to go camping. And I'm Jewish.

Lisa said...

I still want to know why it's called Frozen Head. And if that's where Ted Williams is.

Kaethe said...

You almost talked me into camping.