This Is Only a Test

Next year's goal, if all goes well...

Next year's goal, if all goes well...

In preparation for next year’s big trip to Alaska, we decided it behooved us to take a test run. One of us loves camping and has done it recently. One of us – ahem – is not so keen on it and hasn’t slept in a tent in 25 years. The trial run would let us see what we equipment might need and, more importantly, give us a feel for each other’s strengths and weaknesses, help us learn a little about our personal styles in less-than-comfy conditions. And it was a good excuse to go up to Wisconsin and check out Taliesin East, one of the sights in the area we wanted to hit before the Big Move.

Boy, we sure did learn a lot.

Planning the visit to Taliesin gave us our first lesson. Right before we left we checked out the website for info on tours: $52 each for two hours! Holy crap. Even the folks on the S.S. Minnow got three hours. But, no, this was good, almost like real trip conditions: you get thrown a curveball because something’s closed or out of your budget or the weather doesn’t cooperate. You learn to improvise, go with the flow; one of my best traits, actually (haha). So, we bag Taliesin; we’ve seen plenty of Frank Lloyd Wright homes before. We went to our backup plan – an attraction nearby called the House on the Rock. Much more in our budget, and we’d still be out in beautiful rural Wisconsin in the fall. And the camping was the heart of this trip anyway, the first test of my – our outdoor mettle.

We pulled into Bob’s Riverside Resort (now under new management) around 5; later than I had hoped, but still plenty of time to set up the tent and get a campfire going. Or so I assumed. Now, I’m no Boy Scout, but I helped start my share of bonfires as preparation for nights of teenaged debauchery centered around partying in the woods; I know the basics. But after a few tries – aided by the helpful locals at the campground bar, who suggested using several old Bud Light cardboard cases as kindling – we were no closer to roasting our veggie dogs over an open fire.

I would not have survived as a hunter-gatherer

I would not have survived as a hunter-gatherer

After a couple of splinters and a lot of cursing, we ate some of our snacks and headed for the bar. The patrons and staff seemed like nice folks, though there was a little too much fried food for us vegans. In general, Wisconsin’s blend of cheese, football, and hunting is a little off-putting, but boy, the beer is cheap! Still, those stores that sell booze and guns? A little scary…

As bedtime came, we thought we were prepared for the fall elements. The night was calm and chilly, but not freezing. We had our layers and gloves and hats, and we softened the stiffness of the ground with an air mattress. “This is kinda comfy,” I thought, as I took one last look at the beautiful array of stars (man, I had not seen the Big Dipper in ages!) and got into my sleeping bag. It only took a little while for the idyll to fade, like the dying flames of our aborted fire.

My feet were fucking freezing! All night. I couldn’t sleep. And as morning came, the friendly boom of hunters plucking off ducks across the river made sure there would be no dawdling at the Burgan campsite. Time to rise and shine!

My feet still semi-frozen, we drove around and found a coffee shop. Finally warmed, I struggled with taking down the tent while Samantha showered. I, of course, did little right. And then it was my turn to clean up, and I realized the 23-year-old who once willingly camped for weeks at a time in Europe, enduring cold showers and squatters, was now a 48-year-old pampered wuss.

None of these at Bob's Riverside, thank god

None of these at Bob's Riverside, thank god

The cinder-block shower was clean enough, except – I don’t really want my bare feet to touch that floor, or my towel, or my clothes, and I don’t want to get dressed, because I need time to dry, but I can’t go back to the tent with just a towel wrapped around my butt: it’s 40 degrees out there, ferchrissakes, and there are all those Packer Cheeseheads lining the path, with their shotguns and contempt for vegans. OK, I’ll touch the floor, I’ll put on my clothes.

By this time, I had had just about enough with camping. We had been here all of 15 hours and I was ready for home. But we still had the tourist part of the trip, the drive to the House on the Rock. We took a quick spin by Taliesin, enough to see one building there FLW designed, then moved on.

The one part of Taliesin we did see

The one part of Taliesin we did see

It was not as cool as this might look...

It was not as cool as this might look...

The HOTR, I soon learned, is “the 8th wonder of the world!” Of course the sign that trumpeted that fact didn’t say who made the claim. I assume it was the builder, a guy who obviously had way too much money and time on his hands. Samantha wasn’t sure if everything there was whimsical, or something more cloying. I went with kitschy. The only highlight: some lamps that looked like Tiffanys, though they might have been fake.

He wasn't too thrilled with HOTR either

He wasn't too thrilled with HOTR either

We drove home pretty silently. It was apparent that I had failed this test. We would somehow have to rethink our strategy for the Alaska trip. I barely survived one night of camping; how would I make it for two months? Maybe we could buy a used RV…or make the trip a little shorter and stay in motels…or – I don’t know. I was starting to fear that this was another of those better-in-theory-than-practice situations, like the Residents show. But we’ll find a way to make it work, I know it. Or else on a frosty Alaska morning, a park ranger will find some babbling, effete camper wandering dazed from the cinder-block shower stall with a towel wrapped around his butt.

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~ by mburgan on October 20, 2008.

3 Responses to “This Is Only a Test”

  1. you know its really not that bad. Flip flops take care of the feet, put the little sticks in a teepee form and start them kindling…I can make awesome cakes in a dutch oven with some charcoal…oh and you must wear socks to bed, not those normal socks mind you those thick gray things you can get at Cabelas. you can do this!!!

  2. i saw you wanted to include links…try copying the url then right click and paste 🙂

  3. I had flip flops, but you gotta take them off to put your pants on…and yes I know about the kindling. Someone else also told me about the need for heavier socks.

    Not sure about the links thing–I do have links…

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