Monday, September 26, 2011

Going camping

Camping at the DMOTC agility trials last weekend was one of those things that fell into the “You really should have known better but you did it anyway” category.

We’ve had a mild and pleasant September here in Iowa with nighttime lows in the 50s. That is perfect weather for camping. So of course, the weekend I planned to sleep outdoors in a tent, the lows immediately dropped to the low 40s and upper 30s. That is perfectly ridiculous weather for camping in a tent and any sensible person would have recognized that.

But we did it anyway.

The group included me and a couple of other friends who are veterans of camping with dogs. We are the sole remnants of the original band of agility gypsies who used to pitch tents on the shores of Saylorville Lake in late September. The number has dwindled over the years as the agility gypsies have apparently wised up and now all camp at the Motel 6.

The weather was clear and dry and we enjoyed annual camping traditions like building a campfire, getting chased around by the smoke, having a potluck meal, eating more toasted marshmallows than is probably healthy and laughing like loons about a lot of things that normal people probably wouldn’t think was funny at all. Spam. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!!!

See what I mean?

Then it was time for bed. I was nothing if not prepared. I changed into my sleeping attire: sweat pants over long underwear, wool socks, a turtleneck sweater under a sweatshirt and a fleece jacket. I jammed a stocking cap on my head, which let me tell you, made me the poster child for sexy camping chic. The Farmer didn’t know what he was missing by staying home. Or maybe he did.

I crawled onto an air mattress covered with a fleece blanket, pulled another fleece blanket over that, pulled an unzipped sleeping bag on top of everything and then realized - I can’t move. Fleece sticks to fleece like Velcro. It was clear that I’d better get comfortable because changing positions was not something to be undertaken lightly.

Jamie flopped on one side of me. Phoenix flopped on the other side. I looked at him. He looked at me. I asked him if he’d like to sleep under the blankets. He gave me a malinois sneer. Okay, fine. I knew that wouldn’t last. Phoenix is a firm believer in creature comforts.

Ten minutes later, he slithered over me like some weird furry reptile and began burrowing under the sleeping bag. Uh-huh. Thought so. I covered him up and we all settled down for a long winter’s nap. Technically that was the first full day of autumn and I thought it was a little snarky of Mother Nature to throw unseasonal overnight lows at us.

Really, sleeping in a tent when it’s that cold isn’t bad at all. I was warm from tip to toe, Phoenix cuddled close under the blankets and Jamie sprawled in furry splendor atop the sleeping bag. I don’t know how he did it but every time I checked him, he was warm as toast and seemed to defy the elements. This is the dog who pants in January so I wasn’t really surprised.

We had a variety of sounds to keep us entertained: raccoon fights, coyotes howling and people from other campsites who were either fighting, howling or singing. It all sounded the same. The sound of walnuts launching themselves from nearby tree branches woke me up at regular intervals. After a couple hours of that, I thought they had morphed to the size of coconuts or bowling balls. How can something so small be so loud?

The part that sucked was getting up in the morning. First, I had to dislodge the dogs, who like to greet the pending dawn by dancing on my head. Then I had to peel myself out of my fleece-induced Velcro state. Then I had to get off the air mattress, which, predictably, was not quite as fully inflated as it had started out the night before, leaving me lurching around like an unbalanced drunk.

Once I found my shoes and flashlight, got leashes clipped on the dogs and unzipped two tent doors, we stumbled out into the predawn darkness and headed for the shower house.

There I discovered that showering when it’s 42 degrees is highly over-rated. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the water had been A) warm B) ran in a consistent stream and C) warm. We were camping in a conservation area and they take their conservation seriously in Polk County.

The showers are those annoying timed affairs where you push a button and the water runs for a minute or so, then it stops and you have to push the button again. I am sure this discourages lengthy water-wasting showers. This is all fine and good except the button in my shower stall shut off after about 6 seconds (yes, I timed it), leaving me to lather, rinse and repeat with one hand while continually smacking the button with the desperation of drug addicted rat in a lab experiment.

That was truly one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life and the fact that it was self-induced doesn’t change it any. Trust me, I did not repeat the experience Sunday morning and settled for washing my hair in the sink. I may be crazy but I’m not stupid. If anyone got close enough to tell I hadn't showered that morning, they were going to have bigger problems than any lingering eau de dirt horse arena.

The second night, I amped up the human snugness factor by zipping up the sleeping bag and sleeping inside it, with the blanket over the top. The combination of fleece jacket vs flannel-lined sleeping bag was no better than fleece jacket vs. fleece blanket and any bodily motion met with great resistance.

Phoenix wasted no time curling up under the blanket. Jamie was delighted to discover he could now re-arrange the blanket as he saw fit. Which meant wadding it up in a ball and flinging it as far away from him as he could get it. Phoenix and I both took a dim view of this. By morning, the Skinny Little Dog had managed to scratch open the sleeping bag and maneuver himself inside it. He didn't really fit but it didn't matter since I couldn't move anyway. The blanket was covering a lot of him and a little of me and Jamie was the only one who looked happy.

We’re done camping for the year. I have lots of happy memories of pleasant evenings with friends, perfectly toasted marshmallows, mesmerizing campfires, snuggly dogs and near hypothermia experiences. Who knows what next year will bring.


  1. "lather, rinse and repeat with one hand while continually smacking the button with the desperation of drug addicted rat in a lab experiment."

    LMAO - that is exactly how I felt! I think my shower cycle lasted about ten seconds. The secret to a successful shower for me was to let Carrie get her's all warmed up before I started mine next door. Here's to next year!!! :-)

  2. LOL! Funniest post ever! It was like being there, but even better.....

  3. Stupid question, but wouldn't anyone at the Motel 6 let you use their shower? Just a thought. I am no camper - not now, not ever, although I bet my two dogs in a small tent could warm up an army! I so miss AKC agility - how did the trial go? Where are the films? Hopefully I will be there next year.

  4. Oh wow. I was just talking to my friend about camping with dogs (the friend who went up for lessons with me) but this is something else to consider! Not to sound dirty, but I probably would've just gone to the trial dirty and not showered. I have a very hard time getting warm and those showers would've just ruined me!

  5. I camped once with these gypsies. Let's just say it was an experience that I will remember on several levels. Lots of fun, lots of food and laughing. And yes - the cold shower - I will NEVER FORGET IT!!!! And Tammy's scream. Not nice Tammy!

  6. I laughed so hard my husband started getting really worried.

  7. I'm with Kathy. Invite one of those Motel 6 folk over for an evening s'more in exchange for a warm shower!!