Monday, 18 July 2016

Car Camping: Cypress Hills

Most of the year, I live in extraordinary luxury: heated building, mattress, microwave, hot water. Approximately one weekend out of the year I go backpacking: abject misery combined with spectacular vistas. Last weekend, I tried something in the middle: car camping at Reesor Lake, Cypress Hills.

My cousin invited me out with him and took care of most of the details, going so far as to collect my camping things from my parents' house and the stuff we needed to borrow from my uncle. He bought all the food. He wrote out very clear instructions so that I would know how to get to the campsite. He dealt with finding the spot, setting up the tent, making the fire, and washing the dishes. I was pretty much just decoration all weekend. It's a little surprising that he expressed the desire to spend more time with me again soon. I guess he normally doesn't do enough work as is.

But now, the details. As I said, he gave me extremely clear and simple directions for getting to the campsite. They were so clear I didn't even bother to look up the route on a map. "Turn south on Highway 41," Travis had said, "Then turn left at the sign that says "Reesor Lake". So, I drove east on the Trans-Canada and turned south at Highway 41.

Except it wasn't Highway 41. It was Township Road 120 or something stupid like that, but I didn't realize for sure my error because NORTH of the TransCan, it was Highway 41. So, I drove the full length of the road getting more and more concerned that this looked less and less like forested glory and eventually ended up on private property. Sighing, I looked up my destination on my phone. My phone told me that I had just taken a twenty-minute detour. No where to go but to drive the full twenty-minute stretch a second time.

So I got back onto the Trans-Canada. I drove further east. I turned south on Range Road 41. That was wrong, too. Luckily, it took me only about 12 seconds to figure out this time. The surrounding environment looked suspiciously like children's swing sets and gravel driveways. Sighing, I looked up my destination on my phone. No where to go but back to the highway. This is the point where my phone started talking to me. "In 200 meters, turn right," it told me as I once again pulled onto the highway. "You are on the most direct route." I didn't even know it was set up for GPS navigation, much less how to turn it on, but I appreciated my Android's attempt to bolster my confidence.

So I got back onto the Trans-Canada. I drove further east. I obeyed the commands of my phone. Eventually, after fording a small river in my car, I arrived at Reesor Lake. Travis looked a little relieved. "You made it!" he exclaimed. "You should have been here by now. I was beginning to wonder if I should go out to look for you."

"You underestimated my ability to get lost," I replied.

"Well, let's make a fire," said Travis. So he made a fire and I cheered from the sidelines. It was about 8 o'clock or so, so we snacked for supper. We talked about all the awesome things we were going to do. Then, the skies opened up. About two half-sized drops of water landed on Travis.

Plip.............
....................
.............plip.

"That's it," he said. "Let's sit in the car."

"What?" I exclaimed, "But we just started the fire. It's not raining yet!"

My protests were to no avail. We sat in his car while the sky occasionally spat down on us. We sat there long enough that eventually the light drizzle turned into actual rain, which turned back into a drizzle.

"We'd better take advantage of this storm letting up," Travis remarked. "Let's get into the tent now."

That's what we did. We had time to prepare for bed and get into the tent. Then, the rain picked back up again. So, in summary, on the first day of our camping excursion, I got lost, we sat in the car, and then we went to bed.

It rained all night. I dreamed that we had set up our tent in a flooded cave. Nevertheless, when I woke up in the morning, everything inside the tent was still perfectly dry. It was nice to find that out, given that it was still storming outside. I fell back asleep. Woke up. Still raining. Back to sleep. I did this a few times, then gave up. I pulled out my book and read a chapter. Still raining. After that, Travis stopped pretending to be asleep. We played Whist. Still raining.

"I really have to pee," I said.

"Me, too," said Travis. Unfortunately, it was still coming down like a car wash. "The next time it lets up even a little, we go."

"Agreed," I said.

We sat in the tent until 11:30 a.m. It was still raining when we finally crawled out, but we didn't dare wait any longer. We dashed for the outhouse, went pee, and got dressed.

"Forget this. Let's go shopping in Medicine Hat," said Travis.

"Well, we could cook breakfast," I said.

"In the rain?" he exclaimed.

"There's a cooking shelter over there," I said.

We ate breakfast at about 1:30 p.m. We ate it at Houston Pizza in Medicine Hat. "Ah," sighed Travis with complete satisfaction. "That's better than anything we'd cook up in the rain."

We walked around downtown for a while (where it wasn't raining), picked him up a new car charger for his phone (he had destroyed his other one in a cup of Coca-Cola), looked at some of the local historic sites, and then I got tired. Less than four hours after exiting the tent, I was ready to call it a day. Blame it on the bleak weather.

"I won't blame you if you want to pack up and go home early," said Travis glumly. "There was rain in the forecast, but I didn't expect it to go on and on like this."

We went back to the campsite... and the sun was out! Our energy and enthusiasm was restored! Travis whipped out his paddle board, I jumped on my bike and we headed out for the rest of the afternoon at the lake. One man with an extraordinarily bushy white beard saw Travis almost fall off his paddle board while he brought it in to dock to talk to me.

"Of course, anyone would get excited, coming in to see this young woman, here," the man said.

"Well, actually, she's my cousin," said Travis. "I did come in to see her, though."

"Oh," said that man, "Well... that's.... reason enough..." He left.

"What a strange man," said Travis.

He made me get on the paddle board and told me to paddle across the lake to meet him. He would ride my bike (even though it was a girl's bike). I was concerned that I would fall off the board into the water, lose my glasses in the impact, and be unable to drive home. He replied that I always thought of the worst case scenario. I reminded him that he had underestimated my ability to get things wrong before, like with my navigational skills. He admitted that I had a point, but maintained that it was still extremely unlikely that anything disastrous would happen. After he wheedled me a bit more, I got onto his paddle board and paddled across the lake to meet him on the other side.

When I stepped on shore (perfectly dry), we decided we were hungry, so we went back to the site and he started another fire. As we started preparing the food, he gasped. "I just ruined the weekend," he announced.

"What?" I asked.

"I forgot to pack the salsa," he replied. He sighed. "At least I didn't forget the tent like last time."

We cooked and ate supper. We cooked and stored away burgers for his future consumption. We told alien stories. Then, when it was so dark we could barely see, we pulled out the pie iron. Travis had fond memories of a pie iron pizza my mother had made for him decades ago. I had dim memories of an assembly line procedure that my dad had perfected on some RV trip over half my life ago.

Travis did pretty much everything else on the trip, but the pie iron was my baby. I assembled the first pie, closed the iron, and shoved it into the hot coals. "How long do you think?" asked Travis.

"I don't really know," I admitted. "I seem to remember something like forty seconds."

Travis laughed. "I was thinking more like six minutes."

We argued back and forth about it until Travis said, "Well, it's been in there for about two and half minutes at this point."

I pulled it out of the coals. A steady stream of smoke billowed out from the cracks of the iron. I opened it up. Inside was a perfect, delicious looking charcoal briquette. I offered it to Travis. He didn't want to eat it, so I started prepping attempt number two. I put the bread into the iron and it started sizzling immediately. No doubt, by the time I put it under the coals, it was already cooked. Attempt number two was retrieved, also smoking, from the fire after just one minute. It wasn't clearly a briquette, but not clearly toast and cherry pie filling, either.

"Some of it looks salvageable," said Travis. We scraped some of the filling off the ash. As we were eating, Travis's phone timer went off. "Six minutes," he shrugged. I regretted not having an iron full of ash for him.

I let the iron cool while I prepared round three. By now, we both had a case of the giggles. We were running low on cherry filling. Travis was picking the cherries out individually to try to get the greatest density of fruit possible in the pie, so we really wanted this one to work. We agreed to not even put this one in the coals. We waved it above the fire like a marshmallow stick for about twenty seconds, then checked on it. The butter was almost melted. We held it over the fire for about another twenty, hoping for something magical to happen. We checked on it again. The butter was almost melted.

"I'm putting it back in the coals," I said. Travis agreed. I put it in the coals and counted to thirty. I pulled it out. We had a pie. We split it in half and gloried in the finished product. It actually tasted pretty good. Then we gave each other scores on our marshmallow roasting attempts. I managed to earn a -1 on a scale from 1 to 10.

Eventually it was time for bed. I don't think I've ever slept so well in a tent before. The following morning, Travis cooked us bacon and eggs (not in the rain) and I packed up and got ready to go. I had to leave fairly early because I had a commitment in the afternoon. "You know, we were just straggling out of the tent this time yesterday," I said as we took a farewell selfie.

"I'm glad you didn't leave yesterday," he said.

"Agreed," I replied.

I'm still feeling a bit confused by the lack of commitment required for car camping, as opposed to for backwoods trekking. But I also didn't experience abject misery at any point, despite the deluge. I think that means I liked it.

"Anyone who has spent a few nights in a tent during a storm can tell you: The world doesn't care all that much if you live or die." Anthony Doerr 
Beautiful Cypress Hills

I can paddle board!

Travis being a boss

Farewell selfie