In 1967 my father bought a Pontiac Catalina and a dingy old travel trailer and took his girlfriend, my brother and me on a road trip. Over the next 8 weeks we drove 13,498 miles, visited 51 parks, and saw wonders like geysers, redwoods, grizzlies, and the Summer of Love in San Francisco. The trip made an indelible impression, cementing my appreciation for the natural world and the American landscape. This summer Pamela and I hope to repeat the experience for our family.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dave: I Will Car Camp No More Forever

I have to admit that I am a bit of a misanthrope. Car camping makes me think I may be justified in my opinion of humanity.

The campground at Bridge Bay in Yellowstone was a bit depressing. Mostly clear land with campsites positioned fairly close together. When you settle down in your folding chair to appreciate the wonders of nature, all you see before you is a dozen little family tableaus spread out before you. Kids playing ball. Men setting up fishing gear. Teenage girls tramping by in flip flops. Mothers scolding children. It’s far more humanity than I get at home.

That was strange enough. But, I suppose if you choose your campsites well, you could still have a good car camping experience. However, you’re still at the mercy of your fellow campers. And, scientific analysis shows that out of every 100 people, you’re always bound to get a few assholes.

Unfortunately ours took occupancy of a campsite two doors up. They arrived at 1:30 in the morning and proceeded to set up a tent, with lots of loud conversation about how to erect the structure, clearly without a thought of lowering their voices. At least one of the voices spoke with an Indian accent. I know that accent well after nine years at BladeLogic.

Their volume level was inconsiderate, to be sure. We lost an hour or so of sleep that night. But we got over it.

The next night was even worse. We bedded down around 10, when the quiet hours take effect at Yellowstone. That’s typical for most parks. Soon after we turn our lights out we realize someone nearby is talking, laughing, arguing. I could tell by the Indian accent that it was the same people who had disturbed the entire campsite the night before.

We lay there listening to them for an hour. From their conversation you could tell they were not even thinking about going to bed.

As I grew more and more annoyed I made a calculation. Should I get up, pull on my clothes and go out there and ask them to be quiet. That would get me all riled up, and I wouldn’t get to sleep for another hour at least. Or, should I take the chance that they will shut up on their own.

I kept waiting for someone else to intervene. Where are all the tough guys on motorcycles and pickup trucks? They are all camped nearby. Shouldn’t they be acting like the town marshal? Why should this fall to me, an aging technical writer driving a minivan?

Finally I couldn’t stand it any longer. I pulled on my clothes, grabbed a flashlight and marched over to the Indians. They were taken aback when they saw this dude coming at them, shining a mega-flashlight in their eyes, lecturing them about the quiet hour.

To their credit, they did tone it down to a more muted level.

I do not relish confrontation, and it takes me a long time to calm down from one. Finally, much later I fell asleep.

But wait. It wasn’t over. About 1:30 I awoke to a terrible scream. Lots of shouting. At first I thought, Is it a bear attack? Then I heard the Indian accent. The two guys at the nearby campsite were arguing. One is shouting, “I will fight you!” After a while the two women with them talked them down and they grew quiet. And eventually I went back to sleep. But not before I considered that one of the guys in the campsite, who seemed to be of an indeterminate ethnic background, might be an Arab terrorist doing some kind of deep background assignment by coming to Yellowstone. I also remembered that firearms are now legal in national parks and I was lucky those guys didn’t just pop me when I went over to yell at them.

Fortunately, I’m used to functioning on four hours of sleep. So I was able to enjoy the next day reasonably well until I got a splitting headache at about 8 PM.

All in all, I have to say I deal with enough jerks in my day-to-day life. Why expose yourself to even more by going car camping?

1 comment:

  1. Camp advice, and yes this falls in the friend-of-a friend category.

    Advice #1, not for the weak willed: With noisy and obnoxious neighbors, a friend of our would leave the remains of a cleaned out fish under the offending neighbor's tent. The bears would generally take care of the clean-up work.

    if that's a bit heavy handed, then #2:
    Perhaps a change of camp strategy - The Forest Service generally allows camping on federal land. Usually, there is a little drive off-road required. If there is a fence, look for a gate. The neighbors tend to be native wildlife and not-so-wild cattle. They may be a little nosy, however generally quiet.