Is it possible to have two worst camping trips? This is a rhetorical question. It is possible.
This, Part 1, is the Hot One. Part 2 will be the Cold One, which my loyal readers will eagerly await, no doubt.
The hot one was hot. And sticky. And sweaty. I was living in New Orleans doing my residency, and I was dating a talented painter from the Mississippi coast. For July 4th weekend, he proposed a double date. We and another couple would sail to Horn Island, an uninhabited island off the Mississippi coast, and camp there. He loved that island, and he idolized a painter who had camped alone on the island and had done several series of paintings of it. His dad loaned B his catamaran. We would sail, and camp there, and watch the Fourth of July fireworks over the beaches of the Gulf Coast.
On a beautiful day, we sailed across the bay to the island, replete with camping gear and a good deal of beer. En route, we spotted a pod of dolphins cruising with the boat. They seemed curious. B let me get on the back ladder, which was not locked down. The boat was moving at a good clip, and the ladder pulled out horizontally. I held on to the bottom rung. I felt like Superman, flying. The pod swam closer. I think they were wondering about this land-bound creature, swimming so fast. They swam next to me until we were close to the island. I knew they wouldn’t hurt me. They were more brown than the grey I expected, and some had barnacles on them. Maybe they did think I was a superhero. I was sorry when I had to climb back up. In hindsight, I was “drinking and laddering”. If I had slipped off the ladder, how long would it have been before I was missed? God, as they say, protects drunks, fools, and little children.
We anchored off a shallow spot on Horn Island and waded in with our camping gear. We pitched the tents, and found wood for a fire. In the height of summer, on an island in the Gulf of Mexico, the heat and humidity were oppressive. On the island, there was little wind, and it was stuffy. I didn’t so much notice during daylight, because we were busy chatting, and walking around the dunes, and looking at the pools with crabs in them, and gathering burnable wood. Evening came, and we sat around the fire, which was inconveniently hot, and cooked hot dogs and marshmallows. The big fireworks were set off over the beaches. We had a great view, and beer, and life was good.
Eventually, we found our way to our tents. I tossed, fitfully, and realized after a few hours that there was no way I could sleep – I was miserable. There was a mosquito in the tent. Mosquitoes don’t bite me much, but they love to fly into my ears. NYEEEE NYEEEEE! SWAT! And a miss. SWAT! There is nothing more fun than boxing one’s own ears to smash a mosquito. I wanted to open the tent flap,, but I knew the mosquito wouldn’t fly out, but more would come in. I was hot. I was sticky. I couldn’t stand it. I got up quietly, unzipped the tent flap, crept out, and zipped it back before flights of Valkyrie mosquitoes came in. I walked down the sandy slope to the dark water. I was going to get in. It was SO freaking hot, even at night. The shallows were proverbial bathwater. The bay was as hot and humid as I was. My hope was to splash water, and maybe when I got out, it would evaporate off my skin and cool me.
I was waded in waist deep, and was scooping water over me when B spoke behind me, as close as the mosquito, and much more unexpected. “Watch out for the swimming logs!” At first I didn’t understand.. “Alligators,” B said. “They pass right through here all the time.”
He didn’t seem at all concerned, but my exit from the water was expedient and less than graceful. I was now left with no respite from the heat at all, but at least I had not been a snack for gators. We got a couple beers from the cooler, and some water and ice, and we splashed and drank. It helped so very little. We crawled back into the tent and when I heard the inevitable mosquito, I sucked my head into the sleeping bag like a turtle. Way too hot, but no mosquito. I put my head back out. Still too hot, but still mosquito. Nyeeee… nyeeee… nyeeee
Too early and too late, we got out of our tents and begin packing up all the things. It was a tad too early for beer. Not much, because we did live in New Orleans. Everywhere else, people say, “It’s 5:00 somewhere”, when they want to make excuses for drinking early. In NOLA, we say that it is noon somewhere. The bars there are open all night and all day.
It was much too much work in the sticky heat to pack everything up.
At last we were on the boat, and the breeze over the water helped a lot. We were getting closer, close enough to see the people on the beach, and we were passing a small catamaran race. Suddenly, the little boats were tipping over, one after another, like dominoes. B knew exactly what this meant. He was scrambling, frantic, to get the sail down. A squall line had come up suddenly. If he didn’t get the sails down before it got to us, we were tipping over too, cabin and all. Suddenly there was lightning, and grey sky. He got the sail down in time, and for a moment, we thought we would tip over anyway. We crammed into the cabin and closed the hatch, out of the driving rain and lightning, in case we we tipped over into the waves. We were little comforted by our tiny shelter, knowing that that metal mast went all the way into the boat next to us. The waves were huge and tossed us, slamming us and tipping us almost horizontal. The girl began moaning about how seasick she was. I was thinking how awful it would be to be trapped in a swooping cabin with vomit. I found Benadryl and made her swallow it. That stuff is a miracle drug, useful for nausea, motion sickness in humans, dogs, and cats, and anxiety, and sleep. I made sure to tell her that it was super for nausea, hoping for additional placebo effect. And thank God, she didn’t throw up. The thunder and thrashing water continued much longer.
At last, the swaying slowed, and the thunder got farther away. We ventured one at a time to the deck of the boat, and put the sail back up. Alas, there was now no wind in the wake of the gust front. None. We were in our own small Horse Latitudes. B tried to start the small trolling motor in hopes of getting us home. It wouldn’t start. We were becalmed.
We had a nauseated girl, a clueless guy, me, irate and certainly cursing the universe, and B, who was very concerned that his motor wouldn’t start. No one was happy. Magically, the motor sputtered awake at last. We were able to choke and hiccup our way toward shore, realizing that we might run out of gas, or be overcome by oily gas fumes. At last, we caught some wind. We docked MANY hours after we had expected. Then, we were left with a messy, soggy boat. B firmly explained to us that despite the fact that we were exhausted, queasy, hot, and pissed off, one never leaves a boat unswabbed and messy, no matter what. Our ground-kissing had to wait until everything was dry, clean, and put away. Theoretically, I understood that this was something we had to do. In practice, I was very very pissed at the universe.
We were very quiet on the ride home.