Category Archives: Camping

Ode to an Air Mattress

An air mattress is very convenient.  Something I know didn’t exist when I was a kid like it does today.  Nowadays you can find them in about every shape and size and for every possible need known to man.  We own quite a few between camping, traveling and having company stay at the house.  We even have two twin-sized air mattresses that came from the inside of our old Select Comfort air mattress that we had for a very old waterbed frame.  Now that’s the way to sleep on an air mattress!

It’s Labor Day weekend which for us means camping.  We’re at a fantastic campground just north of Richmond, Indiana called Grandpa’s Farm.  Nicely secluded and lots of trees for shade.  We’ve got some very good friends with us on this trip.  They love to camp but currently don’t own a camper, so we put all four kids in a tent (they have two boys and so do we) and us adults stay in our Coleman Niagara pop-up camper.

As you can imagine, pop-up mattresses are not comfortable…..at all.  We’ve slept on an air mattress on top of the pop-up’s mattress since we’ve owned the camper.  The last one we had didn’t last long at all before getting a leak in it.  This led us to trying to get by without one.   (So far, this line of thinking has not panned out very well.).  This other couple–Jason and Patty–have slept on some memory foam on top of the pop-up’s mattress.  But alas, they have had the same result as we’ve been experiencing:  Sore everything.

This particular trip found Patty insisting that they bring their air mattress for them to try on top of the pop-up mattress.  Jason felt it would sit too high, but she still wanted to try it.  And he, being the good husband that he is, respectfully relented his position on the subject and loaded it in their vehicle (all the while committing to keep to himself the words, “I told you so”).

Now, it is important that you know a key fact regarding the bunk-ends on our pop-up.  Ours being a Niagara, it has everything we wanted in a pop-up:  Fridge, toilet, shower, microwave, gas oven and lots of space.  This means that the bunk-ends are both King-size beds with lots of head room at the far end of each bed.  Well, as Jason began inflating the mattress, it looked like it might actually work for them.  But then it kept inflating.  And inflating.  And growing larger and taller.  Thus ensued a conversation or two, first between me and Jason:

“Ummm…..Jason?  I don’t think this is going to work.  You’re going to scrape your nose against the roof of the bunk-end.  That could hurt.”

“Yeah.  Go get Patty.”

“Yessir!”

When I went out to get her, my wife heard about what we were doing and went in to see it.  I could hear her laughing from where I was standing at the campfire.  Then I followed Patty in to where the mattress was and witnessed the next conversation.

(Patty):  “Oh wow.”

(Jason):  “I know.”

(My wife):  “You should get on it.”

At which point Patty did.  At first, though, she posed for a picture:

Then my wife insisted that Jason get up on top of it.  He was initially concerned about the thinner air at higher altitudes, but we assured him he would be fine.  Here’s what we saw:

Needless to say, they didn’t use it and promptly deflated it.  But it sure made for a memorable Labor Day camping weekend!

Popcorn On The Ceiling

“Popcorn on the ceiling.”  A short little phrase that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense by itself.  Except to people who own a pop-up camper.

To these folks, uttering those four words evokes every memory of every time they’ve camped when it has rained.  Fond memories of trying to sleep with the ever-present POP-POP-POP popcorn sound the rain makes on the camper roof (the bunk-ends too) pounding all around.  Glowing memories of family time around the camper table playing card games.  This, of course, involved using sign language and baseball signals since the rain on the camper roof was so loud that no one could hear each other speak.  Throw in a couple arguments from the kids about whose turn it is or the very outspoken opinion from one that the other didn’t do something right, and memory-making opportunities abound.

As true as these things can be, they come with many other memories and events that are truly worth the popcorn on the ceiling.  Especially when experienced with other families.  We are camping this weekend with Rick and his family (yes, the very same Rick you’ve read about in other stories–particularly the one involving Grape-Nuts).  They own a pop-up as well, so the popcorn on the ceiling that we experienced last night was also experienced by them.

This is our first time camping with them.  Something we’ve tried to make happen for a couple of years now.  We met in the middle, so to speak, both families driving upwards of two hours to meet at a campground in northern Indiana.  Sure, it’s inconvenient that it’s raining off and on this weekend, but being with them more than makes up for any whims of the weather.

God is good!  To have a great friendship in high school continue all these many years later is highly unusual in my book.  It is something I never thought would mean as much as it does now.  Friendship is definitely a gift from God to be treasured.

See you soon!

Sitting Around The Campfire

Sitting around the campfire has to be the highlight of any camping experience.   We’re camping this weekend and this time with friends has been no exception.

At the campfire last night, the subject of a certain memory came up.  I shared this memory a couple of years ago, but it seems appropriate to reminisce about it now.  Enjoy!

I would have to say that my fondest memory of camping with our friends took place about three years ago.  We typically camp with three other families.  Although it has nothing to do with a campfire, one of the wives of these families had a rather interesting experience when she went to take a shower at the campground.  (For the sake of everyone involved and to protect the identity of innocent parties, we’ll just call her “Patty”.)

It was around 7:30 in the morning and Patty decided she was going to the shower.  As she approached the building, she couldn’t remember which side of the building the showers were on.  But since she noticed men were going to and from the right side of the building, she headed to the left side, saw a door marked “Showers” and walked right in.  She thought it odd that the undressing/dressing area would be completely open like it was with the showers being off to the side in separate stalls, but didn’t think much of it.  She was the only one in the whole shower room, so she took advantage of it by taking her time undressing, showering, towelling off and getting fresh clothes on for the day.

As she started heading for the door, a man walked in, saw her and they both stopped in their tracks.  She gave him a compassionate, knowing laugh and said, “I think you walked into the wrong shower.”  He, still looking at her like a deer in the headlights, said, “No, I think you walked into the wrong shower.”  She, now feeling a little perturbed at him, said, “Nooo, I think you walked into the wrong shower.”  He then said, as he backed up and checked the shower sign, “Nooo, you definitely walked into the wrong shower.”  And she said, “Nooooo!” in complete shock, embarrassment and amazement as she walked to the door–a door that clearly said “MEN” under the word “SHOWERS”.  She took all that time to do all that she did in there without one man entering that shower room!

God is merciful…

Of Bears And Other Stuff

We’re camping on this Labor Day weekend.  Which is what we were doing up in Michigan’s U.P. during our stay in the backwoods wilderness of that beautiful country.  Which leads me to the black bear story…..

As I said before, we all stayed in tents both times that we went up there.  The cabin sat on a corner lot of sorts, with the lake straight out in front of it and a thirty-foot wide tributary from the lake that passed the cabin on the left and became a smaller lake behind the cabin property.  So our tents were on one side of the cabin and the tributary was on the other.  An old bridge made of railroad ties, as I recall (as was the main dock into the lake), spanned the thirty feet of water and connected the cabin’s mainland with an island on the other side of the tributary.  This bridge was a good five or six feet above the water (as a sharp 25+ year-old memory reveals) with a very old wooden rowboat on the cabin side of the shoreline.

If you recall my mentioning Nate and Jesse (the same Nate who went fishing for some Kelly in a previous story), Jesse was about four or five years old at the time of our first venture up there.  Even though we were told to stay away from it, Jesse somehow miraculously found himself standing in the old rowboat.  Then it started to sink.  And he started to cry….loudly.  His Dad was clear across the other side of the cabin where the tents were when he heard his youngest son cry.  He was a blur of arms and legs as he came sprinting across the property to where his son was in the rowboat (don’t be too concerned–the water was only a couple feet deep where the boat was).  He leapt into the water as he lunged for his son and whisked him right out of the boat.  Once Jesse was deemed safe and unharmed…..well, then the crap hit the fan for why he was even anywhere near the boat to begin with.

That same bridge, it was said to us kids, could possibly hold a black bear or two, which meant that there were possibly black bear in and around the woods that surrounded the cabin.  We didn’t see any, but I’m pretty sure I heard one.  The bathroom was a two-hole latrine about fifty-feet into the woods behind the cabin.  Not much of an issue during the day, but at night that distance became a very significant obstacle.  I remember one night making that very long trek through the fifty feet of trail that was surrounded by trees on either side, armed with nothing but the flashlight in my hand.  The latrine was within sight at twenty feet away, but just as I came within sight of it, I heard significant rustling behind me just off the trail on the right.  I don’t think my feet touched the ground those last twenty feet, and I certainly didn’t have to use the bathroom anymore by the time I found myself safely inside the confines of the latrine.  I have no idea what I heard in those woods just off the trail, but I wasn’t about to go look.  I waited a few minutes and then ran like I was shot out of a cannon those fifty feet back to the camping area where my parents and safety awaited  me.

My fondest memories, though, are God’s nature that surrounded us up there.  We had blueberry bushes all over up there, so one day for lunch, all we had were fresh blueberries in pudgy-pies (with sugar, of course); Todd and I took a canoe ride clear to the other side of the lake where a little nook offered us such solitude that the hushed tones of our conversation sounded like we were shouting; no sounds of civilization in the morning, just loons out on the misty water as the sun came up; and more than anything else, for me the very presence of God Himself to meet me there every day in His beautiful creation that was all around.

Should you get the chance to vacation in Northern Michigan–anywhere from the top of the mitten or higher–you will create for yourself a very memorable experience!

U.P. Memories Continued

So, let’s get to the reason for the title of the last conversation we had….

It’s very important that you know that this lake had bloodsuckers in it (yes, leeches are the same thing, but calling them “bloodsuckers” seems far more appropriate for the disgusting, perverted and selfish behavior they exhibit).  I don’t recall anyone informing me of this vital and necessary information until I was waist-high in the water the morning after we all got there and saw one swim by me at a measly distance of twelve inches . That really took any fun I was having in the water and shot it to oblivion. I hate creepy creatures like that and I found out that they were all over that lake.  If you can picture Calvin (from Calvin & Hobbes) hovering above the surface of the water with his legs and arms flailing so fast that he’s levitating himself, his eyes as big as saucers as he looks down into the water below him at something that has scared him spitless, that’s what I looked like when I saw that vile creature.  I don’t recall getting in the water much after that.

I remember Cindy and a friend of hers being out on the floating dock one day sunning themselves.  The dock was a good seventy-five to one-hundred yards away from the shore and she eventually hollered over the water’s surface that she really wanted her Dad to come out with the canoe and get them so that they didn’t have to get in the water (because, as you can imagine, the water between the shoreline and the floating dock was unquestionably patrolled on a regular basis by fleets of these life-sucking creatures trolling to and fro, just waiting to engage a helpless victim and drag them to the dark depths of the lake where they could feed at their leisure).  This memory sticks indelibly in my head, because we watched in amazement as he left the shoreline in the canoe by himself and paddled by himself straight as an arrow to the floating dock to rescue his daughter from the evil clutches of those vehement blood-sucking bloodsuckers.  Do you know how hard that is to do?  But he did it perfectly.  We were all amazed and impressed.

One up-side to this cabin was the sauna that it had.  The evenings  in Northern Michigan are typically cool, so we would sit in the sauna and get as hot and sweaty as possible, then run into the darkness from the sauna to the lake as fast as possible and jump in.  Except for me.  I would go to the water’s edge and quickly fling some water on myself to cool off.  If I couldn’t see what was potentially lurking in the water for me, I wasn’t about to give it a free meal. (Jeff and Todd, however, did this repeatedly, which makes me wonder what kind of immunity they had somehow built up in order to withstand the vicious, blood-sucking attacks they must surely have been enduring every time they dove into that dark water.  Absolutely amazing.)

Join me again and we’ll talk about black bears…..

Bloodsuckers And Other Such Memories

Remember that group of family friends my brother and I had growing up that I mentioned a while back?  (If not, go to “The Tire Bulge”, “Ring Around The Rosy” and “The Bus RV” to get brushed up on them.)  One set of Cindy’s grandparents had a cabin on a lake way up in the heart of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, about a half hour south of Lake Superior.  This cabin was so remote that it had no electricity, an outhouse for a bathroom and an old-fashioned water pump to get water into the kitchen sink.  My family went up there twice during my childhood, both of those times producing some very interesting memories.  Shall I recount a few for you?  Yes, let’s!

Our first trip up there occurred at somewhere around the age of twelve for me.  We went up for close to two weeks and joined Cindy’s family, Jeff’s family and a couple other families that we all did things with from time to time: one of those families had a son named Todd and the other had two sons named Nate and Jesse.  I remember that we no sooner got up there and Nate and Kelly (Jeff’s younger sister) wanted to fish off the dock while the parents all set up the tents.  (Mind you, this is towards the evening hours after everyone has spent a good six to eight hours on the road to get there.)  It didn’t take long for someone to get hurt and that, in Kelly’s mind, is probably an understatement.  We all suddenly heard screaming from the dock and as we all came running, we saw that Nate, who had been casting his fishing line from the end of the dock, had successfully hooked and landed Kelly.  Or at least her cheek.  Gave it a good yank, too, because as it turns out, she got too close to him as he back-casted his fishing line and drove his fishing hook right into her cheek as he brought the line overhead.  So now the adults had to figure in an unplanned trip to the local emergency room, which for that part of the U.P., was not conveniently located just around the corner.  Needless to say, after that incident not more than one kid was allowed on the dock at any one time when any fishing was going on for the rest of the trip.  And I doubt very much that Kelly went anywhere near Nate and a fishing pole.

Stick around and I’ll share some more next time!

The Coffee Snob Returns

Do you remember me mentioning a while back that I have a “Coffee Snob” in my life?  If you don’t, I’ll gladly remind you right now that it’s my brother.  No worries…he wears that title with pride.

As you already know, I and my family are vacationing at a campground just outside of Mackinaw City in Northern Michigan.  It’s been absolutely beautiful having Lake Huron just down the way from us with an incredible view of the Mackinac Bridge which connects the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan.  As you can imagine, nothing is more relaxing on a vacation like this than going down by the water’s edge with your chair and your coffee and watching the morning unfold before you!

Well, we met my brother at the half-way point (he lives close by) to take delivery of a bag of freshly roasted coffee beans.  (He has a friend of his that roasts his own and does a fantastic job with it!)  We had originally thought that we would bring a coffee grinder and have this coffee every morning, but at the last minute decided that we would use up the year-old coffee that we already had in the camper and save this new bag for home.  Nice idea at the time, but in hindsight, it was regrettable to say the least.

Then the Coffee Snob found out about it.

My being a “coffee simpleton” in his exotic coffee-press / pour-over / get-your-secret-beans world, I have now been accused of letting perfectly good coffee age and lose some of the nuances of its flavor (being freshly roasted and all; really, it’s not even an accusation–that’s what freshly roasted coffee does when it has no preservatives in it).  And what makes it worse is the fact that we are meeting up with him on the way back down to get another bag of a different kind of freshly roasted bean.  So we very easily could have gone through this first bag and thoroughly enjoyed our morning coffee instead of drinking in what is apparently known in coffee snob circles as “compost” and “swill”.  I threw a scripture at him about knowing the good I ought to do and yet not doing it; he threw one right back at me, something about “woe to those who call evil good and good evil, that put darkness for light and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (that last part being communicated to me in all caps; I detect a subtle message in there, but it’s kind of faint).

So we totally missed exceptional coffee by the water’s edge while we got away from it all.  And, instead, we drank year-old coffee (already ground) and didn’t even finish it up.  Say, I think I just got an idea for a Christmas present for him….

Big Appetite

Well, I promised I’d give a “live” report from our Northern Michigan destination of Mill Creek campground.  It needs to be quick because of WIFI limitations, so this will be a quick read.

A few years ago, a new restaurant opened up in Mackinaw City, and today was the first time any of us ate there.  Decent food, but it was more for the idea of what the restaurant itself represents than it was for how good the food was.  What kind of food are we talking about? Take a look at our boys in these pictures to get that answer, and I’ll catch up with you next time with an intriguing report of life up here in the “North Country”!

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Heading North

My family and I are heading for the high country next weekend (also known as Northern Michigan).  We will be hauling our pop-up camper on this vacation trip to “God’s country”.  Of course, just mentioning our camper brings to mind some other camping stories that you really should catch up on (just type “camping” in the Search box and you’ll find them).

Those memories aside, this trip will be really unique.  We’ll be camping at a campground just outside of Mackinaw City–where the Mackinac Bridge is–on the Lake Huron side of the Straits with our campsite being in the midst of some trees right on the shoreline!  (To catch up on the importance of this, read my other entries about Mackinaw City–especially regarding fireworks!)

This kind of a trip also reminds me of the many trips my family would make to our family cabin up that way (again, great stories to read if you type “Paradise Lake”, “Carp Lake” or “cabin” in the Search box).  That’s really where it all started for me, and it helps to explain why Northern Michigan plays such an important role in my life.

So read up on some of these, my friend, and join me next time as I report “live” from the beautiful Straits area of Mackinac in Northern Michigan!

The Bus RV

Cindy’s Dad had an interesting idea one time that we all got to enjoy the benefit of for quite a few years.  (When this guy thought of an idea to get something done, you usually paid attention to it.  This is the same guy who helped my Dad equip the back of our van with that bench and table that turned into a bed.)  For a number of years, he was the township supervisor for Bath (the town that I have mentioned in earlier stories where I grew up).  It may have been during this period of time, but regardless, he got the news that a school district was getting rid of a school bus that was in decent condition.  His idea?  To have a number of families go in together on the purchase of this bus and make it into an RV of sorts that all of those families could use whenever they wanted to.  I have no idea how many families went in on it, but ours was one of them (I believe quite a few others from my parents’ Euchre Club that they were a part of went in on this bus-turned-RV as well).  Thus began an interesting process to watch this RV take shape…..

It was somewhere around my sophomore/junior year of high school when this project began.  It took at least most of the summer that year to do it, but I remember quite a few trips over to Cindy’s house to help work on this thing.  I remember being old enough to actually do the help of an adult, but only two things stand out in my mind about that phase of the project:  tearing out the green bus seats (which I totally enjoyed doing–there’s something about knowing I sat in seats like that as an obedient little kid that made me want to take all my aggression out on them as a teenager) and painting over the yellow color on the outside of the bus (again, pent-up aggression that probably came from waiting at the bus stop and seeing that yellow-colored beast coming down the road towards me to take me someplace that I didn’t want to go to be with a bunch of kids I didn’t want to be with….wait, this sounds too much like Calvin & Hobbes).

So when it was all finally finished, it really was a sharp-looking RV!  Some of the seats towards the front of the bus had been reupholstered and repositioned for bench seating at tables (like back-to-back restaurant booths) with the capability of the tables being lowered to the benches to become beds for sleeping.  I’m fairly certain that there was a small kitchenette of some sort towards the back, with storage for luggage, camping gear and food stuff on the opposite side of the kitchenette.  I don’t remember it having a toilet, so as much as us teenagers would have liked to give it a nickname like “The Rolling Turd”, it just wasn’t meant to be.

Quite a few of these families that went in on the bus-turned-RV were all part of an annual trip to a fantastic German/Austrian-based town called Frankenmuth in Michigan, which they did every first weekend of December.  They took the newly-constructed RV every year for that trip, and I remember joining them in the RV for the first time my first Christmas out of high school (and I seem to remember that that may have even been the last time the RV was taken for that trip).

My last memory of that RV is when our family went with Cindy’s family in the RV down to Cedar Point in Ohio and stayed in the campground that’s right there on the funpark grounds.  It makes a world of difference staying there on the grounds vs. a hotel somewhere close by!  You can stay in the park right up to closing time and not have to drive anywhere–just walk back to your campsite.  Then you can get up in the morning and enjoy some breakfast and still have time to be one of the first through the gates when they open.  If you get an opportunity to do something like that, take advantage of it!

Funny thing about that trip, though, is the fact that my Dad never got on any rides.  He never did like that kind of thing.  I can remember plenty of times at the county fairs where he just walked around and watched us kids have all the fun.  I believe he did the same thing at Cedar Point.  In fact, he may have just stayed back at the campsite and took it upon himself to be the official fire-stoker.  Of course, Cindy’s Dad would have gladly joined him in shouldering that responsibility and probably did.

That’s a good memory to end the RV with…..