A Night In The Woods

Well this is nice. Nicole decided that we should go camping this weekend so that’s exactly what we did. We’re extremely fortunate in that there’s a state park with overnight camping less than ten miles from downtown.  We got married here, so it also has that going for it as well.

We haven’t been camping together in the six and half years we’ve been a couple and, truth be told, I haven’t been camping in the sense that wouldn’t have a “gl” instead of a “c” in a couple of decades. No reason to let that stop us, though. What does one really need? A site, of course. A tent and some sleeping gear, some fire-safe cooking utensils, some camp chairs if you like, some clothing you don’t mind getting dirty, an ample supply of toilet paper, and you’re set, right?

Well, it turns out that several bags for trash, some additional light sources, maybe a cooler, oh, and a knife you don’t plan on cooking with are all excellent things to bring. We’ll be sure to remember those next time. We did remember to bring some less-than-primitive niceties. Nicole has been streaming Marfa public radio, we have a box fan because it is Texas in the summer. We borrowed a marvelous shady amphitheater thingie because we’re it’s really nice to have. Oh, and I have this laptop, but there’s nothing resembling an internet connection. My phone keeps stubbornly trying, but it isn’t having much luck at anything beyond “draining the battery at an alarming rate.”

It’s quiet out here, so quiet that the crickets seem loud. It’s dark enough that this dimmed screen seems blinding. There’s a raccoon that thinks he’ll sneak a meal when we aren’t being vigilant, but we have encountered raccoons before and we are prepared. You can’t scavenge for firewood here, but we brought some in (and by that I mean “purchased at the rangers’ stand) and we found a little fortune in the form of two large, pristine logs in our fire pit.  On that note, they have a nice setup here that I haven’t seen before: The fire pit adjoins the grill, so that all the fire is in one area and you can have a nice, sit-around-it-and-do-not-drink-beer-because-that-is-forbidden fire and you can shove some of the coals under the grill and cook on that.

Having good recipes for outdoor cooking and I cannot recommend the ones shown on the Almazan Kitchen YouTube channel highly enough. They post their recipes on their web site, but they’re rudimentary in that quantities are often estimated or absent and there are no instructions beyond the wordless videos. That said, I’ve tried three of their dishes now, the filet, the carbonara, and now the hunter’s steak with onion gravy, and they’ve all been successful (except for my attempt to bake my potatoes directly on the goals which went…poorly). Not only are they the most watchable relaxation/cooking videos I’ve ever seen, but I find them both informational and inspirational.

We’re relaxing after dinner now in the little clam shell tent, listening to music, stretching our legs, and enjoying each other’s company. One of the things I most appreciate about Nicole is that, when decides she wants to do it, she just does it. We’ve gone from not even talking about camping to being here in the span of a week. This trait of her is about to become really, really important…soon (cue mysterious musical flourish).

It turns out that we made a critical math error. Tent sizes tend to overestimate their dimensions, and the inverse is true with regard to air mattresses. The net of this is that our tent, which was in theory one foot longer and one foot wider than our air mattress, was neither of these things. Of course, the sides of domed tents are far from vertical, so while the mattress came close to fitting at the base, things got a little ridiculous further up. The tent door would not close.  

We attempted a partial deflation of the air mattress which is a terrible idea and I feel bad for even trying it. That left us with three option: Completely deflate the mattress and sleep close to the ground without padding, pack up and go home, or tough it out. We decided to tough it out and, while it wasn’t exactly what I would call “comfortable,” we got through the night. Sort of. The less said the better.

Pictured: Some kind of hawk

Pictured: Some kind of hawk

We woke up at dawn, as one tends to do when camping and especially when one’s tent isn’t quite up to the task. All of the tent campers started stirring around the same time. The folks in the big RVs might have been up and about, but there would be no way of knowing. I kind of doubt they were as that would defeat the purpose of having an RV. Getting up unusually early was one of the main selling points of this adventure as we wanted to do a little hiking before it got obscenely hot. Goodness knows I can use the exercise.

The trail around the park is about three miles long and they pack a lot of variety in that relatively short distance. We saw more interesting critters than I’d ever seen at the park. In addition to the raccoons (grrr), turtles, and rabbits, we saw a proper crow (as opposed to those annoying grackles), a painted bunting, a couple of cardinals, a hawk of some sort, a ringneck snake, some baby crawfish, and several cool bugs.

Oh, and we saw McKinney Falls.

Not only were we staving when we got back to camp, we were also severely coffee-deprived.It was at this time that Nicole did something amazing: She made coffee and breakfast while I tried to convince my weary bones to do something other than "sit in chair" and failed completely. In anticipation of this trip, she bought a real live, honest-to-God coffee percolator! I know, right? The magic of watching popcorn start to pop is nothing compared to watching the dome of the percolator when the water starts to boil and the liquid starts to darken. A percolator! 

A percolator! Squeeeeeee!

A percolator! Squeeeeeee!

While the coffee was percolating, she lightly fried some toast in the leftover bacon grease from the night before and then finished it on the grill. She then used the grease and the coffee to make red-eye gravy. I have to admit, I don't remember red eye gravy tasting this good, but this was the bomb. Red eye gravy, grilled rye toast, and camp coffee is a great way to start a day and end a trip. 

We took our time with breakfast and with breaking camp and we were still home by noon. We learned a few good lessons we can put to good use for next time, but there was nothing that kept us from having a great time. I turns out we're a pretty good team. What are the odds?