Wednesday, February 4, 2015
During the long winter months in Maine, one of the things that keeps my spirits up is the thought of tent camping, one of my favorite warm weather pastimes. It’s a fun and relatively affordable way to experience different parts of this beautiful state, and every summer I do it whenever I can, which is never often enough. Maine is fortunate to have a terrific state park system, many of which are open to camping. There is also no shortage of private campgrounds in every corner of Maine. In my experience, they vary widely in quality, but when you find a good one, and there are many, you’ve usually discovered a real gem.
Not every day of camping is wonderful though. There was one day last summer at a state park campground in southern Maine that stands out as being the very definition of the opposite of wonderful.
It was getaway day, the day when you have to pack everything up into the car and make the long drive back home. That, in and of itself, is a bummer, but when there is a steady rain on the morning of getaway day, it’s even worse. Everything that is not already drenched will soon be during the process of tearing down and packing up. Pine needles, dead leaves, and dirt stick to everything, creating a mess of your equipment and your vehicle. Upon returning home it’s necessary to unpack everything and lay it out to dry or else run the risk of mold and mildew forming. Then you have to shake off off the needles, leaves and dirt, and sometimes wipe things down, before repacking your equipment.
This particular rainy day came after I had typically overdone it physically, having hiked up a mountain that was probably a bit over my head ability-wise. Actually, there was no “probably” about it. It WAS over my head, but I didn’t discover that until I had made it to the summit. Once you’ve made it to the top of a mountain, you don’t really have much choice but to go back down again. My feet were blistered and every muscle in my body was screaming that morning after. Being a light sleeper, the rain woke me very early, around 5:00 a.m., so I figured I would get a jump start on the day with a hot shower, in hopes of loosening up my sore body before loading the car. Campground showers are typically pretty quiet at that early hour, so I didn’t expect any waiting. As is my habit, I tossed my wallet and cellphone into my car and locked it, then headed to the shower with my keys, towel, and toiletry bag.
As anticipated, the showers were quiet. There were no other campers there, at least no human ones.
Daddy Longlegs "Pholcus.phalangioides.6905" by email@example.com. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
What there were plenty of, were daddy longlegs, a type of benign spider that is very common in Maine and most other places. You see them all the time when camping, but never in my life had I seen so many in one place at the same time. It was like something from that 1980s movie Arachnophobia. I’m not sure if the daddy longlegs were attracted to the shower building because the lights left on overnight attracted prey for them like mosquitoes, or because they were seeking shelter from the rains outside. Whatever the reason, they were everywhere: in the sink, on the shower curtain, on the walls, and in the shower stalls themselves. While I am not afraid of spiders, I do draw the line at bathing with them, so I spent the next five minutes or so swatting at as many of them as I could with my sandal. Defeating all of them was a hopeless cause, I soon discovered, so once the shower stall itself was mostly clear, I thought it best to move forward with my showering plans. I was decidedly jumpy by that point, with every slight sensation on my skin causing me to slap at it, thinking it might be a daddy longlegs crawling on me.
Warily, I stepped into the shower and began my routine keeping one eye open for daddy longlegs. I was at about peak soap suds time, just about to rinse off, when I heard the sound of my pants, hanging on a hook just outside the stall, fall to the floor with a splat into a small puddle of water that was coming from my shower. To make matter exponentially worse, my car keys were in one of the pockets, and when they fell, the car alarm button activated. The wail of my horn came blaring across the sleeping campground like Hell’s alarm clock.
Things like that happen from time to time in campgrounds, and I have never failed to curse the name of the people who had awakened me with what I perceived at the time as their stupidity. Only now, I was that guy. I bolted out of the shower in full suds mode and rifled through my soaked pants to find my car keys. Once I got hold of them, I immediately pressed the button to turn off the alarm. It didn’t stop. Apparently, I was on the very edge of the alarm’s reception area. Close enough to activate the alarm, but apparently not close enough to deactivate it. I could hear angry shouts coming from outside. In the distance, a baby started to cry.
Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to wrap a towel around myself as I dashed outside the shower building with keys in hand, which got me just close enough to shut off the alarm. The damage was done, however. It was the height of the summer, and the campground was filled to capacity with now-pissed off campers. Thank goodness it was my getaway day, because I was now branded with a scarlet A for the day. Only in this case, the A stood for “alarm”.
I took my time finishing up my shower and getting dressed. Not only did I have the unhappy task of having to pack all my stuff up in the rain to look forward to, but now I would be doing so under the watch of scornful eyes in every direction. It was a long perp walk back to my site, and the rain was coming down harder than ever. Never before or since have I packed my stuff in such haste. I literally tossed everything into the back of the car without caring about folding, packing, or putting away. I was on the road within ten minutes, soaked to the skin. The rain stopped about half an hour later, so I pulled into a grocery store parking lot and proceeded to set about ordering my gear so at least I would be able to see out the back with the rearview mirror again. I spent the entire afternoon after I got home drying things out and setting them in order again.
I’ve since returned to that campground. I went back about a month later, actually. It’s one of my favorite spots in that part of the state, and I figured that the chances of any of the campers who were there that fateful morning still being there and remembering me and my car would be pretty slim. There were important lessons learned though. First of all, be sure your pants are secure before stepping into the shower stall, and second, remember to bring some Raid and a fly swatter with your soap and towel.