The Big Campout


Growing up poor in The Rockies can provide kids some interesting stories and matching scars. The following story took place during the summer I was fourteen. At that time my mother was a substitute teacher in a large city, but luckily the family still owned an old cabin way up in the mountains on a lake. I credit that cabin and the adventures I had there with saving me from the horrible fate of becoming a complete failure such as becoming a doctor or a lawyer. Every summer my mother would drive my little brother Justin and myself to the lake and we would spend the entire summer vacation in the little cabin with no phone or television. Now days any mother who would do this would probably have her kids taken away by the government for electronics abuse. But these were different times, and my brother’s and my claims to this fact (we could have been pioneers in child welfare circles) would result in us being kicked out the front door and told to not come back before dark.

My mother was not only mistreating us but was certifiably crazy to boot. Three years before for Christmas this same woman gave me a twenty gauge shotgun and shells for it. Children getting guns in their eleventh year wasn’t that uncommon for the time and place, but everybody knows a .22 is the only First Gun. A shotgun is a huge, long, and above all else LOUD gun for any child who barely outweighs it.

This summer my brother was twelve and was at the peak of his embarrassment to me. Luckily he changed somewhere after the point girls became more interesting but before all his hair fell out. Today I don’t even mind admitting we are related, as long as we aren’t in public.

The Bernard’s cabin next to ours was home to two girls and one boy around our age, they also were much abused in the electronics department, and had to spend large chunks of time in the supposedly healthy outdoors. I say supposedly because I don’t recall a single summer one of us kids wasn’t rushed up to Ol’ Doc Larson’s place to have pieces reattached, things removed from our hides or to keep all our juices from leaking out.

All this time outdoors provided a lot of practice for the career of Mountain Man I had chosen for myself. Unfortunately these mountains were prowled by Bears, not to be confused by the small, almost friendly bears we seem to have about now days. These Bears earned their capital “B” by impaling fully grown cattle on their two foot long fangs. Most of the cattle in the area seemed to have evolved an “oil slick” defense to fight these bloodthirsty monsters, which was the only reason any beef was left still roaming around the lake.

The presence of these super-predators meant that all my mountain man skills were honed during the daylight hours generally within a quick dash of either the cabins or the lake. At the time I believed I could out swim these beasts and probably would have been able to as long as I could get up on plane. My trusty twenty gauge that was always with me would only have upset them. I have since developed a small caliber (for those Bears it would be anything less than 50BMG) strategy for dealing with predators. I don’t want to give too much of the secret away but the most important part is to make sure your outdoor companions aren’t family or even good friends, the best are people who are always using phrases like “for the common good”.

The summer of this story I decided it was time to actually get some practice in sleeping in the woods alone. There really aren’t many mountain man opportunities within a day’s walk from a hotel. There were around a dozen islands in this lake the largest being about 100YDs across, I decided that the Big Island was the location that provided precisely what I needed. Firstly I had never seen any of the bears on the islands, secondly on an island any direction of retreat from the bears would eventually lead to the safety of water, I also figured my own adaptation of an oil slick defense would be most effective over a short distance since I had but one stomach.

On the evening of my departure I was informed I would be taking along my little brother, in words that offered no debate. Little kid brothers being what they are he took advantage of this opportunity to brag up to the Bernard kids that he too was going to be camping with me “alone” on the Big Island.

When my grandfather purchased our cabin it came with an old 12 foot fishing boat that was supposedly made of aluminum. That could have been, but only if they melted down an entire B-52 and cast it from that. The little nine horse Mercury outboard that was on it could get it up on plane if the boat held only my brother and me and had about a mile run up to it. The Bernard kids had a boat almost exactly like ours too. Like I said these were different times, and all of us kids could use these boats anytime we wanted, and even used to outboards when we could beg enough money for gas.
When my brother and I started hauling all our mountain man “possibles” down to the dock our mother had the touching words “bring home some damn fish this time” to send us on our way. The Bernard kids had a friend staying with them and the four of them were on their dock next to ours looking suspicious. As we pulled away I yelled to my brother over the din of the outboard “you got the dynamite, right”. I figured if they were up to no good I should raise the stakes above one twenty gauge.

We got camp set up easily, caught a few fish for breakfast and had our fire going nicely when we heard a boat heading up the lake and then fall silent right as it reached the far side of the island. It wasn’t too long till we heard some sniggering a ways off in the bushes and I explained my plan to my little brother. A couple of minutes later there were a lot of suspicious growling noises coming from behind some rocks not too far off. At least the Bernards were smart enough to hide behind something that would stop shotshell pellets. Luckily we had brought all that “dynamite”.

The exchange between my brother and I went like this:

(Me) “Dang Justin, them bears are hiding behind some rocks, lucky for us we brought this dynamite.” [As I pushed the safety off on the shotgun]

(Justin) [Picking up a rock] “Here, I got this one lit, what about right behind that big rock” [As he chucks the rock right where we figured the Bernard kids and their friend were.]

[Sounds of four kids doing that thing Scooby Do always did when he found out Shaggy was really a ghost.]

[I shoot the shotgun in the air]

[All kinds of screaming including “Get the damn boat started” from about 50yds away]

After a nice breakfast of fried trout the next morning I found out that someone else had adapted the cow’s “oil slick” defense technique.

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Published in: on February 12, 2010 at 11:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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