It was a comment on one of my blog posts that made me want to check out Paradise Creek. We tend to camp at the same places over and over again, and I wanted to expand our horizons a bit.
Like most campgrounds, all the reservable sites filled up for the summer weekends. But Paradise Creek has some dedicated first-come, first-serve sites. So we decided to take a chance and go up Thursday afternoon, in hopes we’d snag a site before the weekend crowds arrived. It was a bit daring, but we like to live with a little uncertainty and danger in our lives. We’re sexy like that.
We loaded up our new little popup camper and hitched it to the car. I have no experience towing a trailer, but I’m also not a dummy. Our car has no issues pulling the weight, but I could feel little tugs and jostling from the camper as it rolled behind us. I took it slow, I let people pass me, and I didn’t drive like a asshole. All my favorite people were in the car with me.
It was a pleasant hour and a half drive along route 14 in Washington on the northern side of The Gorge, then to Carson, then 20 miles up into the woods. We got to the campground and half of the sites were empty and available. All of the sites along the creek were taken, but we found a lovely site with no neighbors.
Whee! Look how cute! You are not allowed to make fun of how we set up the awning. It was our first time setting it up and we fiddled with it as much as we were going to fiddle, and then called it good.
One of the wonderful things we were looking forward to was being able to have all our gear packed in the camper ready to go. We don’t have to load up the trunk with sleeping bags and cooking supplies and camp chairs and everything else that usually clutters in our closets. Now we have a dedicated place for all that stuff to live. Now we just have to pack all the fricken baby gear into the car and after three or four
weeks days hours of prep, we can hit the road. It’s AMAZING how much crap we can fit into the trunk and camper combined. We are like a family of clowns spilling out of a circus car.
Our concern, as always when we travel away from home, is getting the boys comfortable enough to sleep. We have little PeaPod tents for them to sleep in, but they are never happy when we put them down for the first time in a new place. It was nap time, but they cried and wailed and cried. It echoed through the quiet, empty campground. We wondered how much the neighbors were going to love us over the weekend.
The guys did eventually quiet down and sleep, but not after Dave and I repeatedly asked ourselves, why do we like to do this again?
We made salmon on a cedar plank and cooked it over coals. I had cut up some tomatoes, zucchini, onions and garlic to go with it. We dined with the boys and sat with them in front of the campfire. Ah, this is why we like to do this.
We got our sleeping arrangements situated and put the guys down for bedtime. There is a twin size bunk on one side of the camper for the boys, then a full size on the other side for Dave and me. Amazingly, the babies went right to sleep at their usual bedtime. We breathed a sigh of relief. Dave and I drank adult beverages and chatted by the campfire. Bliss.
All was well through the night, our first night in our little camper, until about 2:30am. That was when Cask woke up and decided it was time to scream. He piped up every hour or so, with little whimpers and complaints. But he’d fall right back to sleep.
Not so this time. He was awake. He was in some strange new place, and hey, while he was at it, he woke up his brother and made him scream because WHOO! CAMPING IS SO MUCH FUN!
Two screaming babies in the middle of the night in the dark, silent campground. We had no nearby neighbors, but I was sure their little voices carried through the whole place. We scooped up the boys and shushed and bounced and paced and soothed. They were unhappy boys. We fixed bottles and had a snack. They calmed down a bit, but they were AWAKE, and ready to party.
It was 4:15am. Dave was resigned to just staying up for the rest of the morning with them. Misery. Why do we like this?
I suggested we put them down. I knew they would hate it for a few minutes, but my experience told me they would fall back asleep. Eventually. We put them back in their PeaPods and oh, they yelled. THIS IS NOT WHAT WE WANTED AT ALL, ASSHOLES!
But in just a few minutes, they went from yelling, to complaining, then to moaning. And then, in about 10 minutes, silence. Little boys need their rest. Dave and I were actually able to sleep in until 7am or so. I can’t remember the last time I slept until 7am.
For breakfast, I made a new invention. We had hotdog rolls on hand, and we had eggs, ham, and string cheese. I fashioned little egg boats by filling the bun with string cheese and ham cubes. Then I poured scrambled egg though the middle.
Into the dutch oven for a while. Dutch oven cooking is interpretive when camping. You guess at the temperature. You guess at the time. Does it look done? Maybe?
They came out great. My only suggestion would be to coat the foil with cooking spray first. Ours stuck to the foil.
So Paradise Creek was a pretty campground. The sites were spacious, though not particularly private since it was mostly tall trees with very little underbrush. On Friday, the campground filled to capacity and the woods were filled with chattering voices and shrieking children. Not really our favorite, but it was not unexpected.
What I didn’t expect, however, was that the pit toilets were the worst toilets I have ever experienced. We’ve camped in other places with pit toilets, and I felt suitably prepared and ready. But these were the worst. Of course they smelled, you expect that. But these smelled really, really bad. Like, intensely bad. And though I am an adult and I ought to know better, I lifted the lid and glanced into the depths before I sat down. MISTAKE. You’ve seen The Ring? Not to spoil the plot or anything, but that’s what it was like. Somehow it was light enough to see inside. I then understood why it smelled so bad. I am stopping myself from describing further.
I ran out as fast as I could the first time. And for the remainder of the trip, I played a game I called “Epic Bladder Endurance Challenge 2013.” But sometimes I couldn’t wait until we got to a flush toilet, or I couldn’t wait until dark so I could pee in the woods. I had to use the latrine. And the second time I stepped foot in there, I realized, Christ, is the floor shaky? The floor had a spongy, unstable quality. Like, soft, decaying plywood that was reaching the end of its integrity. I gingerly tested the floor with my foot. No, I was not fucking imagining things. That floor was soft.
Now what? I had to pee. I had been holding it for hours and I had to PEE. Like if I stepped away from the pit toilet, I was going to wet myself. I did some quick calculations. There were dozens of other people in this campground. Clearly, the toilet has been used thousands of times. What was the likelihood the floor would fail just as I am using it?
Unlikely, right? But OMFG, I saw what was down there. What fate in the world could possibly be worse than falling into the pit of The Worst Toilet In Washington? How would they get me out? Would I have to wait for the goddamn fire department? We were 20 miles away from the nearest town. Would they send a helicopter? Christ, it would be in the fucking news. And my name would forever be associated as the woman who fell into a pit of human excrement.
PEE. I had to pee. I took my chances. It was the quickest pee of my life. I blasted out of there, zipping my pants as I went, into the the fresh, perfumed air of the woods. I vowed then and there, nevermore.
We took the boys for a walk around the campground. We saw a guy digging a trench around his tent and scoffed. A trench? Really? Had he not noticed it was summer and it hadn’t rained significantly in over a month? Then we saw someone else hauling their firewood under a canopy. We had no cell coverage out in the forest. We knew there was a chance of thunderstorms for Saturday. But I rolled my eyes, as I always do, when they predict thunderstorms around here. We never get thunderstorms. I’d be excited about a thunderstorm. I’d be thrilled!
But the most we ever get is maybe a roll of distant thunder, like once. So we didn’t think anything of the forecast, and we smirked at the dude carving a trench around his tent.
We put the boys to bed and sat by the fire. Our neighbors were a big group of teenage boys. Ulg. We wondered what kind of group they were. Their conversations were loud and carried through the campground. There was a heated conversation about superheroes, so we figured they were nerds. Maybe boyscouts? They were being supervised by a few adults, all men. They didn’t have tents. They had sleeping bags on the ground.
Then we heard some god talk, and we realized they were a religious group. And they were sort of snotty about it, making fun of other people who weren’t the same denomination, and boasting they were more faithful than other people.
And they were loud. There was no way to avoid hearing them. Dave and I looked at each other and giggled a little, knowing very well that our boys would likely repay the favor at 3 in the morning.
There was a sudden cool breeze that lifted the bows of the trees. It was wonderful. Off in the distance, a familiar, ominous roll of thunder. Far, far away. I didn’t think much of it. We get so few thunderstorms in the Pacific Northwest. Hearing thunder reminds me of childhood on the east coast. Dave and I poked at the fire and drank our adult beverages. Dave had a cold, so he was making himself hot toddies.
It was getting dark. The thunder boomed closer. It was sort of nice. I worried that the boys would wake up. But they usually sleep pretty soundly through the first half of the night. Lightning blinked and lit up the sky.
“Ooh!” I said. “Maybe this is for real.” I looked over at that the religious teenagers in the campsite next door. All their sleeping bags were laid out in neat rows.
“Maybe we should get some stuff under cover, just in case?” Dave asked. I agreed.
We put away all the baby stuff, and broke down the play pen and put it in the car. We cleaned off the picnic table and casually covered our gear. We weren’t thinking we were actually going to get real rain.
More thunder, closer. It was getting dark enough to see the lightning. I was excited. A real thunderstorm! We got our campsite reasonably prepared, and by then, we were ready for bed. I wondered about the windows in the camper. If it really rained, should we close them? What about our slapdash awning? It surely would not do well if we got a downpour.
But mostly I was excited we were in a camper instead of a tent. Again, it was like childhood, when we camped on the east coast, and heard the tinkling of rain patter against the hard roof of the camper.
Bright flash of lightning. It was legit. I counted the seconds that passed. I counted to nine when the big bouldery thunder answered. Nine miles.
I looked over at the teenagers next door. It was getting dark, so it was hard to discern if they were breaking camp.
More lightning. I counted to eight this time. Whee! A thunderstorm!
I heard an adult voice start barking instructions next door. The teenage boys were packing up. Because I am an asshole, I smugly wondered if they had prayed harder, they wouldn’t be getting rained on.
I continued to count as the thunder came at seven seconds, then five, and then just a continual rolling rumble. Then the rain came. First little sprinkles, then the harder drops, then the constant popping sound against the camper’s roof and vinyl walls. It was the real deal. A good, proper thunderstorm!
I worried about the boys, but they slept through everything. I was amazed. Even giant booms that seemed to shake the earth, they slept through it.
I was excited. I was never so happy to not be in a tent. I did one last check around the inside of the camper to make sure nothing was leaking. But then I crawled into bed and was lulled to sleep as the thunder rolled away. What a fantastic first outing in our camper.