Sleeping in a tent, at least for me, is over for another year. I’m not really the wilderness explorer type anyway. In fact, this summer when we took a brief trip to the Rocky Mountains, we stayed in a motel. It wasn’t luxurious by any stretch of the imagination, since I am the budget-seeker type. This is as close to roughing it as I get.
Upon arriving at the rather ratty-looking establishment I’d chosen, we parked under a sign that proclaimed in bold lettering, “Fifteen Minute Parking Strictly Enforced.” Bearing this in mind, I hurried to the door. It was locked. Yet another sign scrawled on a sheet of loose-leaf and stuck to the window with masking tape, announced, “Back in 20.”
So how does that work? Were the parking police lurking around the corner, ready to slap on handcuffs as minute 16 rolled around? Were they consulting their watches at this very moment, waiting to thrust a hefty ticket into my hand?
After a toe-tapping 30 minutes, an irritable old woman in bedroom slippers shuffled to the door, snapped it open, and without enthusiasm took our particulars. Wordlessly, she handed me a key and jerked her thumb toward a weathered flight of steps outside before turning away dismissively.
We let ourselves into the room. It was OK. I mean, the carpet had seen many moons (and spills, as evidenced by the blackened stains at our feet) and the bathroom fan sounded like a 747 preparing for takeoff, but the beds seemed clean and neat. There was only one power outlet, found beneath a desk that was bolted to the floor (never a good indication), which meant we had to crawl under it on hands and knees to use the coffee-maker. However, no one had to sleep on the ground.
Back when I did sleep on the ground, in a tent, the air mattress always leaked air through the night and I’d wake up draped over a tree stump. Or we’d hear reports of bear in the vicinity and I’d lie awake clutching a cast-iron frying pan and listening for sounds of snuffling near the children’s heads.
One night, when they were toddlers (the kids, not the bears) my husband and I pulled into a campsite beside Shuswap Lake in British Columbia. It was the wee hours of the morning and we were exhausted. Not wanting to disturb other campers with car headlights, we constructed our tent in complete darkness. We spread sleeping bags over the extremely lumpy ground, put a child in each one, and went to sleep.
An hour later we heard the train.
It began as a high-pitched whistle far in the distance, and I rolled over uncomfortably, trying to block it out. Then, the ground beneath us began to quake, and the rumble of a hundred loaded railcars filled the air. I clutched my husband’s shoulder. We lunged to our feet as the intense light of the train’s engine pierced the fabric of our flimsy abode.
Yikes! Had we built our bloody tent across the railway tracks? Ripping at the nylon flap, we leapt outside, dragging children to safety, and watching in horror as the monstrous train chugged inexorably toward us, missing our tent by only a few feet.
And so, the takeaways are as follows: keep an open mind and carry a flashlight.
Contact Helen through her website, helentoews.com. There you can learn more of her humorous Prairie Wool Books, or newly released fantasy series, perfect for Christmas giving.