As everybody by now should know, there will be a total eclipse of the sun over a large swath of the US later this summer. Neither Steve nor I have seen one. I want to, and I found a way to drag him along.
Now, forget motels. I asked at the front desk of one we stayed in on our way up to Minnesota whether, as they were close to the path, they had been getting a lot of reservations. A lot? They'd been full up by the end of the day its path had been announced last year! Hmmm, I guess not the way to go for us. Another friend had checked a community they wanted, found a single room left in the whole town (!) in a Motel 6 for the night, but for $400! They passed on that one. They can leave a whole lot of lights on for ya at those prices!
Being neither early planners not millionaires, we needed another plan, or to just give up entirely. I wasn't ready to give up. I developed a plan, figuring how to entice Steve into going along with the idea. Just add sentiment... and fishing!
Sentiment boiled down to a favorite location, one filled with happy memories. (No, I'm not going to tell you where that is! We're hoping for a little breathing room.) In this case, the location involved includes a pair of his favorite fishing rivers, so cross those both off with no effort.
So what's the catch? I mean, other than starting to head back home earlier than usual, and seeing family for a shorter time than usual, there had to be a catch if I had to put in a bunch of work to bring Steve along on a trip he wasn't particularly interested in to see an event he was fairly indifferent to, right?
The catch is the plan involves camping! Yep, that's right, these two old geezers are going camping! In a tent! In sleeping bags! I doubt I need to explain to you just how unlikely we thought that would ever be for us again. Heck, even RVs were both out of our price range, and required skills and abilities we don't have. (Think crawling underneath to hook up and empty the grey water and black water!) Steve actually talked somebody into taking the old RV off our hands last summer because it was so riddled with problems and bad memories that nobody in the family ever wanted to use it again. Free was the right price for the new buyer, and we see it all spiffed up sitting across town ready to find its next adventure, so we guess everybody is happy.
This is a plan that takes a lot of putting together. Start with the tent. There's an old one in the basement needing to be checked out. Had mice gotten in? Mold? Poles bent? Zippers working? Was it tall enough to stand in? And even if all those things were perfect - which they were - could the two of us in the middle of nowhere put it together? Richard hauled it into the back yard, figured how it worked, and then spent about an hour working with us to make sure we could manage it ourselves. We’re fairly confident. Not totally. Our route has us arriving at the campsite with a full half day to try to work any kinks out.
Even the best tent is no good if we can't get off the ground in the morning. So off to the store for two new airbeds. We got the kind that inflate to a height of 22" off the ground, and have lots of inner support so it wouldn't just roll over while we're trying to get up. They came with inner pumps which worked off the cigarette lighter of the car, and we tested both of them, up, down, carrying weight, comfort. Back to the store for a couple long extension cords just in case we couldn't get the tent close to the car. Or was it if we couldn't get the car close to the tent? We're not sure once fully inflated that they'll go through the tent doors, so we have to inflate them while inside.
Both of us had great sleeping bags last trip, so those had to be checked for mold, mice, zippers, etc. They passed. No air pillows, though, so put those on the list. Plus a pair of ugly pillow cases.
Now great as those sleeping bags are, we could easily be looking at snow for some of this trip. August? Really? Yes. We’ll be at some elevation, and for comparison, Yellowstone just had snow a few days ago. If that doesn’t convince you, consider my very first camping trip to Yellowstone with my kids, ’85 if memory serves, near July 4. I was naive enough to think I could just drive up to the entrance and get a camping spot, no reservations. Of course you snicker! The thing was, it worked. 8” of snow had fallen just a few days earlier, driving all the wimps out of the park. It had just now melted, and we had a hundred or so sites to choose from! What that all comes down to is we’ll be packing a bunch of extra sweats to sleep in or whatever, just in case.
For the two of us geezers, sitting comfortably is an issue. Fortunately, each of us has a Coleman's steel frame and canvas folding chair with a folding little table, including a cup holder for either beverages or bug spray. It's the only chair we've found that both supports our weight and isn't so low we can't climb up out of it. The table is small but will hold a book or lunch. (More on those later.)
Last time we camped in this location, the campground had been left abandoned. The outhouses still were safe to use, as were the picnic tables, but we have no idea what we'll find now. Plus, if the campground is full, we may have to select a spot in a meadow near the river and set up camp there. Either are allowed, and the price is free. We just need to prepare for lack of amenities. And we hope to avoid difficulties with crowding by arriving a full week before the eclipse.
The outhouse issue will be solved with a portable camping toilet, plumbing free. So far I've only found them online, but that's my perfect way to shop. The toilet is a 5 gallon sturdy plastic bucket, lined with a heavy gage plastic bag, topped with a plastic seat and lid combination that snap tight. Extra bags are available, of course, and the trick to using them without spills or stink is not just the assurances of the seller, but adding a small amount of clumping cat litter. They even come in their own little but tall tent for privacy. Not sure where we'll find an acceptable place to drop all our garbage, but we'll locate something, somewhere.
While researching camping toilets, I read a little Q&A about one. It included the query as to whether the seat was comfortable enough to sit on for an hour and a half? The answer was that nothing is that comfortable, and referred the questioner to their doctor.
The other garbage will be food garbage. Now make a note: I am putting my foot down and declaring that this is my vacation too. That'll make it a first in ... forever! NO COOKING! Which carries over to no dish washing, no menu planning, etc. It doesn't mean starving, however. I went online and ordered 2 cases of MREs. Each has enough calories to last a day, is sealed off until opening so bears and raccoons don't sniff them out and try to ransack your camp, and each meal is different from the others in the case. Back when Paul was in the military, he brought some cases home and I helped eat them. It's not a sacrifice ... for 12 days. And those little tables on the chairs will be up to the task for mealtimes.
An FYI: as now-Arizonans, we are very used to carrying around plenty of water. There will also be extra room in the car, because next week the dogs both go to foster homes through a marvelous program called MARS, while they await their new forever homes. Both will be with families, not in shelters or kennels, which makes it emotionally much easier on both of us.
We have no idea if we can nail a campground site with a fire pit, but we've got a hatchet, just in case. Oh, and fire too. If we can't, dark happens for us when it does for the other critters. We'll be about 20 miles from any electricity, so no kindles after dark. Paper books and daylight reading only. But as the world darkens, those who remain still and quiet can get treated to the sight of the local elk herd coming down the mountain for their evening drink at the river.
Yes, there'll be a flashlight for finding the toilet, whichever and wherever it may be. I have considered getting another Timex Indiglo watch, though I'm not even certain they're still made. It worked well enough my last camping trip there. In a black world, it's a beacon. Just not enough of one to kill your night vision so you can still stop and look up to see the most spectacular view of stars available. It's also got the advantage of being literally at the end of your arm so you needn't hunt for it in the dark.
We’re hoping to find an easy-assemble screen tent, both for shade and bugs, while we relax. Back to the basement. But this time, the old one has nothing easy about the assembly portion of the job. Another search online, no clue of the results.
On The Day Of, the plan is to wake early, drive about 30 miles, and find the best eclipse viewing spot we can to pull over and park. I also figure it'll take a couple hours for the area to clear out again, so there's no thought of breaking camp that day and heading out ourselves. One last night on the trail, then head for a motel. I'm sure an actual shower will rival the heaven we've spent a week in.