Monday, July 16, 2012

"Summer Times - Canoe Trip Bedding"

I am going on a canoe trip.  Not because I want to be part of the group going on a canoe trip, but because I don’t want to be part of the group not going on a canoe trip. 

I am ten years old, but my twisted logic is already ingeniously on display.

As the departure date closes in, preparations get under way for the trip.  Though we had not left yet, trouble had already found me.

The list sent out as a guideline for what to bring to camp included “a sleeping bag.”  No clarifying specifics.  Just “a sleeping bag.”  You don’t sleep on the ground, the camp does not provide sleeping bags.  You bring your own.  And so I did.

I have no idea where it came from.  But I immediately noticed, when my cabin-mates unrolled their sleeping bags on the floor to start packing that

My sleeping bag was different.

My cabin-mates’ sleeping bags were made from a fabric that was sleek, and shiny and thin.  (Also, it turned out, light and waterproof.)  Checking the label, one would not be surprised to find the word “Monsanto.” 

These sleeping bags were not made from natural fabrics (which was impressive in the 50’s.)  They were hi-tech and they were cool.  If the space program had canoe trips, they’d have been equipped with these sleeping bags.  These were sleeping bags for the moon.

Mine, on the other hand, was not.

Rather than what appeared to be a forest-blending green, the sleeping bag that was sent to camp with me was a chocolate milk brown.  It was made of a natural fabric – cotton.  And it had stuffing in it. 

I had the only quilted sleeping bag in my cabin.  In fact, I believe that’s how they advertised it.


Well, maybe once.  But compared to my cabin-mates’ fit-for-space versions, mine was the sleeping bag equivalent of the plane the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk.  A rudimentary prototype, worthy of display in the Museum of Sleeping Bags They Don’t Use Anymore.

My venerable sleeping bag made me stand out.  As a camper who was bad at sports, and was unskilled at simulating fart noises with his arm, I did not need that kind of attention.

Everyone’s sleeping bag lay unrolled on the floor.  They all lay flat.  Except for mine.  Whose quilting puffed it noticeably higher. 

A canoe trip packing-checklist told us what we should bring along.  Underwear, socks, t-shirts, a pair of jeans, a long-sleeved shirt or sweatshirt for the night (and as protection from mosquitoes), pajamas, a flashlight, soap in a soapdish, a toothbrush (which you sometimes hung on a plastic strand around your neck) and toothpaste, with the cap twisted extra tight, so when you roll up your sleeping bag, it does not squeeze out over your clothing.  (Minty underpants produce tingling difficulties for the sensitive areas.)

Everything was laid flat on the top of the sleeping bag.  (You do not pack the clothes inside, you array them on top.  Just a tip, so you don’t embarrass yourself with experienced canoe trippers.) 

The goal was compactness.  The sleeping bags would be slipped vertically into large, canvas packs, sliding in comfortably with other canoe trip necessities, such as dehydrated food products (manufactured by a company named Gumpert) and, inexplicably, 48-ounce tins of Donald Duck Orange Juice.    

After the clothing and sundries were laid out flatly and evenly, the sleeping bags were rolled up as tightly as possible, and tied firmly in two spots, each about eight inches from the ends.  The sleeping bag were then delivered to the “Tripping Cabin”, to be inserted into the packs.

At least that was the plan.

I packed my sleeping bag as carefully as I could.  But when I rolled it up and tied it, it turned out to be twice as big as all the others, making it, using derogatory camp parlance, the “Fat Kid” of the sleeping bag fraternity.  This was not entirely my fault.  There is only so much you can compress quilting.

My counselor knew instantly that my sleeping bag, at least the way I rolled it, would not fit in the pack.  (Certainly not with those humongous juice tins.  There were little bags of Freshie, I’d complain – Canadian Kool-Aid.  We could have taken those instead, hydrating the refreshment with relatively pure water, paddled in from the middle of a lake.  Why didn’t they pack Freshie packets, instead of those three-pound tins of vile tasting orange juice, especially when drunk warm?  Of course, my rant was perceived as what it was – just me, making excuses for my hyperthyroid-sized sleeping bag.

(And also being sensible.)

There was no alternative but to try again.  But this time, with help.  I unrolled my sleeping bag, and with my counselor joining me on the floor, each of us taking one side, we rerolled the sleeping bag, making every effort to get it as tightly packed as we possibly could.

When we were done, we took a look.  The result was not quite even.  The side of the sleeping the counselor rolled was about twice as small as my side, making my sleeping bag look like a chocolate funnel, narrow at one end, and widening towards the other.  The counselor’s end would fit easily into the pack.  My end would have to stay behind.

Once again, we unrolled the sleeping bag.  This time we changed places.  Who knows?  Maybe the side I had rolled had thicker stuff packed inside.  Again, we began rolling, putting all our strength into keeping the thing tight.

Sure enough, another funnel.  But this time, in the other direction. 

As sensitively as he could, my counselor relieved me from further responsibilities, and, with the help of our Junior Counselor, they pressed, kneeded and tightened my sleeping bag into a reasonable circumference.  It was still considerably rounder than the other.  But it would – just barely – make the cut.

On the first night of our canoe trip, we camped on an island.  While unloading the packs, one of them fell in the water.  I may have had nothing to do with that mishap.  I no longer recall.

What I do recall was that my sleeping bag, and one other, had been part of the contents of that now water-logged pack.  Left in the sun, the other sleeping bag, made of Miracle Fabric, dried with startling rapidity.  As for mine, with its absorbent quilting, the sun barely made a dent.

During dinner, my still soaked sleeping bag was hauled up to the fire for further attention.  It sat there conspicuously as we ate, everyone knowing exactly whose it was.

In the end, it was the toastiest sleeping bag of them all.

Though inexplicably simultaneously still damp.

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