Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Campening

One of the very few positives about growing up in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mile upon mile of forests, mountains and fields is the chance to explore your inner frontiersman in the surrounding country. As children growing up in deepest, darkest South Wales, I spent half my life up the mountains as a kid. Sometimes we would build dens, other times we would even light needless mountain fires, but my most favourite activity of all as a child was camping.

The chance to be away from your parents for a night while you explore the great outdoors and play with fire was something we lived for every summer. It was a rite of passage for every local lad. You could not say you truly a man until you had learned how to chop down a tree with a chisel and start a fire with nothing more than a magnifying glass and a coke bottle of petrol.

"Now, I am become death, the destroyer of worlds!"
However as you get older, your priorities start to change. At around 16 years old we stopped venturing into the mountains and decided to focus instead on more useful adult activities like video games and this new-fangled thing called t’internet.

Fairly content with how things were going I assume that until recently my camping days were long behind me, but last year that all changed. I was going to make a decision that would affect the lives of my two best friends and me forever.

I still can’t tell you why or how it came up? Maybe it was misplaced nostalgia, maybe it was a good idea that just turned out bad, or maybe it was to prove the ultimate test of friendship ever endured by three lifelong friends. We had all arranged to meet up one Thursday to just hang out as we had all been experiencing less than fantastic luck in our personal lives recently and the thought spending some quality time in the company of old friends could only be a good thing.

Midway through a conversation about movies and football, I got a brainwave! Looking back it may very well have been a brain aneurysm; but I’ll leave that for future generations to decide.

“Hey guys! I have an idea...."

The weather forecast was excellent, none of us had anything on and it would be a perfect opportunity to have a laugh and do something different.

With little convincing from your truly, my friends quickly agreed. We arranged to borrow a new tent from a neighbour, quickly made a list of necessary supplies and set up a concise, clean and fool proof plan for “Campfest 2011” (copyright pending).

Ryan left us in order to travel to his house to dig around his attic in order to find his rucksack that had not seen light of day or nearly 15 years, while me and Gavin drove over to his house to collect  his camping equipment and pick up supplies at the Supermarket. There was but one problem we had to sort out before we could continue on our camping trip, and that was the problem of Gavin’s dog. As he could not leave it alone for the night, he had arranged to drop the dog off at a family member’s house before we headed off on our trip. All we had to do was transport the dog the 6 miles in Gavin’s car before we could be free of all responsibility and the fun could really begin.

However this was to prove easier said than done.

One of the problems with Penny was that she was a bit retarded. 

You could shout random instruction in anything from English to Elvish and the dog would respond in the same way every time. A random cock of the head as her eyes scanned the scenario playing out in front of her before she just gave up and carried on doing whatever she wanted.

This was not usually a problem, but when she decided to take the biggest crap in the history of dog-kind in the back seat of Gavin’s car, it quickly changed from “not usually a problem”, into “Oh my god, the dog is going to die”.

We were about half way through our trip to drop the drop off when some movement from the back seat caught Gavin’s attention. 

Gavin, being wise to the ways of his dog knew exactly what was about to happy. As soon as he saw her starting to arc her back and look to the heavens in anticipation, he knew what was coming. He knew…


The dog stopped briefly as the small brown sausage started it initial crowning.

She continued.

Gavin was helpless. He could not stop the car as he was on a quick, mostly blind road with no hard shoulder in which to pull into. All he could do was scream and watch as Penny gave birth to her little brown monster.


She paused again, looked around….. And continued her still born monstrosity. 

At this point Gavin was beyond angry. His knuckles with white as he gripped the steering wheel, his cries of hate and fury mixed with my own deranged laughter as I broke down upon taking in the sight before me. Suddenly all screaming and laughing ended as the full impact of Penny’s chocolate puppy hit us. Weapons grade toxic fumes filled the car as Penny now happily sat next to her foot long steaming coiled python. The rest of the trip was conducted in total silence as we attempted to drive home with our heads out of the window. 

Car cleaned and Penny suitably punished we gathered up our gear and headed off to meet up with Ryan, who had somehow managed to find his Army Ranger rucksack amongst 30 years of old toys, Christmas decorations and random boxes. He sat at the bottom of the mountain path waiting patiently for us; all decked out in army camouflage, he looked more like a man getting ready to go to war than a man about to spend a few hours in his local forest with two old friends. Little did we realise at the time just how right he would be.

All three men stood briefly at the bottom of the mountain. We exchanged a knowing glance as we began our quest into the wilderness. 

The last time any of us would know innocence.
Atop the mountain we stood and surveyed the town before us. We had passed the first test of manhood as we left the comfort and safety of our homes and pressed on through the dense forest, our path unknown, only guided by the blood of a thousand explorers before us.

As the camping trip was largely my idea, I somehow became the de-facto leader of this little group. I accepted the burden of leader, knowing that without my expert wilderness knowledge and cool, calm approach to man management and discipline, this trip would be short lived and filled with anger. With this new mind set I led my men deep into the forest. We walked along paths that had probably not seen a human foot for decades. I convinced my friends that a set path or goal was not necessary and that we should just keep walking, see where the forest took us and not even think about a camping spot until it “felt right”. I rallied my troops with the epic mantra of..

The first time they tried to murder me was about 60 minutes into our hike.

We had already walked for many miles with very heavy backpacks weighing us down and there was still no end in sight. Every potential camping spot we came to was either water logged or too bumpy to sleep on. Gavin and Ryan were both starting to get extremely restless and my continued chatter of how “I feel just like Kerouac!!” was not winning me many friends.

We finally came to a clearing in the woods that was a perfect camping spot. It had flat ground, plenty of trees for a fire and good cover. However, there was just one problem. There was already a tent there.

Or to be more accurate, there was already an abandoned tent in the middle of a CSI type murder crime scene there. To find a brand new tent in the middle of a forest with no sign of its occupants can give one a slightly uneasy feeling. We all decided that one of us should go down and investigate. As we operated as a loose camp-ocracy, I decided we should put it to a vote. In short, I lost. My suspect leadership ability and lack of navigational skills had cost me dear in the polls and I was subsequently elected to go down and do battle with Jason Vorhees alone.

I dumped my backpack with my fellow campers and slowly headed down to the scene of the crime. I reached to my belt hoping to feel some reassurance, but felt nothing except for the realisation that I had left my camping knife on the table and that in my effort to put it somewhere memorable, I had actually completely forgotten about it. I had bought from Ebay before the sale of large knifes became illegal, but it was 8 inches of sharp steel fury that I wished I had by my side right now as I headed into a horror movie cliché so obvious I half expected to turn round to see Wes Craven filming me with a camera.

Actual Picture of said tent!
I arrived at the tent. The front doors were open, revealing a completely empty interior. Coke bottles and plastic wrappers littered the ground around the tent. I searched for any sign of foul play or sign that the occupants had just left the tent, but instead found nothing. Deciding that this shit was way too creepy even for me, I decided to just let things be and head back towards my friends. As I headed back I fully expected a giant maniac to jump out from behind a tree at some point and bury an axe into my skull. 

ch ch ch ah ah ah.....
I picked up my backpack and we soon set back off on the road. We continued our hike for the next mile or so in almost total silence, all silently agreeing that we should not camp anywhere near this spot, least we end up nothing more than another abandoned tent in the woods. We walked onwards for another 20 minutes and tried to put the massacre of our fellow campers out of our heads. We had all heard stories as kids growing up about the kind of things that went on in the forest at night. Tales of Satan Worshipers, illegal bare knuckle fighting groups, escaped mental patients living in the wild, wolf sightings and even evil spirits are all very real and credible stories I have heard at one time or another about this place.

I once had one of the most intense and terrifying experiences of my life on the outskirts of this forest. I was driving home from work one night at around 11pm and my car overheated, forcing me to quickly pull into a forest layby in order to allow it to cool down. What I saw run in front of my car headlights and disappear into the forest as I pulled in will always be a vivid, terrifying memory… But that’s a story for another time.

After yet more walking we realised that the sun was starting to begin its slow decent and if we didn’t find a camping spot soon, we wouldn’t have the light we needed in order to properly setup camp. In order to save time and man power, we disbanded into three individual groups and each headed off on a separate path. I dug around the underbrush, desperately looking for somewhere decent in order to set up our tent. After 10 minutes or so we all reconvened and gave a passionate pitch about the potential benefits of the camping spots we had found. My camping spot, despite providing ample wood for the fire and cover was deemed “too uneven”. However Ryan assured us that his camping spot was perfect and that once we saw it we would never want to camp anywhere else ever again.

We followed him to his camping spot and realised that he was in fact now under the direct control of the Blair Witch. A more evil, dark and foreboding place I had never seen! 

"Let us stay here. Forever!!!!!"
Despite the sun still being quite high and strong, the place he had taken us was as dark as any winter’s night and harboured evil that would have taken our souls had we stayed there a moment longer. 

We quickly ushered Ryan away from the control of that evil place and settled on setting up camp overlooking the distant towns down in the valley beyond the edge of the forest. It was a truly majestic camping spot and for the first time in the trip we felt we were actually starting to get somewhere and had even briefly stopped sniping at each other long enough to have a few laughs and share a beer or two. To further improve our mood we even found three cut tree stumps that provided excellent seats for us all around the camp fire. The ancient Gods of the forest were now on our side, providing us with everything we needed for an excellent nights camping. 

And flies. Lots and lots of flies.
With the tent pitched and the fire up and running, we were finally starting to get into the swing of this whole camping business. Even the mood of the group had started to level out. I was no longer leading my friends into a dangerous, blood soaked journey without end, Ryan had been freed from his possession and even Gavin had actually stopped complaining like a little bitch about having to set up the tent by himself.

However our good mood did not last as we all settled down to have some supper. After our long hike in the summer heat, we were all ravenous. Myself and Gavin broke open our supplies and started filling our bellies with hot food and soothing drink. However Ryan had for some reason foolishly brought with him a Happy Shopper tin of own brand beans for his dinner. This in itself wasn’t an issue; what was an issue however was that since this was a bargain basement inexpensive tin of beans, it did not come with a ring pull. As both his companions had bought regular tins amongst their food supplies, neither of us had a need for a tin opener and as such did not think of bringing one. This left Ryan with the choice of either admitting defeat and taking some of our food, or hack into that tin like a mentalist with horse hoof de-stoner he found on the back of his fork. 

He wisely chose the latter. For 45 minutes we both watched him desperately hack away millimetre at a time at this lump of solid iron. Slipping on the tomato juice and stabbing himself several times with his hoof tool, Ryan did eventually managed to carve a tiny inch wide hole at the top of tin from which he eagerly suckled nourishment. 

Nom nom nom nom nom nom.