‘I don’t like camping, I like having camped,’ someone once said. That someone being me, at approximately 12:30pm on a Thursday; having consumed an overly moist frosted brownie and 5 marshmallows for breakfast, all washed down with a $2.25 cup of warm liquid billed as coffee.
After one of the worst nights of sleep in recorded history.
We’d arrived in Kananaskis shortly after 2pm the previous day, stopping at the information centre just past the entrance. ‘What campsites do you recommend,’ I asked the young ranger, in an attempt to eliminate a few of the onehundred possible campsites. ‘I like Interlakes,’ she opined, pointing at the map to show us its location. We accepted her suggestion and drove the forty-plus minutes southwest.
There was some minor stress in the air, on account of it being our first attempt at camping, and that whole pulling-a-trailer business. We made it to Interlakes without speaking and partially holding our breath at every incline and curve. The site was, indeed, lovely, with half of the campsites situated on the shore of Lower Lake and the other half farther inland, but with [slightly obscured] views of the water.
It was all new to us, the procurement of a campsite. First, you find an empty site, deposit your ‘unit’ on said site and then you have 30 minutes to fill out a reservation card and deposit $23 per night into an envelope which you slide into a container. But most importantly you have to back your van and [fishtailing] trailer onto said site without looking like total idiots who’ve never camped before.
We managed the former with relative ease as there happened to be half a dozen empty sites on this particular weekday. The latter took what felt like ten minutes; the professor doing his best to enlist Alice’s cooperation, I doing my best to offer directional advice with my hands, while a couple of other would-be campers waited patiently for us to get out of the road so they could drive on and find their own site.
Finally, with Alice deposited on the site, everyone climbed out of the van. ‘Should we set it up now?’ the professor inquired. I’d hoped to squeeze in a hike first, but given the time was approaching 4pm, it seemed a bit late in the day to attempt such a thing. So we began the work of setting up the trailer, twisting and pulling and and zipping and velcroing.
The boys explored the wooded area beside the campsite. As I watched the Hen stand by a tree, whacking it with one of the sticks he’d found, I thought to myself, ‘yes! they are loving this. I’m so glad we did it!’
And, roughly 30 seconds after my brain completed that thought, the Hen said: ‘I don’t know what to do.’
Um, come again? I have brought you here, to commune with nature and sleep under the stars, and you don’t know what to do?
‘Let’s go down to the lake,’ the professor suggested once Alice was set up. Thrilled, the boys donned their swimsuits and grabbed the water toys we’d brought along.
The good-time equilibrium was restored as we meandered around the picturesque lakeshore; doing our best to ignore the persistent brotherly squabbles over who got whom wet with the water guns. (I thought that was the point.)
Less than an hour later, we were back at the campsite. The boys abandoned their wet suits for dry pajamas and I dug through the chilled-with-a-bag-of-ice cooler for something that resembled dinner. Cold spaghetti and marinara sauce (homemade, but still) along with cold salmon and quinoa salad. The begged-for hot dogs and marshmallows would make an appearance a few hours later.
Before 8pm, having eaten (twice!), having whittled and fought over sticks and having nothing else to do (no bikes, no board games, no ipad) we retired with our respective library books and, much later, with the smell of the dwindling fire firmly entrenched in our nostrils (and everything we’d brought) we drifted off to sleep.
‘I always have the best sleep in there,’ the previous owner had told me on the day we met Alice for the first time. I’d hoped that I, too, would have excellent trailer-sleep but alas, that was not meant to be. I woke up roughly 500 times throughout the night, overly aware of the lingering campfire smell, wondering if the boys were warm enough, wondering how many more hours before I could get up and go to the ‘bathroom’.
Finally, it was morning. Though morning brought a set of disappointments all its own. While we’d been warm and toasty underneath our down comforters, the trailer – with two of its flaps hanging open – was anything but. ‘I’m cold,’ the boys clamored as soon as they woke up. And, indeed, it was freezing.
We traipsed down to the pit toilet where the very fresh smell of ammonia had me reminiscing about cleaning our former cat’s litterbox. And then we traipsed back to the trailer and huddled under the blankets until the growling from our stomachs grew too difficult to bear.
Being somewhat unsure about what to pack for camping breakfast, I’d bought individual yogurts on our way out of town. The starving boys ate them all, which left the professor and I….with a bit of leftover spaghetti, marshmallows and the tastes-of-dirt cold-brew coffee I’d brought along.
I was so cold, all I could think about was drinking an enormous latte and inhaling a muffin. But the nearest latte was one hour away, hence we opted to hop in the van and check out the Boulton Creek Trading Post, in the off chance it carried something we might be able to eat or drink. On our way out, we passed the British-accented camp caretaker. ‘Don’t laugh,’ I prefaced my request, ‘but is there someplace we could get coffee?’
‘Yes, at Boulton,’ he laughed. ‘They open at 9.’
As luck would have it, it was 9. And we sped off towards the trading post in search of sustenance. I settled on a plastic-wrapped brownie-with-frosting as the lesser of all potential breakfast evils, though I could tell it would not be delicious. The professor opted for a Snickers bar, because that 1980s ‘Snickers really satisfies’ advertising campaign left him convinced that it does. I dispensed watery, very-hot chocolate into disposable cups for the boys, imploring them not to drink it until at least 10 minutes had passed. And I filled a small cup of brown liquid for myself with the hopes that it would at least raise my internal temperature a degree or two.
Having somewhat quelled our hunger, we walked along a trail by the lake, inspecting scat to determine its provenance, chatting with an elderly couple we met on the trail and making fake animal sounds in an attempt to scare the boys (this is the professor’s idea of a good time.)
Two hours later we found ourselves back at the van. Starving, again. ‘Let’s go to Canmore for lunch,’ the professor suggested. ‘We can leave the trailer just outside the Kananaskis entrance and get it on the way home,’ I suggested, hardly in the mood to drag Alice anywhere she didn’t need to go.
‘Do you really think we’re going to do this again, or can we just leave her there?’