“Number… four!” he said, with a delight unseen up until this point in the conversation.
Number four, as it would have it, was the campsite furthest from where we requested to spend the night. We paid our twenty bucks and quietly left the office. Driving past more desirable tent sites, heading further and further away from the stream, I swear I could hear that old man laughing.
Friends and I had patronized this particular campground numerous times. The gruffness of the proprietor was usually mitigated by the low cost and close proximity to the creek. The creek was filled with trout, so these excursions were purely about fly fishing. The wild brown trout made for a challenge, and the stocked rainbows kept things pretty busy. Every once in a while, a brook trout of unknown origin would pop up.
We were ideal campers. Early to bed, so as to be early to rise. No fireworks, booze, or fisticuffs. In and out; the campsite was the means to an end. You’ve probably seen campers who bring chili-pepper lights to decorate their site. Usually such festooning is the pièce de résistance to other varied and sundry decidedly un-camping items. Mini-fridges on generators, boom boxes, and dogs that can’t shut up being some of my favorites.
Once, on a camping/fishing trip in New Hampshire, I had the privilege of “roughing it” a few sites down from some Boston Bruins fans. I love my friends from New England, but there is a particularly abhorrent vocal frequency achieved when there is an unholy marriage of alcohol, sporting events, and Boston accents. I was certain that all three were all in play because I could also hear the Stanley Cup play-by-play. Ah, nature.
Assuming that you are indeed in some public campsite and that you’ve managed to get a night of sleep free from the ruckus of inebriated and/or canid neighbors, waking up in that tent knowing that fishing is on the docket is a great feeling. Here’s why:
- Everywhere, including damp waders, is more comfortable than your first night of sleep while camping.
- The only thing between your present state and fishing is coffee.
After said cup of coffee (which, of course, could taste like boiled ashtray and still be divine) and getting geared up, all you have to do is walk to the stream. That’s it. No drive, no morning routine. Breakfast can be finished on the stream. Smelling awful isn’t going to put the fish down.
That is the joy of camping streamside. You can hear the water, smell the wet rocks, and rest assured that there are fish just a few yards away.
I hope that age, children, and means (ha!) haven’t totally discouraged me from camping. A hotel means a hot shower and a bed that usually doesn’t have rocks or roots underneath. A hotel means that I don’t have to buy a pack of hot dogs and deal with lighting a fire. A hotel means Seinfeld reruns and heat/air conditioning.
Both have their place, and for me it means tapping into each in moderation. But you’re not with the fish anymore when you get a hotel room. The stream isn’t within walking distance, let alone earshot. Instead of emerging from a sleeping bag and waking up with the woods, you have to drive there after the comforts of modernity. Camping allows for some contemplation, as well. Staring into a fire can be cathartic if you’re alone, or it can be a catalyst for real conversation if you have company. And, I can’t stress this enough: you are right by the fish. That might all sound crunchy and philosophical, but if you’ve experienced it you know that it is true.
On that day, years ago, Mr. Cheerful messed with our regular. For no other reason than spite, he put us at number four. “Number four.” A phrase that will live in infamy for Alan and me. It was almost like we lost some innocence on that day. We drove up to that campground full of youthful exuberance, optimism, and the sunny dispositions of young men leaving suburbia behind to commune with nature. We left that office broken, disillusioned, and questioning everything.
Well, maybe that is a little bit of hyperbole. But he was a jerk.