Wilderness in New Jersey?
So I went camping this weekend.
To say I learned much would be an understatement. Despite my trying to dig deep into the recesses of my memory for previous camping experiences, none of those bumbling overnighters in my high school's softball field (which by the way, as much as I try to think of as long ago, are really only 7 or 8 years in my past) fits the bill of camping given what I did this weekend.
First of all, any person with recent enough experience would remember to take essentials. In my haste to make sure I Had The Proper Gear (i.e. waterproof stuffsacks, collapsible containers, synthetic outerwear) I neglected the basics like dinnerware, eating utensils and toilet paper.
Lesson #1: handle the simple before the fancy.
Second of all, I probably would have been able to recognize the differences between backpacking and canoe camping. As it was, I thought of my space limitations as extreme.
Lesson #2: if you'll be in a canoe, not everything has to fit in two bags. Use wiggle room to your advantage.
Save those minor points for personal improvement, the weekend was fantastic. The group I went with, Adventuring, consistently proves to appeal to an interesting crowd of revelers.
We started out at Mark G's place in S. Arlington--of particular interest was his apartment mate's collection of knicknacks including about 50 nutcrackers on a shelving unit and probably thirty faces of little gnomes hanging in the kitchen, not to mention a collection of giraffes that I was warned would have blown my mind had I seen it. John (previously cited elsewhere on this site) and a second Mark (Mark H) rolled by in John's SUV with two canoes strapped and tied to the top. Frequent readers of this site will notice that this SUV falls under Paragraph 2, Subclause 4 of the Exclusions to the Rule of Relentless Mockery and Verbal Irritation of SUV drivers by virtue of being in use for a sporting utility on rural roads involving mounds of dirt and occasional mud piles. Mark G and I plomped our stuff into the truck and squeezed into the remaining half of the back seat. That would prove to be a very testicularly unfriendly way of traveling.
The drive itself was uneventful. We stopped at Maryland House on I-95 for some dinner and eye candy (much of both was consumed), where I caused myself some more inguinal pain by dismounting very poorly off a brick wall (don't do it). A few more hours of the Groin Squeeze, we got to the first campsite near Goshen Pond in the Pine Barrens of NJ. John decided that the narrow and tree-bordered dirt path connecting the road to the campsite would be the perfect place to try out the truck's power, which, for those of us sitting in the back seat, brought back memories of Endor and Storm Troopers weaving their way at high speeds around giant redwoods.
Ground was kissed upon exit.
We camped for the night and slept not too well thanks to nature's endowment of our campsite with a very loud and territorial whippoorwill and to a bit of poor judgment and not enough force. I should have listened to Mark H's observation that the slope of the place where we were about to set our tent was probably too steep (and I know my internal Bad Idea Alarm was also ringing faintly), but we set up anyway (lacking significant opposition) and spent the night sliding downwards. Since it became pretty apparent pretty quickly that Mark H knew plenty about the outdoors and was very willing to share good insight (and his coffee mug) with This Humble Novice, I set a goal of learning as much as I could from him and anyone else who was willing to share know-how.
We set out on the canoes the next day after having taken down camp, packed it all and done all those morning things one does at camp. once we got to the river, it became apparent it would be interesting canoeing: the Mullica river is narrow where we started off, the trees are very close to the water and are oftentimes in the water, and it's not all that deep. Once we got everyone at the launch site, took the mandatory picture, and launched, the fun began. It took Mark G and I a while to figure out the dynamics of steering a fairly large item around river bends that draw acute angles, but we managed. Mark did get attacked by many trees, brambles and briars (they showed a particular affinity towards his face, which was unfortunate).
The Mullica is beautiful in its simplicity. It meanders through thick pine forests, wide expanses of wetland and the occasional field of wildflowers, and all along the way are small sandy beaches which invoke the more reptilian tendency to bask that lies hidden inside all floatersby. We had lunch on the river both days; compounded with nekked swimming, this made for glorious, carefree hours of floaty fun.
The second night's camp involved great food prepared by John, who somehow manages to carry what amounts to a fully equipped kitchen in a couple of nylon sacs and a cooler. Very impressive. A fire roared for about an hour before a thunderstorm blew past, but by the time it started pouring we were all tired anyhow and ready to sleep. The rain cleared out the air and made for a wonderfully dry Sunday almost devoid of bugs.
Breakfast was as good as dinner. John and Mark H had coordinated all the major meals, and their experience at outdoorsing certainly made for fine eating. Mark H prepared the breakfast burritos, with some good strong coffee to boot.
The last leg of canoeing on the river was relatively short, and by that point Mark G and I had become proficient at steering the canoe, so we both managed to enjoy the great weather and unexpectedly beautiful scenery. New Jersey isn't all that ugly, I discovered.
I got back home on Sunday evening, tired, sun-drained and with a layer of river grime that took some very heavy scrubbing in the shower. You know you're dirty when you can see dark, almost muddy water falling off a washcloth you just used.