Lodging is the real challenge. You have to experience Oshkosh to get an understanding for the immensity of the crowd and the effect that has on occupancy rates for the local hotels, motels, camp grounds, dormitories, and cardboard boxes under the highway overpasses. The lowest cost and highest availability option is tent camping, and that had been my working plan for the last couple of weeks. I decided last night, though, that a motel was the right way to go. I made reservations at a Hampton Inn near West Bend, WI this afternoon. It's well to the south of Oshkosh, but we can easily commute for a couple of days.
So, why not save the money and go camping? Well... let me tell you.
Co-pilot Rick pulled into the driveway at 0730 Sunday morning. The Subie was already loaded with all of the equipment (well, most of it anyway) that I would need for a night of camping at The Farm&trade. All that remained to be done was to load Rick's supplies into the smidgen of available space that I had left for him and to load the kayaks onto their carrying racks. We had plenty of time; I wasn't scheduled to pick up Wingman Ted at Versailles Darke Co. (KVES) until 1030.
By the time we had stopped for breakfast and ice for the coolers, and added a few unexpected miles to detour around a piece of closed road for good measure, it was apparent that I'd be late. Never one to waste a good crisis, I managed to work that to my advantage by expediting our arrival to, and my exit from, the farm using the "Hey, Rick! Take the Subie on down to the site while I jump in my Dad's hot little BMW convertible to go get Ted" gambit before he had a chance to catch on to my impromptu yet nefarious scheme. Even though we were running a little late, we arrived at the airport just has Ted entered a crossover left downwind for runway 9.
Ted (who has a PhD) was smart enough to only plan on spending the day rather than camping overnight with us. If that isn't a tangible demonstration of the value of being highly educated, I don't know what is. Temps were in the mid-80s and the humidity was a "coming attraction" trailer for August, so we were in for a hot, sticky day. It was hazy and overcast, though, so at least we wouldn't be baking all day. Still, because Ted didn't have the same luxury of time that we did and of a necessity needed to keep abreast of adverse weather development, we pushed right into the day's activities.
First on the agenda was shooting. I brought my Beretta NEOS .22 and my 7.62x39mm SKS rifle and Ted had come equipped with an AR-15 and some kind of Czechoslovakian CZ .22 scoped rifle. I was not only appreciative of the East meets West irony of me, the Anglo heritage guy, having the Chinese rifle while Ted, him being of Taiwanese descent, had the American AR-15 (it's a lot like an M-16), but also anxious for a chance to fire a few .223 rounds through the aforementioned AR-15. It wasn't to be.
The AR-15 experienced an irresolvable jam on the second round fired. I was a bit surprised (if any gun needs to be 100% reliable, it's a military piece) at first but, upon further review, I think I understand what happened. Ted was using Russian ammo (Wolf) fed from an Israeli magazine into an American rifle. Why should that combination be any less dysfunctional than the United Nations?
We had plenty of guns to go around, even after the unexpected loss of the AR-15. We took turns shooting the other three with varying success. The SKS provided a big bang but marginal accuracy, while the scoped CZ provided extremely accurate shooting with a report barely louder than a popped balloon. The CZ was so accurate, in fact, the we soon moved on to the tougher challenge of shooting the pistol. That, having nearly instantly being determined to be too hard from the same spot that we had been shooting a scoped rifle from, prompted a move closer to the targets.
After convincing ourselves that we were each proficient enough to hit the proverbial (as far as we're willing to tell him) broad side of my brother's barn (which sits just behind the big mound of dirt used to catch the bullets), we packed up the shooting irons and moved on to the next stop of the day. We drove into Greenville to visit the Darke County Fairgrounds and watch a couple of matinée horse races. These races are typically training races for young, newly trained horses. They keep the field small - the two races we watched only had three horse each in them.
We were all getting pretty hungry by then and I still needed to get my tent set up, so we jumped back in the car and headed back to the camping area to get a fire started, some food cooked, and my tent out of the bag. Rick and Ted concentrated on the first two tasks while I muddled my way through the third. I was doing far more than simply assembling my tent, though. I was also working through the list of things that I forgotten to bring:
- a hammer to put in tent stakes
- the little light that I like to use at night to avoid tripping over a tree or slumbering grizzly bear
- a pillow
'Twas the pillow that concerned me most.
By the time I had my tent forced into a shape that could be considered reasonably similar to that of a tent, at least to an untrained eye, the brats cooking over the fire were just about ready. And, as an additional bonus, the fire had begun to chase away the multitudinous flocks of mosquitoes that had jumped on us like a tour bus full of senior citizens lining up for the 4:00 Las Vegas buffet. I had remembered (Sigh. Ok, been reminded by the Co-owner) to bring some bug spray but the three of us had already put a significant dent in its capacity. We would need more. The shopping list was growing!
We sat and had a nice lunch of brats and potato chips while listening to the rush of water running through the falls next to the camp site and inhaling the almost overpowering scent of insect repellent. It is my considered opinion that the words 'odor free' when seen in the context of insect repellent mean only that they aren't charging extra for the horrible smell. Fortunately, it wasn't strong enough to have a notable adverse effect on the lunch.
Having finished our late lunch, it was time to run some errands. Ted needed to head back home before the thunderstorms developing in southeastern Ohio put him in the position of having to spend the night with us. Again: PhD = smart. Even then, the trip was no picnic:
My XM did not work. I circled around Jamestown for awhile trying to figure out the course to take. Air was very bumpy between Jamestown and Washington Court House. Finally I eyeballed my way through some rain shower and went around the real bad stuff near Chillicothe.
Rick and I then needed to go to Wal-Mart for the procurement of the supplies we were lacking. Water and beer were easy to pick out, but the pillow gave me more trouble. Because there is every possibility that I would be purchasing a pillow for one time use, cost was very high in the list of selection criteria. My options were quickly winnowed down to two:
- $5.00 for a pillow that, according to the packaging, was "optimal for side sleepers"
- $3.50 for a pillow that apparently wasn't optimized for any specific sleeping strategy
So, in other words, $1.50 more for the promise of the optimal pillow for me, versus the risk I'd be taking by selecting the more ambiguously defined pillow. I rolled the dice and selected the cheaper of the two.
The selection of insect repellent was also an exercise in decision making. There were quite a few options to choose from, but careful analysis indicated that the primary difference between the various selections was the concentration of something called "Deet." There were some with 45% Deet, some with Deet combined with sun screening chemicals, some that promised to be odor free (as mentioned above, we know better than to misinterpret that pledge), and various other combinations. Rick and I were unable to reach consensus in our individual selections. He went with 'Maximum Deet,' while I chose '100% Deet.' In theory, of course, these are exactly the same thing. I wasn't the smartest kid in the Cincinnati Public School System, but I'm pretty sure that the maximum concentration of anything is 100%. I could be wrong about that, but even if some clever manufacturer has figured out how to cram 107% in there, I don't think it would make that much difference. Besides, I don't even know what 'Deet' is. It's probably just a politically correct name for DDT. A little of that goes a long way...
Having become acclimated to the air conditioned environment at Wal-Mart, I wasn't really keen on going straight back down to the hot, humid camp site. Bad luck for me, that, as we still had some chores to do. If we wanted to have access to our favorite fishing area, a tree that had fallen across it would have to be chopped up with a chainsaw borrowed from my Dad. I did the sawing, as can be seen by this rather embarrassing picture:
I underestimated just how much bending force there was on that branch. As I was cutting down thorough it, the two sides of the cut clamped down on the saw freezing it into place. This presented us with quite a dilemma. The saw was really, really wedged in there, and it would take a second saw to remove it. We didn't have one. I asked what they would do on Survivor, but cutting to commercial proved to be a nonviable answer. The two us being slightly smarter than your average cave dweller, we soon arrived at the idea of using a lever. Well, Rick using a lever and me taking a picture of it. We all have our strengths...
With the fishing area clear, Rick grabbed some essential fishing supplies and tried his luck:
As long as I had the camera out, I wandered around taking pictures:
Removing the chain saw from the tree was the last straw for me from a heat/humidity tolerance aspect. I was done. Tired. Worn out. Knackered. But rather than just come right out and say that, which would glaringly demonstrate my inherent wussiness, I dodged into it by suggesting to Rick that I really ought to visit with my parents in their air-conditioned house for awhile. Oh, and that he was more than welcome to join me. Did he agree to go with me just a tad too quickly? No, of course not. Surely that's just my imagination trying to maintain a modicum of self-esteem.
We spent some time chatting and hoping that the rains would abate in time to allow Nascar to get the big race in Charlotte started, but they eventually were forced to give up. By 8:30 the temperature was starting to approach something more reasonable so we headed back down to the site. We needed to get the fire fluffed up again and get dinner started. The contents of the night's chili had already been cooked, cut, mixed, and packed into travel containers, so it was just a matter of tossing it all into the cast iron dutch oven and plopping it down onto the fire.
While it was heating, I decided to go do a little fishing. Or, as I like to call it, feeding lures to the river rocks. I am the king of snagging lures. I could snag a lure in a Dixie cup of water.
That's all to the good though, because if there is one thing that I can't stand about fishing, it's catching a fish. More accurately, it's removing the hook from the fish that I simply cannot stand doing. I get someone else to do it on the rare occasions that I actually catch anything. That's not as wussy as it sounds, actually. It can be relatively dangerous. On one occasion the woman (!!!) removing the hook proceeded to run it right through the web of skin between my thumb and forefinger. Ouch!
You see this coming, right? Within just a couple of minutes of tossing the lure into the creek, I caught this fella:
I have very light and small tackle (why are you giggling?) so even a fast current can feel like a small fish hitting on the lure. Conversely, if the pole bends and the reel drag starts squealing, I've snagged the lure. That latter is what happened. I was reeling in the line when it just stopped. Just as I was thinking that I'd have to cut it loose, it moved! It started tugging, but much stronger than the current could do. It eventually dawned at me that I had either snagged a tire or hooked a fish. Still unsure, I fought it in a little closer, a little closer, a little closer... and eventually it broke water. Wow!
It was at that point I yelled at Rick to come down and get this fish off of my hook. It took a few more minutes of fighting to get it beached, and just a few more seconds beyond that to realize that I hadn't brought a pair of pliers for hook removal. Sigh. Add it to the list. Rick managed to get the hook out and we sent Mr. Big Bass on his way.
By this time I was sticky with sweat, smelled like Deet, and wanted a shower. It was at this point that I realized that camping was not the way to stay at Oshkosh with Egg. We would be miserable. I want her to have a good time, not endure three days of misery. I'll catch a lot of grief from the camping purists who seem to believe that suffering is the same as fun when camping, but I can live with that. I don't know who was the first to put the 'tent' in 'penitent' but I choose to reject that false choice and take the easy way out. I'll see you at the Hampton Inn.
After dinner and a few beers, I was bushed and ready to head to my tent. I was pretty tired and fell asleep quickly, but not before texting to Rick:
"DAMN! This is NOT a side sleeper pillow!"
I slept pretty well, happy that I hadn't had much to drink. I go light on the drinking because I dread having to get up and claw my way out of the tent in the middle of the night in order to stumble around in the dark looking for a nice tree to water, but that moderation never seems to make much difference. I think it's the sound of the creek rushing by that ensures that I will have to make that trek at least twice. I think the sound of the water rushing past on its way to an ocean has the same wanderlust-inducing effect on the water molecules that comprise 60% of our bodies as the sound of a railroad locomotive had on a teenager living in Kansas in the 30's. Just. Gotta. Go.
I woke up a little after first light, rolled over, and slept for another hour. Then came the most awkward part of camping: meeting the strange bugs that you slept with last night. Ick. Well, as long as everyone had fun, I guess. I also dug out my allergy pills, but after a night of sleeping surrounded by pollen-generating foliage, I was unable to achieve my normal Claritan-enabled clearness. The best I could do was more of a foggy translucence. Coffee helped. Mental note: make sure the Hampton Inn provides a coffee maker.
On the way back from breakfast (Bob Evans: The Official Breakfast Of Wussy Campers) we stopped to visit with some of the race horses my parents keep on the farm. This is King Me:
This is the second try at this picture. I got a real nice one the first time he went galloping across the field, but accidentally deleted it while I was showing it off to Rick and bragging about what a wonderful shot it was. Smooth. At least King Me was kind enough to take another jog for me. He's a good boy.
Don't let my tales of tribulation fool you: despite the little trials and the heat/humidity issues, we had a great time. There's no better way to spend a Saturday evening than sitting on the banks of a running creek sharing a few brews. Some day Egg and I will camp at Oshkosh, but I think we should work up to it a little bit at a time. We'll see how she does with a motel room first - even with a room, it's a physically demanding couple of days.