It Is Labor Day And I Will Labor (To Pitch a Tent)

camping, life

I am T minus five hours away from a weekend-long Cheryl Strayed adventure, minus the solitary bit, no running water, or lack of modern toilet facilities. With plenty of food, an inflatable mattress, and a campground. Nevertheless, nature, here I come!

I wouldn’t categorize myself as an outdoorsy person, per se, but I have had extensive experience camping. Not necessarily voluntary or enthusiastic experience, but experience nonetheless. I rode up and down U.S. highways in the back of a sea-green Nissan Quest van, reading Sweet Valley High books, throughout the 90s. My parents stuffed a cooler full of baloney sandwiches and off we went, camping across America for the next decade during summer vacations. Yellowstone Park? Check. Grand Canyon? Check. Devil’s Tower? Mount Rushmore? Sand dunes in Michigan? Check. Check. Check.

With nostalgia strumming my memory chords, I suggested to my parents that we go camping over Labor Day weekend. My father was thrilled. It only took twenty years for his daughter to volunteer to camp. Our destination is the 8,500-acre Cook Forest State Park in the upper left-hand corner of Pennsylvania, which is about a two and a half hour drive northwest of Pittsburgh. With 29 miles of hiking trails and 10 miles of river for canoeing and rafting, I will become one with nature (aka covered head-to-toe in mosquito bites).

Michael’s verbatim response, when I told him about this trip, was, “Are you gonna survive?”

Yes, I will, thank you very much.

And not because I am Cheryl Strayed, releasing hidden reserves of moxie and resilience to overcome a challenging landscape and persevere despite adversity. It’s because I will have my bodyguard and general caretaker with me. Mr. Adamchik. This is the man who took me to the hospital after I flipped over my handlebars at the tender age of 22 when I braked too hard while bicycling along the tranquil Potomac trail in Virginia. With no obstacles on the wide, flat, and smoothly-paved path, I out-of-nowhere barreled ass over shoulders and sprawled on the biking trail.

He is also the man who knows I have to pee every twenty minutes and will deftly find a restroom or bush to accommodate my walnut-sized bladder. He knows I trip over air and is able to steady me before I crack my head open on a Hemlock tree. And it doesn’t hurt that he can pitch a tent and make delicious shish kabobs. So basically I’m in safe hands with Mr. Adamchik. He will be my paramedic. My crutch. And my chef de cuisine.

On our agenda is canoeing down the Clarion River. After my less than inspiring kayaking expedition in Ventura Harbor, I can’t wait to see what disasters await me in a canoe. The park features two popular canoe trips, a four mile trip and a ten mile trip (as if). I can’t even fathom jogging ten miles with my legs, which actually have some developed muscles, let alone paddling ten miles with my arms, which are utterly devoid of anything resembling a muscle.

The photo of visitors in canoes on the park’s website looked peaceful enough although the qualifying statement printed below the photo made me nervous. “This river is classified as a beginner’s river under normal conditions.” Why are we qualifying this statement? What conditions will make this river intermediate or advanced? And why the hell is that man in the middle canoe in head-to-toe rain gear?

I decided to do some research to prepare myself for the trip since I have not camped in close to a decade. The Cook Forest State Park website features a handy Camping Checklist. Some suggestions of note include:

“Outdoor appetites are usually large so be prepared!” If my indoor appetite is any indication of what my outdoor appetite will be like, this two-day camping trip will require a Costco trip.

Under the Shelter/Bedding section, the checklist features items such as a “dining fly”. What the…

I’m so at a loss for what this means, I Google it. It’s just a presumptuous name for a tent covering your dining area to keep it in the shade. What does a fly have to do with this? It’s not even enclosed with mesh to prevent flies from landing on your food. Let’s call it like we see it. It’s a tarp with poles. Moving on…

Under the Medical section:

Mole skin – like a mole skin rug? Nope, apparently this is an ointment to prevent blisters if you hike a lot. Might need to research this for my work heels.

In the Equipment section:


Bow Saw – ok, slow your roll. This isn’t the Hunger Games.

Whiskbroom – how is this different from a standard broom? You fancy, huh?

In the Miscellaneous section:

Compass – I’m sure this is handy but having the ability to actually interpret the compass and understand where you are in relation to where it’s pointing you to is critical. If I’m a mile south of camp and the compass is pointing me north, this is going to be useless unless I actually know I need to go south. Or north. Or whatever way is back to camp. Which I won’t because I can’t even get my hypothetical directions straight on paper. And then I’ll be eaten by a bear. The end.

Fishing gear – bye, Felicia.

In the Food Section, I am horrified to read that “Alcoholic beverages are not permitted in Pennsylvania state parks.” What kind of fuckery is this?

But most importantly, is this forest Wifi equipped?

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