Hard Top Horrors

Posted on July 14, 2018 under Storytelling with 8 comments

We stand on guard (rails) for thee


When is the last time you sourced, prepared and served rabbit stew at a campground?

It nearly happened 20 years ago.

The other day, I wandered into Whidden’s Campground in Antigonish with my granddaughter to visit some friends who were spending a week there camping. This campground is unique as it is an oasis in the downtown core. It has majestic, old growth trees with the Brierly Brook dissecting the park. A large percentage of the occupants on any given week are locals including a number of people from town who see traveling less than a kilometre as a way of “getting away from it all.” On the far side of the river, the entire population of Louisdale is camped out for most of the summer.

My granddaughter makes friends easily so I found myself hobnobbing with some folks from Port Hawkesbury who have a large camper. How large, you say? I would estimate it at about half the length of the Canso Causeway. I haven’t seen one of these behemoths up close as my camping days are in the rear view mirror. In no way, shape or form, could you consider this form of camping as “roughing it”. It had every modern convenience possible including a unit that slides out exposing an oven, a microwave and a chef!

Most people of my generation have taken a stab at camping. When our children were young, we were crazy enough to buy a small tent, pitch it in the back yard and pretend that we were wilderness explorers. The first sleepover likely ended around midnight when excitement and mosquitoes had taken their toll.

But we were a brave lot and we moved on to greater adventures. Our children are all musical and in a fit of insanity, we agreed to take all four to Stanfest in Canso, and to tent. Canso is perched precariously on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and is subject to changeable weather. In the space of a few hours, one can experience scorching heat, oppressive humidity; thunder and lightning, torrential rain and fog. The concert venue is set up in such a way that you can experience the festival in the lap of luxury or get down and dirty. The kids pleaded to stay in the “acoustic campground.”

We acquiesced and paid dearly for this lack of judgment. The acoustic campground is designed for young people who have no intention of sleeping for three days straight. They plan to drink excessively 24/7 and entertain other campers by singing “Barrett’s Privateers” at 3:30 a.m. Every verse. Sometimes twice in a row.

The first night it rained so hard that a small river ran through our six person tent.

Like the Jefferson’s we “moved on up” and purchased a hard top camper. We kept it in our yard for a month. It took us the first three weeks to figure out how to open it and one week to eradicate the mildew and musty smell that seems endemic to hard tops. At that time, we had a driveway that circumnavigated the house. Once we got a hitch put on to the back of our Dodge Caravan, I was able to make several loops of the yard just to see how it would feel towing it. Never once did it occur to me that I would have to park it once we reached a campground.

It was a hot day, one filled with excitement and anticipation as we pulled out of Antigonish heading for a campground just west of Moncton. Why we didn’t practice at Whidden’s is one of those great mysteries, like how they get the caramel in Caramilk chocolate bars.

With several bathroom breaks, it seemed to take forever to reach our destination. By the time we arrived, everyone was just a bit agitated. We made the descent down a long hill and entered paradise. It was quickly to become hell.

The first thing I noticed was the preponderance of rabbits. They were everywhere including the middle of the road. Not knowing their collective I.Q., I took it slowly not wanting to explain the notion of carnage to my children while sitting around a campfire roasting marshmallows. We picked up our pass at the registration desk and made our way to our site. While I’m quite certain that there was plenty of room to park between the campers on either side of us, the space looked infinitesimally small.

You have to back into your campsite.

That’s when I felt the first droplets of sweat form on my brow. With the kids still inside the van, I made a few feeble attempts to manoeuvre the camper into place with no luck. As world war three was about to break out, I instructed the kids to go outside and chase rabbits or go to the nearby playground. I then started to receive instructions from my wife about my parking technique. That would have been helpful but to this point, I didn’t have a technique. I was concerned about the liability costs from smashing into my neighbour’s unit. All the while, I kept a keen eye on the rabbits.

This was well before the advent of cell phones and Google. This was trial by error. There was far more error than trial. My inner thermostat began to rise as I politely suggested that my wife exit the van and guide me into the space. It was a sensible idea. In theory. I could hear her instructions but I couldn’t see her. I was getting used to the large side mirrors I had purchased for this very reason but I couldn’t get her in my sights.

I lost count but it took at least 15 tries before achieving success but it nearly cost me my marriage.

I got out of the van and before detaching the hard top, I immediately poured myself a healthy glass of Captain Morgan black rum and Pepsi. I surveyed the landscape and circled the vehicle looking for dead, four legged furry characters. Mercifully there were none.

I often look back at that experience wistfully. No, that’s a lie. It fills me with borderline rage at my incompetence. But it gives me comfort to find out that many members of the male species have had similar difficulties.

Every campground should provide a parking service to morons like me. I would have paid any amount of money to avoid the angst and the embarrassment felt that summer day so many years ago.

If hotels can have valet service, why not campgrounds. It just might save a few more marriages.



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