Last weekend, Sam and I went camping. The night prior to departure, Sam asked about my passport. I hadn’t packed it , and I would need it to cross the border on our way to Mount Washington, New Hampshire. I started looking in obvious drawers and folders. I looked and looked again, shuffled papers, turned in circles. Ninety minutes later, I gave up. Surprised, Sam said: “What? You don’t remember where you put it?”
Without a defence or logical explanation, I said: “I don’t know where it is. My allergies and those allergy pills I’ve been popping for two straight weeks have made me fuzzy. But I think I might have mailed the passport to the ministry of health on a low and pathetic day. I wanted to have that damn accent removed. Stéphanie. Stephanie. It made sense at the time.”
He didn’t agree. “Pour un putain d’accent?” [“For a fucking accent?”]
I added: “But I also remember placing it in my purse on the morning I renewed my health card. Was that before or after the Canada Post, ministry of health memory? I don’t know.”
With neither a passport nor any New Hampshire campsite reservations, we were free to abandon Mount Washington. To our computers! The Parc national de la Gaspésie had vacancies. In only a couple of hours, we had packed the food, assembled “necessities,” and stuffed the rented car with freshly purchased gear.
The park is nine hours from home. So we cut the trip in two and spent the first night in Rivière-du-Loup’s municipal camping. Its RV sites had been abundantly cleared; its tent sites hadn’t. Mosquitoes swarmed the humid woods. Along with the couple from Victoriaville, we were the only campers to pitch a tent.
When had RVs become the dominant camping mode? And luxury so common?
I returned to the entrance to pay the fees. Meanwhile, the insects ravaged Sam’s face, neck, hands, wrists, and ankles. Suffering, he wondered how he’d survive the night. We jumped into the car and drove to Canadian Tire.
We could recognize a Canadian Tire any day by its smell of plastic and garage. We bought various citronella candles and the only DEET-free repellent available.
The dark sky above and ground beef in our cooler weighed on us. Back in the car, we discussed postponing our first stove experience. We took a left turn and returned to Old Rivière-du-Loup’s main drag. We settled into a Normandin booth for some shitty burgers.
The next day, 80 or so crows started talking Crow at 5 am. And then people started speaking Crow in my dreams. “Hand me the sugar,” crowed a former colleague in the workplace kitchenette. Sam and I quickly dressed, ate bread and jam, and left the birds behind.
We arrived to a cold and damp park in the boreal forest, 46 kilometres south of the salty St. Lawrence. I freaked out.
Would we be warm enough? Was the -5°C rating on our sleeping bag accurate or a marketing lie? Another disregard for truth or promise not kept?
Paying for firewood at the visitors’ centre, I gulped while reading over the temperature predictions. It was dropping to 2°C tonight. Back home, we had read predictions for 13°C. Sam kicked into reassurance mode. “Don’t worry. We have good equipment. We’ll be fine. Don’t worry. We have good equipment. We’ll be fine.”
We were fine. We had good equipment. The cold, damp air didn’t penetrate our sleeping bag. It hovered above it and rested on our uncovered faces. The self-inflating mattress cut the driveway’s dampness. Misery wouldn’t gotten the best of us.
The next night, as we were changing out of our hiking clothes into warm, goose-feather-infused evening clothes, I asked Sam, “Why do we camp.” I didn’t mean why we, Sam and Stephanie, camp, but, rather, why North Americans and Europeans camp. Why do we leave home to settle in campsites where lots resemble driveways, where toilets are pits, where showers are timed, where generators are loud?
During the camping trip, we had cooked, hiked, sat around a fire, sat at a picnic table, talked, read. We had also cooked, hiked, talked, read, and watched fire and flames.
I continued, “What’s camping?”
“A form of pretending. We pretend to live simpler lives. We pretend to live in nature,” he said.
I didn’t disagree. The answer felt right.