Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Snug Harbor (Part 5)

I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born.” Henry David Thoreau
            I woke up early and bleary eyed. I crawled out of my tent, checked the coals on the campfire and added a couple logs of wood to it. I placed my hands over the new flames to warm them and looked around the campsite. The evidence of our night of food, companionship, lies and bullshit were not as bad as I had feared. My camp-mates were still asleep and the sounds of their snores could barely be heard over the sounds of the sounds of the chirping birds and scavenging creatures of the woods.
            I took my time doing the morning chores that come with camping, getting water boiling, brushing teeth, relieving my bladder, and getting some food cooking and coffee brewing. (Yes, I drank coffee at an early age… earlier than the age of thirteen that’s for sure.) It wasn’t long after I had sat back down on my log when Kevin poked his head out of his tent. “Mornin’… what time is it?” he mumbled to me as he crawled out of his tent clumsily.
            “About eight-thirty or so.” I answered as I poured myself a cup of coffee. “You want some coffee?”
            “Coffee? Um, no thanks.”
            “Ok, suit yourself.” I said and took a sip from my cup. The bitter, acrid taste filled my mouth and I could feel the caffeine start to course through my body.
            I looked over at Kevin and he was fumbling through his pack of smokes and mumbling to himself.
            “Mind if I mooch one of those from you?” I asked.
            Kevin lit the treasure he had fished out of the paper pack and tossed it to me. “Have you seen the Pi’s?” he asked
            “No.” I said as I lit up “They seemed pretty beat when we all crashed last night and I heard them snoring earlier when I was getting the fire stoked. How’d you sleep?”
            “Ok, I suppose. I’m sore and the ground was pretty lumpy. I think I slept on a rock or something.”
            “Yeah, it takes some time to get used to the ground. We get pretty spoiled by our beds, but after three days out here you really don’t notice it. A little hint, gather up some pine needles and scatter them under your sleeping bag.”
            “What do the pine needles do?”
            “They act as a cushion, like a pad, and keep you from feeling all the rocks you missed when you set up your tent. You should have about an inch of needles under your bag too.”
            “Thanks, I’ll try that. Is there anything to eat for breakfast?”
            “Well, we ate all the fish last night but I do have some canned food we can heat up as well as a sandwich or two.” I offered.
            “Anything is good. Can’t believe how hungry I am.” And as if to confirm his statement Kevin’s stomach let out a loud rumble and I chuckled.
            “I will start to heat up some of the canned food, in the meantime, have a sandwich.” I said as I headed into my tent to get some food. It took a few minutes but I managed to gather up two sandwiches, a can of ravioli, a can of pork and beans and a couple of hot dogs I had wrapped up in tin foil. When I emerged from my tent Big Pi and Little Pi were sitting at the campfire with Kevin. Little Pi was poking the fire with a stick, Big Pi was trying to light a cigarette and Kevin was putting another log on the fire.
            “Morning guys.” I said as I tried to not drop the load of groceries in my arms.
            “Hey Skip.” The brothers chimed in unison.
            I dropped one of the cans on the ground as I approached them and Little Pi got up and picked it up for me. I placed everything on the ground at my feet by the fire. Then I grabbed the two sandwiches that were wrapped in wax paper, handed them to Little Pi and said “Split these in half and pass them around.” I then took out my Swiss army knife and started to open up the canned food and placed them in the pot of hot water. I close the can opener tool on my knife and opened up a knife and stirred the beans and ravioli. Once the cans started to get warm I put the hot dogs in the water and then sat back and enjoyed my half of a bologna and cheese sandwich.
            I pulled the cans out of the water with my hand wrapped in my shirt so I would burn my hand, opened up the spoon on my Swiss Army knife, took a bite of beans then a bite of ravioli and passed the food and spoon on to Kevin. He repeated what I had done and then passed the cans and spoon on to the Pi brothers. When the cans were empty I speared the hot dogs with knife and put them in the cans and we ate those. Our eating was done in silence with occasional interruptions of a burp or a cough.
            We finished eating, cleaned up our dishes and I soaked the fire pit with two pots of water. My new friends got their tents secured and their backpacks prepared to go to their house. I prepped my back pack and as we walked to the other side of the pond I looked back at our campsite and hoped it would be ok.
            On our mile long hike to Kevins’ neighborhoods more tales of riding the dirt bikes in the “Dunes” and jumping the “Pit of Death” were traded amongst my compatriots. I felt a nervous tension growing in my stomach as the size of the “Pit of Death” grew from twenty feet long, six feet deep and five feet wide to forty feet long, twenty feet deep and fifteen feet wide and the stacks of broken motorcycles and amputated body parts filled the pit. The guys also filled me in on the rest of their gang; apparently Kevin had a sister named Karen who was a year younger than him. The Pi’s had an older sister who was a senior in high school and rarely hung out in the neighborhood. There was also Steve whose bikes we would be riding, Steve had a sister named Teresa who was a year older and then there was Mikey who was a kid who had a three-wheeler and a Kawasaki KDX.
            Apparently, from what I could understand, Mikey held the record for jumping the “Pit of Death” at the “Dunes” and him and Teresa had been going steady until Mikey got caught kissing Karen. Of course, I could have misunderstood. By the time we got to Kevin’s house my head was swimming with drama, bullshit and half-truths. I had to concentrate on recalling the tips and techniques of dirt bike riding as well as what sort of replacement food and supplies I would need for the campsite.
            We piled our gear in Kevin’s garage and headed out to Mikey’s house. We found him eating his way through a box of Cap’n Crunch, Crunch Berries in his parents garage as well as the rest of the gang. Kevin introduced me around and I tried hard to remember every ones name. My main distraction came from the motorcycles, dirt bikes, and three wheelers parked everywhere.
            Kevin was sitting on his three-wheeler, Steve was sitting on a Honda 125, Teresa was leaning against the workbench and Karen was standing at the entrance to the garage smoking. Everyone agreed it would be a perfect day to head to the Dunes and tear up the sand for the day.
            Questions were asked about my proficiency on a bike, and answered. It was decided I would use the Suzuki 75cc bike while everyone else used 100’s or 125’s. I really couldn’t complain, I was after all the new guy, untried and untested in the eyes of this well rounded group.
            We headed out in single file order and I was the second to the last one in line, Little Pi was last and he was riding the three wheeler. We rode through the neighborhood and then made a cut through an abandon houses’ backyard and onto a well worn trail canopied by trees and bushes. We rode for about a half a mile along this trail and one by one we crested a ten foot mound of dirt into the late morning sunlight.
            My fellow riders were already gunning the throttles of their machines, steering their bikes towards whoop-de-whoops, moguls and jumps. I pulled the Suzuki off to the side and let Little Pi blast by me, his screaming and laughter drowning out the high pitched whine of his engine. I sat on the bike and tried to take in the entire depth and breadth of what my pals had been calling “The Dunes”.
            The place seemed huge but it couldn’t have been more than a hundred and fifty yards long, thirty yards wide and in the shape of an oblong bowl. Dunes, burms, pits and moguls were scattered everywhere but there seemed to be a winding path between each obstacle the only exception to this was a straight-a-way path in the middle of the entire bowl. The path was about thirty yards long with a ramp at the end. At the high end of the ramp was what appeared to be a hole about six feet wide and at least fifteen feet long, the distances were hard for me to tell from my perch near the entrance to the ad hoc recreational area.
            I saw Kevin heading towards me like his ass was on fire and when he was about twenty feet from me he flipped his bike sideways and washed me down in a spray of sand, quickly followed by laughter.
            “Damn Kev!” I yelled over the din of motors “What the hell did you do that for?”
            “Just messin’ with you man. What are you sitting up here for? All the fun is down there?”
            “I’m trying to get a feel for things. What do you think I’m doing?”
            “Didn’t know if you were chicken? Oh, and you have to jump the Pit today. Which might be a bit hard on that small bike.” He said with a chuckle.
            “With a run like that I shouldn’t have a problem.” I said pointing to the path up to the ramp.
            “Well, let’s get it over with then. That way if you crash and burn we can get you to the hospital and still ride this afternoon.” He said and throttled up his bike and went down and parked his cycle alongside the path. The rest of the group soon followed suit forming two lines one on the east side of the path and one on the west side.
            I rode down to the far end of the Pit and slowly rode parallel along the entire length, once I got to the ramp I noticed a decent size groove in the center of it and knew the path I would have to take. At the low end of the ramp I steered my bike into the middle of the approach path and rode past my initiators. At the end of the line I turned my bike around and lined my bike up in the middle of the path.
            I sat back a bit, looked at the long line of dirt in front of me, then I made eye contact with each of my fellow riders. There was a tickle in my stomach, I could feel beads of sweat on my forehead and I knew my shirt was soaked through at the armpits. I shrugged my shoulders, pulled, put the bike in second gear, reved the engine up, popped the clutch and sent a rooster tail of sand into the air.
            “GERONIMO!!!” I screamed as headed off to face my newest abyss.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Snug Harbor Part 4

“You only need sit still long enough in some attractive spot in the woods that all its inhabitants may exhibit themselves to you by turns." Henry David Thoreau

            I led Kevin, Big Pi and Little Pi to an area near the pond where a large flat rock had been abandoned from a time when glaciers covered the most of this area 16,000 years ago. I set the pot that held the fish on the rock and pulled the fish out and set them side by side in front of me. I handed the pot to Kevin “Kev, can you fill this pot with some water for me?”
            Kevin took the pot and walked over to the pond and dipped it in the water and brought it back to me. I poured some of the water on the fish and pulled out my knife and began to gut my catch. As I did so, I explained to my camp guests how to slice the fish open and remove the insides. I made quick work of the cleaning and deposited the cleaned fish in the pot with the water and rinsed them off. I took the waste and threw it in the pond and then dumped the waste water into the pond as well.
            As I headed back towards the fire pit I looked over my shoulder and saw the brothers staring at me. Little Pi’s eyes were wide and his mouth was hanging open, his older brother looked pale and he was holding his stomach with both hands. “C’mon guys, I have to get these things on the fire or they will go to waste.” I said and beckoned them to follow me. “Kevin, you want to gather up some more wood? We’re going to need a lot to last through the night.” I added.
            “Sure Skip” I heard Kevin say behind me. “Big Pi, you want to help?” he added
            “Uh… yeah, sure.” I heard the boy say weakly.
            “I think I’ll help too.” The younger brother squeaked out.
            I continued towards the camp site focused on getting dinner cooked. I got the fish salted, peppered, and even managed to throw some wild onions on them before I wrapped them up in tin foil and placed them on the highest level of the cooking rack. I then sat back, lit up a cigarette and watched as my camp mates brought armfuls of wood to the small pile I had made earlier. In no time the pile of wood grew large enough to not just last us one night but several.
            By the time the fish were ready to eat my three new friends looked tired, dirty and famished. They sat around the fire talking in breathless, incomplete sentences. Kevin was warning the Pi brothers not to dig into the fish immediately, but to wait a few minutes for the food to cool down enough and then he went on to describe the blister on the roof of his mouth from the fish he ate at lunch.
            I took the wrapped fish off the grate, set them on the ground in front of me and opened the foil. The aroma of the food filled our nostrils and I could see my visitors leaning in to get a good view of the source of the evening meal. “Where’d you learn to cook?” Little Pi asked. His voice breaking the hypnotic reverie we had all seemed to fall into.
            “For camping? In the Boy Scouts years ago.” I answered. “Well, that and my dad used to take us camping a lot. I’d help him fish and I’d watch my mom prepare the food.”
            “Smells good.” Big Pi chimed in.
            “Wait ‘til you taste it.” Kevin said knowingly.
            I tore three sheets of tinfoil off the roll I brought with me and set one fish on each sheet and handed them out. “Sorry I don’t have more silverware. I didn’t know I was going to have visitors.” I said
            “No problem man, we can use our fingers.” Big Pi answered “Besides we’re the ones crashing your campsite. I’m just glad I don’t have to spend the night at home.”
            I sat back and gave the Pi brothers a quizzical look and then looked at Kevin, he was staring at me and shaking his head in a manner that told me to let the statement go. I shrugged and nodded back at him and picked up my fish and began to eat.
            Nothing much was said while we ate, but the noise of lip smacking and burps filled the campsite and I knew I had done a decent job of making our meager meal tasty. When we had finished eating Big Pi passed out some cigarettes, I lit mine with a stick I had been poking the fire with, when it was lit I handed it to Kevin. He took the stick lit his smoke and passed it on to Big Pi who lit two cigarettes and handed one to his younger brother.
            “Is he old enough to smoke?” I asked.
            “I’m old enough.” He answered for himself.
            “And if we don’t give him a smoke, he runs home and tells Mom and Dad I’ve been smoking.” The older brother answered. “Don’t you?”
            “If you can do it, so can I. Aint nothing you can do that I can’t.” he said defensively.
            “Guys, knock it off.” Kevin said. “If you two start fighting, I’m going to kick both your asses.”
            “I’d like to see you try.” Little Pi challenged.
            That statement earned him a smack upside his head from his brother. “Knock it off, or I’ll take you home and tell Mom you’re acting up.”
            Little Pi sat there rubbing his ear and puffing on his cigarette. “You didn’t have to hit me so hard.” He pouted.
            Kevin stood up and stretched his arms out wide “I need to take a piss, any particular spot you have marked for that Skip?”
            “Yeah, up near the bend in the trail over there.” I answered as I pointed towards the entrance I came in on. Kevin stared at where I was pointing. The light was fading fast as the sun started to dip below the tree line.
            “Ok, I think I see it.”
            “Just walk about fifty feet that way and you’ll see some bushes that look like they’ve been half eaten. That is where you can piss.” I said.
            As he headed off towards the makeshift bathroom, Big Pi stood up and headed off after him. “Wait up Kev. I gotta go too.”
            “What about you?” I asked Little Pi
            “Nah, I’ll go later.” He said and then added “Thanks for letting us hang out with you.”
            “It’s no problem. Besides, I’m new here and I could use a few friends.”
            “Is that what we are to you?”
            I looked at the boy, he was staring me right in the eye and I could barely get a read on what he was thinking “Well, yeah. I hope so. What do you think?”
            “I don’t know. I’m just glad we don’t have to sleep at home tonight.”
            “So I gathered. What’s up with that?”
            “Nothing… Hey, so you were a boy scout? That’s cool. I don’t think there are any clubs like that out here in the sticks though.” He quickly changed the subject.
            “Yeah, I was, but I haven’t been one in a long time.”
            “So you remember the stuff you learned there?”
            “Yup, I remember lots of stuff. Especially once I’ve done something a couple of times.”
            “Think you could teach me some of it? Like the gutting of fish and cooking them and camping and stuff.”
            I looked at the kid and nodded “Sure, I can do that. But it’s not that hard to learn. I think I have my old handbook I can loan you if you want to read it. Most of the stuff in there is pretty basic…”
            “Yeah, that would be cool.” He interrupted me his voice filled with hope and his eyes filled with eagerness. “When can I get it?”
            “Um, well, I am supposed to be back home in a couple days so I will get it then.”
            “Oh, ok.” He said a bit defeated.
            “Don’t worry Little Pi, I won’t forget. Besides, something tells me you won’t let me forget.”
            The voices of Kevin and Big Pi started to become apparent and Little Pi got quiet and said softly “You’re right. I won’t.
            “Hey knuckleheads… What’s going on?” Kevin questioned.
            “Not much, just getting to know each other a bit. What took you two so long?”
            “We were talking about what to do tomorrow. Big Pi suggests we go get the bikes and take you to the dunes for some riding. You do know how to ride don’t you?”
            “Matter of fact, I do.” I said.
            “Alright!” Little Pi shouted. “Tomorrow is going to be awesome!”
            “Calm down man, it’s not like you haven’t ridden before.” The older Pi said as he sat down next to his brother.
            “What are the dunes?” I asked and for the next several hours my new pals regaled me with stories of their adventures on dirt bikes jumping mile long pits of death and sending rooster tails of sand a hundred feet in the air with the machines.
            By the time we went to bed the moon had risen to its apex and started to fall into the waiting arms of the trees that surrounded us. I can’t speak for my fellow campers but my dreams were filled with exhaust fumes and screaming motors.