Friday, June 15, 2012

The Plaything of Chance

I am just returned from my sojourn in the mountains. I just can't read other people's travelogs and so I can't in fairness encumber you with more than this singular account of one night, camped out in my little tent on my solitary ground pad of woe.

His tent
My second day out, I had unwittingly blundered onto the course of the Denver Post's annual Ride the Rockies, a day in advance of the main pack. (You can read the Denver Post's account of the six-day ride by Lucas McCain, "a Boulder triathlete and micro-brew aficionado who has lived in Colorado for a year and a half." And if Lucas's thumbnail self-description doesn't make you want to read more, I can't think what else Lucas might mention about himself aside from his natural fiber handbag fetish and a list of his favorite Whole Foods nutritional supplements that could possibly pique such a jaded interest.)

Going up McClure Pass on my second day of cycling, I encountered a young rider on her nifty plastic bicycle. We chatted one another up for a while and she was off up the ascent, never having once mentioned the impending horde at my very heels. My suspicions should have been aroused by the orange spray-painted graffiti at intervals on the pavement, inspirational drivel written by the sort who write the little tags in fortune cookies - Become One With Your Bike! or You Are Nothing Without Your Bicycle! . . . Your Bicycle is Nothing Without You! - the sort of cheerful tripe that is invariably punctuated with ! It was all along the route in anticipation of the riders' transit the next day.

In any case, by the time I reached Carbondale the following day I was in the pack. The town was awash with fifty-something guys in lycra and spandex, their bicycles leaned against every available railing and storefront, and I knew I was out of luck. I'd have to pitch my tent at the main campsite on the high school football field or sit on the street all night. I knew I'd find a spot there where I could at least put a tent, so I rode over to the local gridiron, which by now resembled an REI fire sale (or a likely drone target). 

 "Pardon me, I'm looking for a Pakistani wedding party . . .?"

But I got lucky - right on the near edge of the tent village, along the sidewalk that bounded the field, I found a narrow spot and squeezed my tent in along the perimeter, where the whale music and deep soundings of the night promised to be muted by distance and the intervening tents. (I have remarked elsewhere on the pitfalls of camping in a herd of large primates.)

I figured that by this time of the evening Carbondale's array of Asian/Moroccan and Greek/Burmese fusion restaurants would be fully occupied by the visiting cognoscenti, so I pedalled up the street to Fatbelly Burgers for a solitary al fresco dining experience. Fatbelly's is everything a Cotopaxi burger strives to be and I can recommend it unreservedly, so long as you're not in the mood for catfish a la Morocco glazed in a wasabi-pomegranate reduction. Ketchup and mustard are free with any meal - that goes for the burgers at Fatbelly as well.

Replete for the evening and wearying of my own company, I retired to my tent at about 9 p.m. as things seemed to be settling down nicely back at the football field. I had chosen my immediate neighbors circumspectly for their age, civility and apparent sobriety, and I was not mistaken. They were turned in and probably nearly asleep by now, and I promised to be as well. I zipped myself in, settled down, and was nearly in the arms of Morpheus when I heard a loud flop somewhere near the starboard of my tent - another tent hit the ground and a new arrival, I'll call him Interloper #1, began to assemble it. Lying there in the dark, I thought the tent seemed to be put together like a Chinese puzzle or an origami which required a great deal of unfolding, turning over, turning around and generally starting over in order to make any sense of. 

His tent
All the while the interloper was grunting and wheezing stertorously. Bending over seemed a superhuman effort, as though he were wrestling Attila the Hung on television. When finally, after what seemed an epic struggle, it was standing and pegged, Interloper #1 began to unload all his gear into the tent from a series of duffels and other bags inside of bags, all zippered up inside one another like a set of Russian dolls - a nerve-fraying succession of zips each ending in a crescendo - "zzzzzziiiiiiiiii-I-I-PPP!"

No sooner was he settled and quiet when off to the larboard I heard car doors slam and then the voice of a 12-year-old inquiring whether his father had just had a text messagedidja-didja-huh-didja? Another tent hit the ground nearby, up it went to incessant childish patter. Interloper #2 had arrived for the night. More floundering and zipping, more incessant blather from the kid, and finally I piped in my most maternal voice, "Good nii-ight!" That was enough to get the father to shut the kid up and everyone finally settled in at about 10 p.m. for the long sleep until dawn.

Interloper #1 was the first to sound the depths. Once he was snoring at full throttle, Interloper #2 joined in, and the whale music commenced in earnest. I had a moment to reflect that homicidal emotions do not bring in their wake a sense of repose. The two of them snored away like the pope at novenas for most of the night. 

By this time my bladder was nudging me mercilessly. So - "zzzzzziiiiiiiiii-I-I-PPP!" I went, and crept off behind a tree which obliged me by standing still for the duration. About the time I finally dozed off, I was promptly awakened by the sound of a cell phone alarm nearby. It was barely twilight. I went back to sleep and awoke a second time to a lawn mercifully deserted, devoid of all but a few tents, a desert with no voices sounding. I took my time and enjoyed the late morning sun and the quiet.

Camping among large primates is an allegory of life - I find I am but the plaything of chance. At least I didn't camp indoors.

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