Our camping outings have never been too successful. They typically involve risk to self and others, destruction of property and the decent into insanity (well, not for me but for others…maybe I’m unknowingly responsible for our fellow campers shrugging off the coils of sanity and embracing the crazy woodpeckers in their head…but I digress). The following is an absolutely true story.
So it’s 1990, I am a sophomore in college at Baylor and back in the Chicago Metro land for summer break to see my girlfriend (now my wife) and to go with my church college youth group to our two day Michigan Dunes camping trip. It’s the night of day two and we are all sitting around the camp fire, sober, which is fine for a college youth group outing but extreme intoxication would have better explained our flawed/bizarre/idiotic decision making skills that night. Anyway, it’s around ten o’clock in the evening and someone, I think me, suggests that we jump into Lake Michigan for a night swim. My fellow suicidal campers think that this is a good thing and away we go into the water. It’s cold, it’s dark and the twelve of us are utterly alone. So conditions being perfect for safety and wellbeing, we decided to swim out over our heads to the “second sandbar”. At our campsite on the lake you can swim out, way over your head and soon come onto a sand bar that you can stand on with your head above water. But even better, there is a second sand bar, way past the first, that you can get to and its right about the time your arms and legs are burning and you are wondering if anyone will ever find your bloated corpse, that you arrive at the second sand bar. So, alone in the dark, in the cold without anyone knowing where we are, we set out to go to that magical place, death, no I mean the second sandbar. Fast forward to exhausted breathing, burning legs and shouted theories of blame, we arrived at the second sand bar. All of us except my girlfriend who is swimming way behind the rest and does not seem to be using the classic straight line approach to our destination. Being the gallant caring boyfriend that I am, I start yelling at her to hurry up and then threw out a few verbal jabs that my fellow sand bar-eians thought was the cat’s meow. It soon occurred to me that something was amiss. My short Italian sweetie was always ready with a quick verbal counter thrust. I started watching her progress and when it ceased to be a horizontal progression and instead turned to a negative y axis motion, I realized she was in real trouble (something about no longer being able to continue on top of the water concerned me for some reason). I raced over to where I last saw her and swam down and grabbed her and pulled her back to the surface. Sputtering from her thirty seconds of submersion, I swam her back to the second sand bar for her to catch her breath. When we arrived, the ten other sand bar guests inquired as to her condition and we were all informed in an exasperated sarcastic voice, that she had developed a muscle cramp (she then pointed at me) said “But because this big idiot wouldn’t shut up, no one could hear me calling for help!” (Ah, yes, the beginning of a fine series of “no matter what happens it’s my fault” declarations. A program that would become the backbone to our relationship. ) With the near drowning putting a cramp in our water plans we decided to return to shore with me pulling my girlfriend along, swimming for two, in a physical act of penance.
Arriving on shore we quickly dragged our bodies back to the campfire that we had forgotten to put out and had grown to burning the wood pile outside of its retaining wall of found stones. Quickly throwing all the burning logs into the center of the stones we sat down and began to drink our remaining supply of pop and water. I decided to prank our exhausted group with a pop bomb. I covertly took a six pack of diet Pepsi and pretending to stoke the fire, I placed the cans into its heart, giggling like the Hamburgler right before Ronald catches him fleeing with his hot beefy bounty. I then used my college math skills, when I figured that the last time I put a can in the fire it was funny with the popping noise and soda shooting out, it would be six times as funny with six cans. I waited. I waited with baited breath. I got bored so I told my girlfriend so that I had someone to wait with in prankster anticipation for the pop and then our laugh at the surprise expressions of our camping-mates.
Then…BOOM!!!! The camp fire flew into the air spreading itself evenly onto the tents and the assembled people. A blessing for the cascade of diet Pepsi that came airborne with the wood was that it instantly turned the fire to just an airborne grouping of glowing embers. The curse to the boiling Pepsi however, was wherever it landed, it latched on and gave a little gift of its heat to that lucky individual or item. The campers, yelling in surprise and in pain for their minor second degree burns where instantly plunged into darkness that was dotted everywhere with tiny red dots. A second then went by when someone shouted, “The tents!” Yep, each little glowing dot covering each tent was one of our little friendly embers trying to burn through the covering. The camp then sprang into action and with more profanity then what should normally be heard on a church outing, the embers were swept off the tents.
Suddenly there was a scream! We quickly ran to our overwrought female camper and demanded to know what was wrong. She just started yelling over and over, “It’s gone!” We waited as long as we could, then shaking her we asked her what was missing. She pointed to her feet and said, “That!” We looked down and observed one bare foot and one foot shod with a sock. You lost your sock? We all asked incredulously. She went on to inform us that this was her lucky pair of socks and she could not go home without it. We then initiated a halfhearted search of the sandy camp site for the forlorn sock while our fellow camper stood with raised bare foot asking us every five seconds if we had found it yet. Sticky, burned, tired and impatient we searched the campsite for the sock. After finding three socks that belonged to owners other than our one shod female camper, I asked her what color the sock was. She stated with an intense serious tone, “Sandy Brown”. The assembled campers froze and stared at our “victim”. Everyone then went into their tents without a word other than someone said, “Half luck is better than no luck at all”. She then sat down and cried.
That morning we emerged from our tents. Our sleep molested by the tiny holes in each tent that was perfect for letting mosquitos and water in and heat out. We gathered our sticky burned and melted clothing and shoes and loaded the Pepsi stained van. No one would talk to me and an active argument ensued that included my girlfriend as to who would be unfortunate enough to be forced to sit with me since at the last minute then had decided they would not be leaving me behind after all. The matter resolved we left the camp.
It was a long silent eight hours.
They do talk to me now, twenty years later. But they don’t let me go to the Dunes any more. I wonder if I outfitted them to replace their lost and damaged items they would change their minds and let me go…………….probably not.