What Did You Do This Weekend?
Weekends seem to become more and more evanescent these days. People slave at their tasks all week, with the hope of the most welcomed Fridays propelling them forward. The weekend is an elusive creature. It vanishes in the blink of an eye, and then is swallowed by the most dreaded and abominable “Monday.” These seem to last for eons upon eons, dealing us to question ourselves: how does one seize the weekend?
This weekend I decided, to make the most of these precious times, to go camping... with seventy other guys... (and one stray dog)... in a cave. It all started Friday morning. I had not yet had a chance to make proper preparations, so all I brought along was a large bag of food in the boot of my car on the way to my Humanities class. I made my way from class to my vehicle as fast as possible and drove to the Central Assembly Royal Ranger Annex a few blocks down to meet Mark Jones and the other guys. In the parking lot I pulled open the rear hatch to reveal the contents of the trunk. Where most teenagers and college-aged dudes have a large boom box taking up valuable real-estate in the back, Joshua Pennekamp has something entirely different: his Emergency Camping Equipment (ECE), for no one can quite possibly know when an unexpected adventure might suddenly happen! Or realize one late hour before slumber that you have not packed for the camping trip the next day and have had absolutely no time the whole week to do so, due to other minor responsibilities.
The ECE was quickly procured, and scattered all over the pavement. Now to organize. The following was quite interesting and collected many eyes from by-standers and passers by, for it seemed to resemble a panicked squirrel feeling the first snow-flake falling in winter. The thoughts ranged from “No, this is definitely not needed.” to “WOW! I haven't seen this in months! I can't believe I found it!” and “This is a highly advisable piece. I should need this, yes. I take it.” By the end of the packing and the mad dash of stashing odds and ends back into the trunk, and helping my mother (who was loving and kind enough to pick up my car and drive it home) start the '93 Volvo 940 Turbo “classic” “restoration” car, my gear was loaded in the back of Mark's pick-up, as he was calling for me to get in so we could depart.
The ride in the country was a pleasant one, with rolling hills, and rustic farms, and a bout of travel sickness. We came to the farm land where we were to camp. We locked the gate behind us to keep the cows in and posted a sign for all Rangers to follow. We parked the truck, grabbed our gear and walked down the dirt path to the cave. The cave had an entrance shaped like a large-mouth bass, with only one open gill (it had a large overhang, and side entrance). This is where large farm equipment used to be stored for dry keeping. Now it was home to a half dozen hibernating bats.
Since this was a migratory cave, and the end of January, all the seasonal bats were gone. What were left were deep piles of... we will have to let the imagination do it justice. Count your blessings, those are the remains of who knows how many tons of annoying insects. Surprisingly, even a bit unnerving to some, were the camping stuffs of other people in a corner. No one came back for it the whole time we were there, so we assumed it was the owner's son and his friends' things.
The first of us came up to collect firewood. The duet of singing chainsaws filled the air, as the rest of us carried the wood up to the cave. We picked all the trash, tidying up the area as good Rangers should! Always leave a place better than you find it!
Inspired by patriotism, Ernie posted the colors from two trees standing guard at the entrance to the cave, while James and his friends set up the rappel rope on top of the cave. As I looked around, I knew I had not much to do. I could be content, set up my tarp and sleeping bag, and sit lazily by the fire... or, do something. I unpacked my tarp. Then it was noticed. There was no way of tying off my shelter! I had no rope. Not enough at least, only a short hank.
This would make my weekend. I had three hours-or-so to build a shelter. I chose to build a San Carlos Shack or Chippewa Shack (Beard, pg. 24), also known generally as a Wicki-Up, Hoop Shelter, or Debris Hut. These have been built for thousands of years by many peoples native to the Americas, from the sub-arctic areas, to the arid deserts. The principle idea behind the shelter stays the same: build a dome out of flexible saplings by bending them over, and weaving other sticks throughout to form an up-side-down, dome-shaped, basket-like structure, followed by thatching for waterproofing out of any material at hand: such as leaves, grass, or bark. The nice thing about this structure is, that it can be put up in a matter of hours, and using very few materials, so one does not have to cut down the entire forest.
I searched around to find a half-dozen flexible saplings, with approximately a thumb to two-thumb thickness, ten to fifteen feet tall. I took these from select areas in different locations as not to cause a patch of complete deforestation. Fortunately I had been smart enough to throw in my Ka-Bar BK9 (a heavy duty survival knife, with a nine-inch long, carbon-steel blade), making the task much simpler. A pocket knife would have done in this scenario, a chip of flint, or even breaking the saplings by hand. For the sake of time and neatness, the large blade was a welcome tool.
I began by trimming the ends of the saplings. Next, I cut the base and tip into points. These were then pushed into the soft earth near the water’s edge and bent over to form half of a hoop. I tested out the length by laying under the hoop. The fit was perfect. A second sapling was bent over the first to form a dome, and secured in the ground. No tying was necessary. This process was repeated a few more times, until the structure began to take shape. The left over trimmings of the saplings now came into play, which were woven criss-cross throughout the other pieces, forming a good, sturdy shell. No pieces of the saplings were wasted. Now that the shell was complete, it was finally time for thatching: the most time consuming task. Having the large tarp available to me, I put it to good use. Handful, after handful of leaves were placed on the tarp until it was completely full. It was then hauled over to the construction site where the covering was deposited on the building. This was repeated five to seven times until there was a few inch thick layer of debris on the hut, and no more light could be seen in the space, except for the small opening, which presented a marvelous, floor to ceiling view of the river.
Now for the decor. I went for the vintage rustic look for the interior. The space was furnished with an old wool blanket, which covered the bedding, a Swiss rucksack, for added ambiance, along with all of modern amenities, such as running water, and waterproof bedding. How so you say? A hydration bladder was installed on top before thatching, which was filled with three liters of fresh water, ready for drinking, and the sleeping arrangements had a s Gore-Tex sleeping bag cover, if any weather should trickle through. The only thing missing, as pointed out by Mark Jones, and Justin Fisher, was the bathroom. But surely, given enough time, all such things could be arranged!
The shelter was now ready. The sun was going down. This was not the end of a day. The fun had just begun. As night fell, we were all gathered around the fire. A hot fire. As we munched and crunched, which we do for most of the time while we are out- some even bring steaks, and shrimps, and fishes, and squirrels- but that is beside the point, as we munched and crunched on our delectable provisions we awaited the glow. The glow of lights moving through the trees, casting shadows of legs and feet on the trail, the feet of kids and young men, and young at heart.
The first drifters came in pairs, next double pairs, and baker's dozens, then they came in droves, and flocks, suddenly herds of children were running through the cave, crawling, climbing, and absorbing the mud! What a time! Over seventy people came!
At eight in the evening, everyone was handed a small candle. The fire light service was headed by Mark. We lit our candles, turned off our headlamps, and headed to a hind side of the cave. In the large room, filled with the flickering dances of tiny flames, and the attention of a multitude of large eyes, Rob gave an incredible story. At this moment in time, every candle was blown out. Pitch darkness surrounded us. The story was about three lost cave explorers, a father and two sons that lost their light in the darkest depth of a cave, who faced death. From there, he brought the importance of the life saving light of the gospel, and six boys gave their lives to the Lord. He explained by letting everyone light another person's candle and telling how we are lights in this world, and as we light our candle, we light other candles around us until this world is not as dark as it was before.
From the serious atmosphere, the mood merged back into the fun of food and fellowship. Boys stomped and romped, men spoke and laughed, and the occasional burst of a fire cracker, or the riff of a harmonica, by yours truly, filled the space. It was dark. I was tired. It was time for my retreat. Off to the boughs and bed I went. Before crawling in for the night, the inner fire needed to be stoked. Two fun sized candy bars did the trick. A pair of hand warmers in the sleeping bag helped as well, as did the extra wool blanket. After a little struggle, military sleeping bags can be difficult at times, everything was zipped up for the night. Now if only earplugs would have found their way into the backpack, and later into the ear canals, the night would have been more restful; however, there still was found amusement in listening to the friends over yonder, the popping fire, and even in the rambunctious, rowdy crowd of weekend, mother-freed boys in their cave explorations. They pressed on for as long as they could bear, but at one in the morning, not even their inconceivable, beastly, childhood energy could keep them up.
The scene was silent. The moon, softened by midnight clouds, seemed to emulate off the tamed river's face. It gathered itself, then spread wide, to paint the faint, whimsy shadows of the pleasant surrounding chaparral. This is and would be home for the night, beside the river, near the cave. I then dozed into slumber.
The next morning the rustling of a restless dog awakened me. It had been at-least the one trillionth inspection of his. What a happy one he was. The sun was up, the clouds were likewise, it was time for me to follow suit. Up by the fire there was bacon, sausage and donuts galore, so much food as never seen before. Why did I even pack a breakfast when it was already broken so quickly by people sharing, and when one could be filled on the rich scraps of all the others? My sunrise friend knew this sure! His tail shook with excitement! Everyone took nicely to our affable guest, never did he bark, bite, or scowl. He was kind enough to even take a bath for us twice while we were there, a kind gesture, but not too for the olfactory senses.
After the morning meal, actually there was no clear progression between it and lunch, we had our morning devotion. Everyone was gathered round, paying close attention to what was going on. Prizes were involved! Who would not be on the edge of their seats! Many small chests were hidden throughout the cave while we attended, hoping to be found by curious treasure hunters. They were all located, even one from a previous year, and all the finders got a prize! These included, but were not limited too, ferrocerium fire lighter strikers, fancy magnifying glasses, and other cool boyish gadgets. Then the story of the lost boys and father were summarized, and another small devotion given. After this, we were free to do whatever.
Quite a few people were interested in the hoop shelter and came by for a visit. At one point sleet and rain started to pour down, a chance to test the waterproofing qualities of the structure. I crawled inside with a nice book, watching the rain drops fall. It was very comfortable in the shelter, not a drop of moisture was in sight; however, other things did drop from the ceiling. Small spiders, like ninjas, escaping the onslaught of precipitation, speedily rappelled from the dome, down to the safe ground. The short flame from my lighter took care of those pests. It was as if “Space Invaders” had been brought to life!
The rain drizzled on and off,
but the shelter stayed dry. A
thing like this could save your
life some day! Hypothermia is a
force to be reckoned with. Don't
mess with it.
Sadly, all things must eventually come to an end. The food was gone, the people were gone, and the energy to continue was gone. So we decamped. Our stray gregarious friend was sad to see us go. The party was over. It was time to go home, and this is how I seized my weekend, building fond memories with life-time friends.
Now go. Go out there and seize your weekend! If you have had enough time to waste reading this, and anything else you can find on the interwebs, surely you have enough time to go for a walk, ride in the park, or engage in your very own interests thereby finding your own adventures! It is crucial for everyone’s well-being to go. What are you waiting for? For most you sit all day behind these screens and keys at work, why would you want to be at home doing the same? Make a plan and seize your weekend!
March 1, 2015
Beard, Daniel Carter., and Daniel Carter Beard. Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties: The Classic Guide to Building Wilderness Shelters. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2004. Print.