Camping over Memorial Day Weekend!

The last time I went camping was about 15 years ago, in Yellowstone National Park.  It was miserable; it rained all week, I got sick the first day, everything was wet and gross, it was difficult to cook things…but it was also majestic, beautiful, and an experience I would never forget.  I’ve always wanted to go camping again – somewhere closer to home than Yellowstone – but getting people to go camping is one of the hardest things ever.  I mean, have you ever tried to organize a group of people to go to the movies together?  Unless everyone’s already present when the decision is made, you can bet that at least half the group will flake out, while the other half arrives late or doesn’t pay you back in a timely fashion.

Finally….an opportunity came up!

It was an intimate 3-day vacation with just me and my boyfriend…and nearly 30 other people, haha!  My sister invited me on this trip, and it was sorta like an industry retreat, unofficially.  Another coworker kept joking it was the “3D Summit” out in the woods of Pennsylvania.

Heavy amount of pics incoming (from this Flickr Set), and two camping gear reviews.

Preparing For Camping

We had a lot of late nights this past week at work, so this left us with very little time to prepare for the trip.  I wish I could have shopped around, looked for sales, or ordered from online to get some good discounts on camping gear.  But once Memorial Day weekend approached, there was only 30 minutes of time at Paragon Sports (near Union Square) to get some essentials, on Friday night.

The nice thing about having a decisive boyfriend is, he won’t dilly dally to grab a sales person and clearly state what is needed.  We got:

  1. A tent, sized for 2 people at least
  2. Air Mattress with a pump
  3. Batteries for the pump

REVIEW – MOUNTAIN HARDWEAR – DRIFTER 2 – 2 PERSON TENT

This is supposed to be a higher-than-entry-level quality tent; I’ve seen the price range from $235-140.  Luckily we got it on sale at $120…cheaper than some of the crappier 2-person tents.  At 5lb and 11oz, it was already much lighter than my old tent from 15 years ago.  You can check out the actual specs on REI’s website here.  Setting this tent up was fast, probably 5-8 minutes, even with our poking around at all the parts.  The aluminum poles snapped together instantly – no need to pull or reposition anything like on my old Coleman Sundome.  Another difference from old tents – instead of having sheaths of cloth running diagonally on the tent, into which you need to poke, thread, and pull the poles, this tent just has clips!  I was worried at first that this meant a shoddier hold on the sticks, but actually it was great.  The tent was easily pulled taught.  With my old Coleman, I had extreme difficulty pulling anything taut without the poles kinda unsnapping from each other. Setting up the rainfly was easy as well.  There’s four long strings for every corner, which is easy to adjust to shorter lengths (in a double loop); these get staked down to keep the fly tight.  There’s more hooks on the inside of the fly to pull it even tighter (guy lines), additionally it hooked under the diagonal poles too.  Though we only had some cool condensation (50-65F weekend), I feel pretty confident in saying this tent would do a good job keeping the rain off you.  The seams for the floor were also welded from the inside, and they are partially lifted off the ground.  Then you curl your tarp a bit under the tent, so the rain water can’t pool under your floor, and you should be golden.  Or so I hear!

Another selling point was the two entranceways and that most of the tent’s top half was mesh! This is great because that would help a lot with ventilation when it’s hot out.  A common trick to get good airflow is to open the window at one end of your home and another window down the hallway; air needs two openings to get any pull.  Same idea if you are trying to pour syrup out of a can…it’s not gonna work till you get a second hole there.  This works with the mesh in the tent too.  However….the rain fly didn’t have any mesh on it – which I understand is to actually keep the rain off you, haha.  So in reality, with the rain fly on you are not going to get much ventilation.  That thing has to be unzipped too, but then this means you will lack privacy.

Of course, if you’re deep in the woods, does it even matter?  There’s no one around to see you!

There’s definitely enough space to fit 2 or even four (but that’s pushing it) over-sized (by airplane standards) luggage under the rain fly but outside the tent.  So that can keep the rain off it at the very least, if you brought too much crap like an idiot.  ….My luggage had to stay outside in the rain fly :(  I had no problem getting in and out even with my luggage there.

On the inside, it’s rectangular shaped and fits a twin-sized air mattress fine, with some inches to spare width-wise…but not much.  You can put some snacks, toiletries  books, even shoes in that area.  It’s definitely wide enough for a twin and two pairs of boots, as I found out.  It’s JUST narrower than the width of a full-sized mattress, so be aware of that if you and your camping buddy are on the larger side.  Me and my boyfriend are both pretty small people, and we’re fine sharing a twin.  Be prepared to be intimate, whether you like it or not! Haha!  As I said, it’s rectangular so that leaves ample space for more bags at the foot or head of the mattress.  We were able to fit a giant hiking backpack there, plus two regular backpacks, easy.  You may or may not be able to stretch your body all the way if you had all the crap we did, but again we’re not big people so it was perfectly fine.  I think my boyfriend’s 5’8″, for reference, and I’m just under 5’2″.

It didn’t come with a footprint, which was fine because other people in our group donated two tarps to us!  One for under the tent, one for my luggage under the fly.  There was a mesh rectangle, which you can affix to the ceiling of your tent for some light, overhead storage. Unfortunately, neither me nor my boyfriend realized we had this!  I could’ve put my lantern up there!  Otherwise, if you don’t use the mesh you’ll want to bring a clip or something to affix a lantern to the ceiling.

You can sit up in this tent, but you definitely can’t stand.  Getting dressed while laying down isn’t so hard, but it takes a bit of coordination to do so when your boyfriend’s trying to dress the same time.  Again, I wished we had more tree coverage and privacy – I’d just change outside my tent, it wasn’t cold enough for that to be a terrible idea.

Well, this review has gotten too long already. To sum it up, if you’re going solo, this tent is 100% PERFECT!!!!  With ample space.  As a couple….it’s going to be intimate :P  It’s a very sound, quality tent that’ll keep you dry in the rain, cool in the summer if you can open both sides of the rainfly.  Definitely worth the money.  I have to go camping another two times to really pay off the tent, if you compare the price we paid to the cost of renting a tent from a sports store.  I would’ve preferred a 3 person tent to have more width inside, but it was technically fine and would be alright if the other tents weren’t less than a yard away from mine.  I definitely recommend it.

REVIEW – INTEX CAMP AIRBED WITH PUMP

I don’t see this on Paragon Sport’s site anymore, but this is the model we got on Amazon.  ONE THING IMPORTANT to note – the specs on Amazon are wrong!  You actually need six C batteries for the pump it comes with, not D batteries.  That could totally screw someone over.  It was heavier and bulkier than the tent at 7lb, 9oz, but still folds up well.  A hiking backpack can fit this, the tent, a poorly-folded sleeping bag, and some clothes totally fine.  It’s a bit weighty, but luckily we were mostly able to roll the hiking backpack.  I think we paid about $40, maybe a little more.  Amazon has it for half the price…but we were in a rush the day before our trip.

This bed was extremely easy to set up!  Just unfolded it in the tent and attached the pump.  The pump itself, it’s worth noting, was very compact itself – I could hold it in one hand comfortably.  This Intex mattress filled up fast and easily, with zero issues.  Sleeping on it was very comfortable – you don’t feel the ground at all.  However, it could’ve used some re-pumping the next night.  It wasn’t very necessary, and me and my boyfriend passed out before re-pumping, so it was technically fine. But it would’ve been nice to have it a bit firmer.  I’d say together, we hit ~250lb/300lb weight capacity on the airbed.  Two nights without a re-pump and neither of us ever touched the ground.  I see there are other reviewers on Amazon that had the opposite experience, but what can I say…I slept very easily on this thing.

The best part?  Deflation!!!  You release the valve and it’s like a huge FART, hahaha.  It deflates faster than anything I’ve seen.  Totally recommend it, if you’re in the market for a cheap airbed that does it’s job well.

The Campsite

A poster of the Organizer, which we all later signed and drew over.

A poster of the Organizer, which we all later signed and drew over.

We were dropped off by a rented bus in Charming Forge, PA.  The guy who organized everything did an amazing job….our group of 30 people didn’t have to lift a finger for anything.  Transportation was arranged.  Food, water, and alcohol constantly showed up and got cooked by someone else.  No one had to do food-runs at a store themselves, because the organizer’s local friends were totally on that.  Firewood was already split and within a few steps of the firepit.  Several coolers lined the area, foldable canvas chairs circled the fire, picnic tables and wooden porches featured great views of the lazy river that flowed right by us.  There was absolutely nothing for us vacationers to do but pitch our tents and hang out.  With the creek and lush forest to our south side, there were open fields on the opposite side.  We were renting a farmer’s land for Memorial Day Weekend.  You could totally see someone’s house not too far east, and a barn/silo in the west.  This “backyard camping” was pretty different from what I experienced as a kid at Yellowstone…where you’re completely isolated in a forest, with buffalo, bears, and wolves. Pleasantly perfumed port-potties were within sight, to the west.

Roughing it out in the wild with classic

Roughing it out in the wild with classic “camping” food. Double stacked for efficiency. Or – how we reheated food since we didn’t know how to turn on a propane grill!

The handful of people who were actually experienced in camping totally hustled us.  This was their third year camping and they knew the lay of the land.  “Why don’t you pitch your tents over there in the east?  It’s chilly right now, so the morning sun is gonna feel really good in the morning.”

Hustlers!!!!  It didn’t feel good.  All that direct sunlight in the morning made me so freaking hot, I would wake up covered in sweat.  Like I mentioned in the tent review, we didn’t have privacy in the tent town, so I couldn’t open the rainflys for more ventilation.  Outside could be cool and nice, but that damn sun heats up the tent right quick.  Even worse when you’re in there, shoulder-to-shoulder with a sweaty guy, surrounded by down sleeping bags.  For the rest of the weekend, the hustlers had smug looks on their faces whenever someone complained about the heat of the sun on their tents.  They told us it’d be nice.  We’re the fools for believing them.

The Hustlers, enjoying the cool river water.

The Hustlers, enjoying the cool river water.

There was some whiskey at the camp, but it burned like fire and didn’t taste great.  The beer was mostly Budweiser, which just tastes like carbonated water.   And a couple of Sam Adams.

Kayaking Down The Lazy River

A big yellow school bus picked us up at the campsite.  It’s been years since I’ve last been in one, and it felt very strange.  Not just cause of the nostalgia, thinking of how classmates would use the tall seat-backs for privacy to make out.  But those seat backs…and the seats themselves…they were SO clean on this bus.  No rips, no tears, no graffiti!?  It made me feel like I’m from a ghetto area or something, haha.  Like when they say “inner city kids” in movies, I could totally fit in.  But how can that be true, I didn’t think we were poor growing up.  Anyway!

We rented some kayaks, which was a little on the pricey side at about $75 a person.  Singles, and the kind where you sit on top of the boat, not in it.  The river was leisurely and let you coast on by, but never at a scary pace.  I actually would’ve loved to have a bit more speed and some mini-drops, but it was nice to lean back and just stare up at the pure-blue skies and bright green trees pass overhead.  It was my first time kayaking, and I was very nervous that I wouldn’t have the strength to paddle.  Turns out it’s quite easy…my arms and shoulders are still sore today from it, but the only things that required strength was paddling against the current and trying to get yourself unstuck.  The water was anywhere between hip-high and ankle-deep, usually more on the latter depth.  So realistically…if you get stuck, just stand up and drag your kayak!

Two people were on canoes with coolers.  And one had…

Wild Turkey!!!!

What sucks for me is because this bottle was there, I now have a weird reputation that I’m not entirely proud of.  I wanted attention, but noticed my boyfriend kept hanging towards the back of the kayak line down the river, while I was near the front. So I eventually waited for him…found the canoe nearby with the whiskey, drank probably 1/5 of the bottle by myself (“Hey, do you guys have anything stronger than beer in there?  GIMME!”) and then went over to my boyfriend to get some attention.

You know when you watch dogs play, and there’s one that just keeps nipping and scrabbling over the other one until it starts playing right back?  That’sa me!!!!  With fists and nails and taunting laughs.  All in good nature though – before anyone thinks it’s abuse, he’s totally in to that.  Some of our first dates together was like this….it’s like a cat and mouse game….filled with whiskey and play fighting.  But to other people, I don’t know if that fully translates as play fighting…it looks more like abuse D:

It was hard to take pics of this myself.  This is one side of the bruising.

It was hard to take pics of this myself. This is one side of the bruising.

I came away with several bruises down my arm and on my thighs – my knees are also pretty black and purple.  There’s four tri-colored bruises on my upper arm, in the perfect shape of someone’s hand grabbing me, with some more on my forearm, both sides.  It looks worse than it actually is.  Unless you press on any of the bruises, then it’s really sore.   My boyfriend got a few himself…some light bruising to his torso from where I punched him in the ribs, a single dark bruise on his arm.  There’s a big red, nasty bruise spanning the width of his back…and this is something EVERYONE on the trip blamed on me!!!!  And sure, there was a point where me and my boyfriend were wrestling on a rocky bank.  Some time in to it, I looked up and realized a lot of kayaks and spectators had collected around us, just hanging out on the bank.

People kept saying I did that to his back, and called me a liar when I denied it.  I told my boyfriend, and he said “Oh yeah, I might have made some stuff up about what you did to me.”

WHA???

So now people think I’m abusive!  He either told people or let people believe that I hit him with an oar?!  That’s pretty intense. I only used my fists!  And open palm slapped him, just to annoy him.  But no oars, that’s dangerous.  You know what really happened, which he admitted to me?  A tree hit him -_-  He hit several trees while kayaking drunk; one mess of branches caused him to capsize.  At another point in time, I saw him flip over all on his own, with no one next to him :P

Oh well…..I just hope the world doesn’t hate me for made up crimes…

The whole trip was really fun though, and I’m really looking forward to more camping trips :)  Still gotta use that tent 3 more times to make it worth the purchase price!

To end, obligatory self-serving picture…my favorites of the set:

My boyfriend, setting up the tent.

My boyfriend, setting up the tent.

My sister’s boyfriend, the dreaded Bearalope:

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