The Camping Trip that Wasn’t

D. E. Larsen, DVM

I stood up to peddle harder as the last half mile was steeper. I wished I had one of those new bicycles with gears to shift. When the advertisement said you sell to your neighbors, they didn’t remind you that your neighbors were two miles away, uphill.

At 12 years of age, I had embarked on my first venture as a salesperson. Lured by a flashy magazine ad, I was going to sell garden seeds and earn enough to purchase a pup tent. It sounded simple, I had a few neighbors, and they all had large gardens. And I had a large family. Grandma’s can always be depended on to buy stuff.

“And who are you selling them for?” Margaret asked.

What a dumb question, I thought. You think I would ride my old bike for two miles up that hill to sell them for somebody else.

“I am selling them for myself,” I said. “I am going to get a pup tent.”

“I thought you might be selling them for the Boy Scouts or Church or something,” Margaret explained.

This is going to be more challenging than I thought. She would donate to some group, but she was hesitant to help some kid achieve his goal.

“That is why I need a pup tent,” I explained. “I have to work at home so much, I don’t have time to join the Boy Scouts. So I have to go camping by myself.”

I thought that was a good comeback. Margaret knew I worked in the barn and in the fields. But then, she also knew my parents. And they would not deprive me of joining the Boy Scouts if that was what I wanted to do.

“I will buy a couple of packs of the peas,” Margaret said. “I don’t have my seeds yet, and it is probably close to the time to be planting peas.”

I figured I would have to come up with a better storyline if I was going to sell all these seeds. And tomorrow, I was going to go the other direction. There were only a couple of small hills on the way to Broadbent.

As the spring progressed, I did manage to sell the necessary allotment of seeds. Although, I would guess my mother bought more than she planned to buy. I placed my order for the pup tent and waited anxiously for its arrival.

I tore open the box when it did arrive. The tent was much larger than I expected. And it was heavier also. Made from heavy canvas, at least it would be durable. It would be difficult for me to carry along with a pack, that was for sure.

I quickly had it set up in the back yard. There was plenty of room for two people that were my size. You couldn’t stand up in it, but that was no problem in my view.

It rained the second day after I had pitched it in the backyard. It didn’t leak one drop, but it took three days to dry out.

Summer came, I planned a camping trip to the back of our 160 acres with my friend from up the river. Dana and I could easily carry the tent, sleeping bags, and my brother’s pack with all the necessary supplies.

We were all packed up and ready to head up the hill when Dad came out to wish us well.

“We are planning to go to the movie tonight,” Dad said. “You two can stay up the hill if you like, or after you set up camp, you can come back and go to town with us. I have a good flashlight, you could go back up the hill when we get home.”

What a dilemma, a movie was hard to pass up in the mid-1950s. Movies were really our only source of outside entertainment. My Dad liked to go to the movies, and we would go a couple of times a month. I knew that Dana did not go that often.

“What do you think?” I asked Dana.

“I think it would be a good idea,” Dana said. “We could go set up camp, come back and go to the movie, and then walk back up in the dark to sleep.”

“Okay, we will go to the movie,” I said to Dad. “We probably will be back in time so we can eat dinner before going.”

With that, we were off. The trek was not long, we crossed the upper fields and crawled over the fence at the pasture’s end. Then we followed the cat road along the creek until it turned up the hill to the burn.

The burn was where they had logged the timber and burned it over to make good pasture for the cows. It was a good-sized area and open so we could watch the deer and other animals.

We picked a spot on the old landing and set up the tent. We threw everything else into the tent and headed back to the house for dinner.

“We don’t want to be late,” I said. “Dad won’t wait for us.”

We hurried along and got to the house just as mom was setting the table for dinner.

“This is a whole lot better than eating that can of pork and beans you would be heating over a fire,” Dad said. “You never know what you are missing until you don’t have it.”

My older sister pulled the car into the garage and came rushing into the house.

“I just had a cougar run across the road in front me,” She said, trying to catch her breath. “I was right down there at the end of Herman’s field.”

Dana’s eyes were large, as we turned around and tried to see if anything was in the field, some half-mile distant. There was nothing there.

“Are you sure it was a cougar?” Dad asked.

“We should call Uncle Robert,” Mom said. “He might want to get his dogs on its track tonight.”

“Yes, I am sure it was a cougar,” Linda said. “It had a long tail, and it moved like it didn’t have a care in the world. Are you boys camping up on that hill tonight?”

“We are going to the movie first,” I said. “We already set up camp. We will walk up there when we get home after the movie.”

“Well, I sure would not be walking up on that hill tonight,” Linda said. “That cougar probably is headed right up the creek.”

“They are brave boys,” Dad said. “We will find out tonight.”

When we got home from the movie, the night sky was clear, and the stars were bright. The moon was not up yet, and there were no lights around to distract from the milky way.

“So, do you boys want my big flashlight?” Dad asked with a little chuckle. “It is going to be pretty dark up along that creek. Or are you a little concerned about that cougar your sister says she saw?”

That was just a little hint that he was not sure he believed my sister. But it was still possible and something to think about.

“I guess we could probably sleep here tonight,” I said. “And then we could go up and cook breakfast at the campsite in the morning.”

“I think I would feel a lot better about things if you slept here,” Mom said. “That cat could carry you off before you even knew it was there.”

That was all we needed to hear. If Mom thought we should sleep in the house, we would sleep in the house.

We were up at the crack of dawn and headed up the hill. We were both well versed in the out of doors. We had a cooking fire going in no time, and I mixed the pancake batter.

“I am not sure those are going to look much like pancakes,” Dana said as he watched me trying to turn over the pancake in the little cook set fry pan.

By the time we sit back to eat, the pancakes were in a jumbled heap on the plates. But it was cooked, and a little syrup made it all better. We ate quietly, both of us thinking that Mom would have made a better breakfast.

After watching a few deer and the digger squirrels, we packed up the camp. Dana just folded the pup tent into a square and threw it over his back. It was all downhill to the house. We started off, chuckling about looking for cougar tracks down at the creek. That made us walk a little faster.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

2 thoughts on “The Camping Trip that Wasn’t

  1. What a really good story…I loved my childhood…It was so innocent and full of fun. My folks moved to Texas in the early 50’s. We lived in a new sub division and the wide open spaces was right outside our front door..My bike and I had many good adventures..They were such good times…Thanks for sharing…I really enjoyed.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I enjoy these stories of growing up back in another time. A lot different then, and far less complicated than it is for kids now. I remember those old old two person pup tents, really sturdy but pretty heavy and took a long time to dry out. Our family had one.

    When I was growing up, I walked the road taking orders, then delivered Girl Scout cookies from my Radio Flyer wagon when the cookies came in.

    Liked by 1 person

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