Ever since I first attended an outdoors event in Louisiana, I’ve heard about Campfest. It always sounded fun, but I had not joined the Louisiana Hiking Club so I didn’t have the details on the early spring event. This year, of course, I was in the thick of it and got all of the details I would ever need to enjoy the festivities … and then some.
I arrived Friday night at the Chicot State Park conference center. I was late because I had to work until 5 PM, and I had been so depressed last week that I wasn’t sure I even wanted to go. But, after I got off work, I decided that the best thing for me and my girl was to pack up my camping equipment and head to the swamp. If I didn’t like it, I could always come back early. I was scheduled for a presentation Saturday morning on blogging, and it wouldn’t have been very cool to cancel at the last minute. So I packed up my tent and weekend food and headed to Campfest well after dark.
Roaring campfires, a rather large tent neighborhood and the usual lawn chair gathering greeted me. Chuck offered to help me get set up in the dark, and we found a spot among the other tents for my abode for the weekend. I chatted with the lawn chair group about what to expect for the next morning and then headed to bed.
At the break of dawn, Ashok and I headed to the conference center where coffee was already brewing. The same group that had been gathered outside last night was now gathered inside around another table drinking coffee. I sat down for another conversation. The talk was of the Vietnam War, and Rick told a story of how he got arrested on leave for beating up a guy in San Francisco. This young soldier had gotten brow-beating angry when a civilian asked him nastily how many babies he’d killed that week. The jail stint cost him $65 which was a lot for those times, and his sergeant told him that when on leave back home, he needed to get out of that uniform. It made me sad to think that we ever treated soldiers that way. Others chatted about trying to stay in school to avoid the draft and getting treated to beer by gay men in San Francisco – something these country boys were stunned to experience.
After chatting with the fellows over coffee, I went to teach my class on blogging. It was really the first time I’ve talked at length about what I do, and I was a bit nervous about whether or not I would have enough to say or if it was even interesting enough to keep people’s attention. It seemed to go over with this group, and I really enjoyed hearing about their aspirations in writing.
It seems that the hiking club is as much about talking as it is about hiking. When we hike, we talk pretty much the entire time. I find myself flitting from conversation to conversation. Luckily, talking is one of my favorite things to do, and I love to ask people about their lives. So, Campfest was a blast for me.
We talked in groups inside the conference center over meals. We talked while taking walks. I even talked while in the small bathroom waiting for people to change clothes. I talked to several folks around the coffee pot about how to make coffee and why nobody wanted to use the large coffeepot that was an ideal size for the group. I heard stories about hiking trips, mishaps and injuries, advice about gear, and about crapping in the woods.
There were presentations all day on Saturday. I attended Katherine’s cooking demonstration, Rick’s class on how not to die on the trail and Chuck’s knot-tying class. I would have liked to have attended more, but I was too busy talking.
The big pot luck dinner was Saturday night, and I knew from the Christmas party that if the dinner was going to be served at 6 PM, I’d better be in line – closest to the table – at 6 PM, or I’d feel like a grizzly raiding a campsite. I went to find my friend Lisa who intended to wait until after the first wave went through, and I told her if she wanted any food she’d better get in line beforehand. We lined up toward the front, and by 5:55 PM the line was out the door and around the corner of the building. By the end of the first pass, there was nothing left but crumbs. And, again, we sat around and talked while we dined.
By Saturday night I was all talked out. I went to bed a little early and slept like a dead person in my tent. I dreamed all night long. I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten sleep like that in a tent. By the time I got up at sunrise, I was ready for some more talk, coffee and breakfast. A group of men had gathered in the kitchen and had the door locked. They obviously were working and wanted no one to come in and talk with them. I went over to the counter and ordered a soy latte with vanilla syrup, and they laughed with me. I grabbed a coffee and joined another group until the homemade waffles with cane syrup were ready.
I was beat when I got home. I took a long nap even before I showered. Last night I remembered all of the conversations I’d had. Some of the stories still had me laughing. Rick told me about the camping trip he and his wife took where a bear had invaded their campsite and put his nose on the side of their tent to get a whiff. Eventually the bear left, and his wife surmised that he didn’t bother them because (a) Rick was snoring so loud he was afraid there was a bigger bear inside or (b) he got a whiff of Rick’s stinky hiking boots. Rick never even woke up. I wondered how many times those stories have been told over coffee, meals or around a campfire. They are the tales of a life well-lived.
I haven’t tired of the talking with the hiking club members. Hearing them only inspires me to get out to make my own tales to tell around the campfire or coffee mug. I’m beginning to think there must be a book in here somewhere … or maybe a blog series … or maybe even interviews for posterity. I told my writing class Saturday that those of us who have adventures have a responsibility to tell our stories. Not everyone can get out and enjoy the outdoors in the way that hikers do. But everybody can enjoy a good story about an encounter with a bear…. or a skunk … or even a good story about Campfest. I can’t wait to hear more.