Camping Trips of Doom

Camping at a secret freebie place!
Camping at a secret freebie place!

Camping is something my parents introduced me to when I was a child. We had a pickup truck with a slide-on camper (Mom and tents are NOPE), and during my school breaks we’d go to places like Two Jack, Waterton, Elkwater, or to secret places along the Old Man River and elsewhere. I’d go fishing with Dad, or hunt for pretty rocks (I should have been a geologist), and otherwise romp around in the wilderness. When we weren’t camping, I would sometimes sleep overnight in the camper while it was parked in the driveway, and later on when I started using a tent, I’d occasionally pitch that in the backyard and sleep there, because camping out is fun no matter where you do it. These days, I still go camping now and then, though not as often as I might like.

I have a lot of fond and amusing memories of past trips, like how it always seemed that the radio station out of Pincher Creek would play Wheel in the Sky, without exception, every time we turned along that last long stretch before arriving in Waterton. Or the time we camped on Crown land but I was too tired to get up to go fishing so Dad went without me, and I woke up later to find the camper surrounded by cows—I was maybe seven years old and freaked because a cow was blocking the door—so I blasted the radio and when I looked again, it was like the cows had evaporated. Totally gone, couldn’t find them anywhere. Didn’t imagine it though… Dad and I had to muck out the campsite when he came back, and we had a good laugh when I said the cows had been looking in the windows. Then there was the time I woke up in the back of the hatchback to find a horse’s butt resting against the window a few inches from my face, because apparently cars are great resting places for weary trail pony bums. (Couldn’t get out that time either.)

Not all trips have gone according to plan though.

There was the time Dad and I meticulously planned a fishing weekend, packed up the car (the camper had long since bit the dust so we slept in sleeping bags on a foam mattress under the stars), excitedly headed off…only to find upon arrival hours later that we’d left all the food at home, except (for some reason) six hotdogs and a fry pan. Being in the middle of nowhere with no services for hours in any direction, we stuck it out by rationing the hotdogs in order to grease the pan and then fished every meal out of the river for the next three days. Every meal.

I didn’t each much trout again after that.

Still, it wasn’t the worst experience I’ve ever had. There are three in particular that really stick out as Camping Trips of Doom. I was recently asked to recount these failed adventures, so without further ado (and listed from least horrific to most):

#3: Bearberry

Bearberry is a tiny community northwest of Calgary, and somewhere northwest of Bearberry is a nice little meadow on Crown land that makes for a pretty good freebie campsite. In 2009 I was invited to go there with my then-boyfriend and his friends. It started out great: sunny skies, just the right temperature, not a lot of bugs. Everyone set up tents, got the fire going in the fire pit, roasted our food. The wild horses came to visit! Naturally, I wandered around taking pictures, some of which became one of my very first photostreams:

Looking back now, I probably should have realized things were going to end badly when, on the last night while sitting around the fire before supper, I felt a sudden sharp pain in my upper jaw that quickly turned into an abscess. When I couldn’t deal with the pain anymore I excused myself and hid in the tent. Eventually, everyone retired to bed too.

As is wont to happen in Alberta during the summer, a series of very lovely days weather-wise tend culminate with some rain. We had watched a thunderhead building over the horizon to the northwest as that afternoon wore on but didn’t think much of it. It would probably swing north and miss us, but even if it didn’t, so what if it rained? Whatever. We weren’t sissies!

It was pitch black outside when I woke up. One moment everything was still and peaceful; the next moment there was a deafening roar. I could feel it rushing toward us. It was terrifying, terrible, and enormous. I have never been so frightened or felt so small in my life and I will never, ever, forget that sound. Mother Nature was going to kill us.

The storm blinded us with ceaseless lightning. I was being suffocated: the tent was on my face because the wind had flattened it. Outside we heard what sounded like explosions: the poles on one of the other tents had snapped clean through and trees were toppling over (thankfully, not on us or any of the vehicles). The downpour was instant and torrential.

I don’t remember getting dressed or putting on shoes, I just remember chaos, shouting, and swearing. And then panic when I realized the meadow we had so happily decided to camp in was turning into a quagmire. The ground was soft and it was raining so hard that the water was actually kicking up mud (we would find the spatter later on the backs and undersides of our camp chairs). Not such a big deal for the others: they had a 4×4 SUV and a truck. But me? I drive that black Saturn ION Quad Coupe in the photo at the top of this post. Yes, I really do take my little sport car off road to places no self-respecting sport car would go, and normally it’s not a big deal. That Saturn is an awesome car!

But in this case, my car was sinking, so while everyone else scrambled to do the fastest camp tear-down in history, I coaxed my baby into keeping traction so I could get out of the mud and back onto the “gravel” road…which was also mud that she started to sink into, just not as badly. After that it was a lot of running in the pitch black (save for headlights and lightning ) to stuff everything, soaking wet and full of mud, into the trunk and the backseat.

The fog rolled in just as we started to pull out. It was god-awful thick, pea-soup-where’s-the-lighthouse kind of fog. The SUV led the way, my car was in the middle, and the truck brought up the rear. We had to go bumper to bumper because we couldn’t see and didn’t want to lose anyone in the dark, particularly if one of us slipped off into the ditch. It was slow going. There were branches and detritus everywhere that we had to maneuver around. The road itself was nothing but mud until we hit the highway. We were soaked and filthy, freezing cold, and exhausted. Plus I had that abscess going full bore in my head. Really, really tough drive.

When we eventually got to Sundre we saw how lucky we’d been: hail had smashed out car windows and destroyed siding on houses everywhere in the town. There was a 7-11 open that we tumbled into for a hot drink. To the cashier we must have looked like wild people.

Driving Highway 22 back to the city was easier but not by much. There was still a lot of fog and a lot of debris on the road. In the distance we saw blue and green bursts of light that we figured was electrical stuff exploding from lightning strikes at the gas plant. Spectacular from a distance but…yikes. Eventually we caught up to the storm itself, but while there was still a lot of lightning, most of its rage seemed to have been spent and I simply had to white-knuckle the drive through the rain and wind.

We arrived home at 4:30am.

#2: Waterton

I love Waterton Lakes National Park. I did a photostream specifically for it. Can’t get enough of it, even though the Alberta side is tiny and there isn’t much to do there as compared to, say, Banff National Park. Even so, if I have a choice of where to go to camp, first choice is Waterton, every time. I’d drive the three hours from Calgary just to stop at Zum’s in the townsite for a burger because Zum’s is that good. You can usually count on seeing at least one bear each time you visit too (unless your name is Mat and you’re visiting me, in which case Waterton will be a scorching 36°C and there will be absolutely no animals of any sort to be seen anywhere, except for the Richardson’s ground squirrel that hung out with us by the fire, and the horsefly that bit you. Sorry man).

June 15, 2014. I was living in the condo from hell and desperately needed a vacation, so I took the week off. Dad took the week off as well and we all decided to go camping. Mom and the pup were going to come too. It was going to be great!

I packed my stuff and left ahead of my folks, who were still packing the RV, so I could snag us a campsite. The preceding weeks had been kinda wet, so the countryside was green, and I had a lovely drive down:

A grey owl.
A grey owl.
Lundbreck Falls.
Lundbreck Falls.
Southern Alberta Rocky Mountains
Southern Alberta Rocky Mountains. Click for panorama!

But then I hit this:

Ominous fog...
Ominous fog…

A sign? At the time I didn’t think so.

I passed through the fog and got to Waterton. The sky was grey and moody, with only an occasional sunny break. It’ll blow over, I thought. We’ll be fine.

I found us a campsite, paid for it, set up my tent, stuck a note on the message board so my folks would know what site to look for, and then went to the bison paddock. This is a neat place you can drive through to observe the bison (if you’re lucky and they aren’t hiding), but you’re not allowed to get out of your vehicle (and for good reason) because the bison can just pop up out of nowhere. Like this!

Close encounters of the bison kind.
Close encounters of the bison kind.

So yeah, that happened, and while I was hastily taking this shot through the windshield I was also praying she wasn’t about to turn around and head butt my car, because between my Saturn and the bison, the bison was bigger. She had a calf with her, and later on I saw half a dozen other calves in the herd, all caramel colored and cute as buttons.

I went into town, ate at Zum’s, watched the grey sky, noticed the bright yellow COUGAR IN AREA – TRAVEL WITH CAUTION sign, headed back to camp. It takes maybe fifteen minutes to get from town to the camp, and in that span of time I saw seven different bears at different points from the road. Seven, all black bears of varying colors. The best was this sow and her two cubs:

I spy a bear tongue!
I spy a bear tongue!

When I arrived at camp I found a young buck hanging around.

Bambi blows a raspberry.
Bambi blows a raspberry.

(Strangely, a lot of the photos I took on this trip of wild animals show them with their tongues hanging out. But all the pics of the dog? No tongue to be seen.)

My folks eventually arrived, the sun came out for a bit, we settled in. More deer showed up, and a particularly aggressive doe (she had a fawn with her) challenged my mother while she was walking Bailey through the campground, to the extent that when they got back to camp Bailey hid under the picnic table and wouldn’t come out.

Scary deer is scary.
Scary deer is scary. :(

The sky spit a bit of rain that first afternoon, but that was all.

The next day we went up to Cameron Lake, which still had a lot of ice in it (the water was slushy). It was cold up there and the wind was howling, which made the ice clash loudly against itself. Very eerie and uncomfortable to listen to. There was a cloud creeping ominously down the mountain on the US end of the lake.


This was a sign. A big one. But at the time, well… Mountain weather will be whatever it will be, and we weren’t concerned. Back at camp, the weather was fairly decent. We saw yet another bear on the way. The buck was still hanging around our site so I took more pictures of him while he munched on green things and wagged his tongue at me. We had some more sun—just a little.

By evening, that misty cloud from Cameron Lake had arrived. We had a fire despite the light drizzle; it got late; we went to bed.

I woke up in the dark. It was raining. I felt around the floor of the tent; everything seemed dry. I went back to sleep. I woke up a few more times in the dark. It was raining harder each time. Hmm.

Grey light crept into the tent. It was pouring. I was awake and wet. I put my hand out and felt the floor of the tent. There was about a centimeter of water on it and it went squish when I pressed down. I realized then that the gravel pad wasn’t level after all and my tent was now in a puddle.

I had a roll of paper towel in the tent. Over the next few hours I swapped between dozing and using the paper towel to soak up the water and wring it outside the tent flap. Totally futile of course, since the water was just seeping back into the tent through the floor.

At some point after 7am I finally extricated myself from my damp accommodations, pounded on the RV door to wake my parents, and told them I was making an emergency run to town for the biggest damn tarp I could find. I then discovered my car was standing in deep water that had collected beneath it overnight, because my car, too, was parked in a depression. There was only an inch or so to go before the water would have started seeping in under the door.

Going into town meant my phone had service, whereas there was none at the campground. I got a tarp and then checked the weather report. Severe rainfall warning. A huge weather front had moved in from Montana overnight and had already dumped several inches of rain. 80mm more was expected. Yikes.

We should have gone home. We didn’t. Camping is not cheap. I’d paid for the whole week for a double occupied site and they don’t do refunds. “Let’s wait it out,” we said. “It’s only Tuesday. It’ll pass.”

Uh huh.

Mom cut up garbage bags for ponchos because naturally we couldn’t find the actual rain gear that is always supposed to be kept in the RV, and Dad and I set about rigging the tarp so the rain would run off behind the pad instead of onto it. I mopped up as best I could and retreated into the RV.


I was too wired from having not really slept to have a nap, while Bailey, who got worked up because there was sudden excitement and activity that she was not allowed to participate in, conked out. I changed from my wet clothes into slightly less wet clothes. We had breakfast. We played cards. We ate lunch.

It was still raining. My car, parked in a different spot, was starting to look like it was about to drown again.

At some point in the early afternoon, a park ranger came around and pounded on our door. The creek that runs between the campground and the road was threatening to overflow its banks, because of course, 80+mm of rain falling on steep mountain slopes gets funneled down into the valleys very quickly. There was concern that the bridge out of the campground would shortly end up washed away. We were being emergency evacuated.

Thus began the second time in my life where I’ve had to tear down a tent in the pouring rain, roll it up into a ball, and stuff it into my car along with soaking wet camp chairs and all my other gear—and this time squish in a soaking wet tarp too. Dad, in the meantime, had to quickly jack down the RV. We got soaked.

They relocated us to the townsite campground (essentially a glorified parking lot) and said that if we wanted to stay and wait out the storm they would honor the fees I’d paid up at Crandell. I said we had to stay at least one more night because I was too exhausted to make the drive home in the current weather conditions. So, we pooled our change and I found a laundromat nearby to take all our wet clothes to.

Then it started raining inside the RV. It was a slow drip at first, over the sofa that I was supposed to sleep on that night. We put down a pot. Then water started dripping out of a cabinet. We put down another pot. Another drip…out came the last pot. I would have to share with Mom. Then water started dripping out of the air vent over the middle of the bunk above the cab, where Dad sleeps. He said he would deal.

We probably would have been okay if not for this. Rain in and of itself isn’t the end of the world when camping. But as it was, we ate dinner by candlelight (we didn’t want to run the lights since water was coming in) and I watched for weather updates on my phone. More rain coming.

We went to bed. Overnight, the water dripping inside the RV eventually travelled to the other bunk where Mom and I were sleeping.

She got soaked. I didn’t.

By 7am on June 18 (Wednesday) my mother had morphed into the angriest, most fed up, NOPE NOPE NOPE WAKE UP WE ARE GOING HOME RIGHT NOW mother I have ever seen. I would have gladly faced off against a grizzly than what we woke up to that day. I’m pretty sure the RV door didn’t have time to open I got into my car so fast.

We left. The campground people were very understanding and given the exceptional circumstances, refunded me the remaining four days that I had originally paid for.

The drive home was not fun. It poured the entire way until we hit Bragg Creek. Lakes and rivers near the highway had burst their banks and one section of the road looked like it would end up swept away if the water kept eating at it like it was. A farm we passed was completely cut off from the road because their land had flooded (the house was on high ground though) while a hydraulic excavator they’d been using sat stranded in what had become a lake, with water up to its cab.

A flooded valley, with water approaching the highway.
A flooded valley, with water approaching the highway.
A burst creek chewing away the highway.
A burst creek chewing away the highway.

It’s normally a three-ish hour drive from Waterton to Calgary along Highway 22. We left somewhere around 8am that day…we didn’t get home until 2pm.

When I unloaded my car, I found about an inch of water in the back of it. Thankfully Dad had a wetvac but even so it took a couple of days for the interior to dry out, and I had to pitch the tent in the backyard and wait until Saturday before that was dry too. We also learned that—probably in the haste to evac from Crandell campground—the top of the RV had ripped open along a seam, leaving a gash about a foot wide. No wonder Mom got wet.

I went back to work the following Monday frazzled and worn out. I decided I wasn’t such a fan of tenting anymore. I didn’t go camping again that summer, and not at all in 2015. But…the ultimate camping trip of doom was still ahead of me.

#1: Horsefly

The route to Horsefly Lake Provincial Park.
The route to Horsefly Lake Provincial Park.

Depending on who you ask, horseflies are big, nasty, biting insects that can rip nickel-sized chunks of flesh from your body. Whacking one of these things with a fly swatter isn’t enough, even if the body looks dented and appears to be dead. If you wait and watch, eventually these evil things will wiggle a bit, puff themselves back into shape, and fly away. You have to whack, then smear to ensure the dead fly stays dead.

So, imagine my reaction whenever my folks have said, “Come with us to Horsefly!” The name is not at all a ringing endorsement. Nevertheless, they have made this plea to me every year for the last decade or more at least. I don’t know how they found this place but they love it there, and usually take a week or so in September to camp and go boating.

2016 had been another hard year at work so once again I was in desperate need of a vacation. September is usually difficult for me to take time off from work, but this time around things worked out and I could go with them. My folks rave so much about this place that I accepted it can’t be judged by its name.

The plan was to leave on September 4, 2016 and arrive in Horsefly the next day around noon, after everyone who had been staying for the long weekend had left. We’d stay the week and come home the following Sunday.

From the moment we started getting ready for this trip, everything that could go wrong, did.

First, my period unexpectedly started the day before we were supposed to leave. (I don’t care how fancy the facilities might be or if the RV has a toilet in it, no woman wants to be on her period when she’s camping.) Then I couldn’t find my sleeping bags (I’d moved four times in the previous three years, and my current condo is only about 580sqft… There were only so many places my gear could be). Once that was sorted, I showed up at my parents’ place on Sunday morning to help Mom pack my stuff into the RV. My car was staying behind this time, as I would be sharing the driving with my dad.

We didn’t manage to leave on time. The boat was on the trailer in the garage, and the RV was backed into the driveway. Hooking the two together was easy. Getting the boat out of the garage? Not so much. They’ve done this dozens of times before on their own, but this time around the trailer snagged on the car parked beside it and got stuck. The car was gouged and had one of its running lights trashed, while the fender on the trailer was crumpled in. Then we couldn’t get them unstuck. All of this necessitated unhooking the trailer from the RV, wiggling on the trailer until it detached from the car, then hauling the boat out of the garage by hand and rolling it down the driveway to rehook the trailer to the RV.

Whew. Ready to go! Or not…
Whew. Ready to go! Or not…

Five minutes after we got that sorted, the RV started leaking transmission fluid. So there was Dad, lying on the road under the engine block, trying to find the leak. He didn’t find it, but it wasn’t gushing either, so he loaded extra transmission fluid into the RV.

1:38: We finally left. Given the potential for engine trouble, Dad drove first to see how the RV would behave.

2:29: As it turned out, it wasn’t the RV we had to worry about. We’d just reached Dead Man’s Flats when we heard boom and then everything started to shake. As we pulled over, a giant cloud of smoke blew past the cab. One of the (brand new) tires on the boat trailer had blown out, not just a little bit, but in two separate places. It basically looked shredded. We were lucky we didn’t lose the boat completely.

The shredded tire.
The shredded tire.

Fifteen minutes later, while Dad was still working on putting the spare on and I was trying to get Bailey to do something in the bushes by the highway, it started to rain.

We limped into Canmore, picked up a proper replacement from Canadian Tire and decided that since it was now late afternoon we should get something to eat before moving on again. Dad was frazzled and cranky. Tim Horton’s seemed like the easiest bet, so we ordered. I tried to pay. The credit machine crashed and the transaction didn’t go through.

“Can’t I just give you cash?” Dad demanded as the very young cashier looked like he wanted the floor to crack open and swallow him up while he and a supervisor tried to get the machine working again.

“We’ll have it fixed in a minute sir!”

Twenty minutes later. “Just let me pay with cash.”

Right. Got our food and left. Then it was my turn to drive. By 5:45 we were in Field, BC and I’d managed to not crash the RV. Sweet! By 6:30 we were in Golden without issues.

Beautiful British Columbia.
Beautiful British Columbia.
A Steller’s Jay watching us at a rest stop.
A Steller’s Jay watching us at a rest stop.

Problem was, now it was getting late. If you’ve ever driven the Trans-Canada Highway through BC, you know that the section around Three Valley Gap is very twisty and narrow, with a mountain immediately out your window on one side and the lake on the other. We came to this stretch of road in the pitch black, and there was an insane amount of oncoming traffic that made it difficult to see. We were only doing 80kph but it felt like we were going twice that speed and I was certain we were about to die.

My friends on Twitter got to experience this horrific drive with me in real-time!
My friends on Twitter got to experience this horrific drive with me in real-time!

An hour later, all of us frazzled (including Bailey and Tika, my parents’ new pup), we pulled into Salmon Arm and stopped for the night in a parking lot for Save On Foods.

No thanks to the condo from hell, I’m still a terribly light sleeper, so when I camp with my folks I sleep in the tent because my parents (and Dad in particular) snore. But since we were parked in a parking lot, I had to sleep in the RV that night. The RV is supposed to sleep six adults “comfortably”. As with tents, I don’t know how this determination was made. Three adults, one medium-sized dog, one puppy barely larger than a kitten, plus all our stuff was pushing it for space.

Mom isn’t usually too bad for snoring but Dad has to use a thing that wraps around his head in order to help control it when he can’t have his CPAP machine. Suffice to say, that night Mom was awful and Dad wasn’t helping much either, so we all got about zip for sleep.

The next day was a slow start. We still had about five hours of driving ahead of us so should’ve been on the road by at least 8am, but at 10:00 we were still in the parking lot finishing up breakfast, shopping in both the grocery store and the Canadian Tire, and trying to get the dogs to do their thing (which they both refused to do).

“We’re gonna get us some good lake trouts… :D” I said.
“We’re gonna get us some good lake trouts… :D” I said.

We got on the road by about 10:30, just in time for the sky to cloud up and start teasing us with rain. But to be fair, this part of the trip was probably the most uneventful and most enjoyable for all of us even though it took ages to make our way north. The scenery was nice (Dad was doing the driving for this section so I got to take a fair amount of pictures through the window, particularly once we left the Trans-Canada and headed north on Highway 97, which I had never travelled before) and my parents spent the time telling me stories about adventures they’d had when they were first exploring this route.

Middle of bf nowhere BC. Getting close to the destination!
Middle of bf nowhere BC. Getting close to the destination!

By 3:30 we were somewhere between Lac la Hache and 150 Mile House. I’d managed to sleep for a while and at 150 Mile House took over for the almost-final stretch. For the RV it’s about an hour from 150 Mile House to Horsefly village (narrow, twisty, hilly secondary highway), and then from the village (where Dad took over again because the road was not paved) it’s another half hour or so to the provincial park itself where the campground is located.

So let’s recap. It’s supposed to be a ten hour drive (non-stop, at proper highway speeds) from my parents’ house to the provincial park. Instead, we originally departed at 1:38pm (Mountain) on September 4 and arrived somewhere around 6:00pm (Pacific) on September 5. Yuck.

When we got there, my parents handed me a camp chair and said, “Go sit in that site right there while we launch the boat.” The campground operator came around to let me know there was a black bear wandering the area, gorging itself on berries before winter and by the way did I know there was a giant patch of berry bushes just right over there? Wonderful. But the bear had not been aggressive, just wanted to eat berries in peace, so even though I was tenting we weren’t likely to be bothered.

Our campsite, right on the lake.
Our campsite, right on the lake.

The campground itself is small but quite nice. I could see why my parents like going there: if the weather is nice it would be very beautiful and more or less quiet. If you have a lakeside site you can pull your boat up on the beach, which makes it convenient to go out later. There are loons on this lake and when they call out it’s a wonderful but very haunting, otherworldly sound.

Mom drove the RV back to our site, and then we hung around waiting for Dad to bring the boat while we got the dogs out of the RV and the firewood organized. Except…it seemed to be taking him a long time.

Floating away into the great grey yonder.
Floating away into the great grey yonder.

It’s hard to steer the boat back to shore if the steering isn’t working. Dad worked on it for a while but couldn’t get it fixed, so had to paddle back manually. Unimpressed.

The rest of that first night was a write-off. We were exhausted, strung out from driving too long, frustrated by the boat, and the dogs were beyond antsy for having been cooped up so long. I got my tent up, Dad helped me string up tarps, and other than walking the dogs for miles in the damp we did nothing else.

Tuesday morning was still grey.

A mirror made of water.
A mirror made of water.

I started to hear my parents say things like, “We’ve never had weather like this here before. It’s usually so nice and sunny when we come!” But this time around the RV was dry inside so it wasn’t so bad. Dad spent the morning trying to fix the boat. He concluded that the steering cable was busted or seized, and this was not something we could immediately fix. But one of the whole points of having driven all this way was to go fishing on this very deep lake, so by golly he wasn’t going to be defeated.

Our little boat, floating uselessly in Horsefly Lake.
Our little boat, floating uselessly in Horsefly Lake.

He started by duct taping one of our canoe paddles to the side of the engine, figuring we could just steer manually. As I watched him do this, and then saw the loud, obnoxious people in the site next to us watching him do this, a kind of disbelieving giggle burst out of my throat and I facepalmed. There are rednecks on this lake, I thought, and they’re us!

Here, fishy fishy…
Here, fishy fishy…

Well, it didn’t work. We puttered around on the water for a while but the duct tape wouldn’t stay stuck to the engine when trying to move the paddle to make the boat turn so we discarded that idea on the basis of not wanting to get stranded and made our way back to shore.

It rained that afternoon, and not a little bit. A wall of water marched its way up the lake and drenched everything.

A rainbow over the lake while Dad works on the boat.
A rainbow over the lake while Dad works on the boat.

Dad spent the rest of the day in the boat, in the rain, trying to figure out a fix. He repeated this process the next morning too while I wandered around camp taking pictures, trying to keep my mother and the dogs entertained (and dry), and picking up dog poop.

Eventually, after disassembling part of the engine, we found a hole in the casing that we could use and jammed a short metal rod into it. It held and let us steer the boat, which finally put a smile on my father’s face. By then it was early afternoon and the weather had started to break up, so finally we could fish!

My first Kokanee!
My first Kokanee!

We found some schools and trolled our lures. I was using the downrigger while Dad was trying to get lucky with something biting closer to the surface. After about an hour of this with no luck, he reeled in first, then helped me bring up the rig. When my line was freed from the weight, it suddenly ran itself around to the back of the boat! Say what? We quickly killed the engine and found a very exhausted 14.5” Kokanee hanging off my lure. That’s big for the Kokanee in this lake, but not big enough to have had the strength to pull the line free of the rig. Somehow, it had gotten hooked through the cheekplate (ouch). Who knows how long we’d been dragging this poor fish around behind the boat…

Faith restored! I was pretty excited, actually. I’d never caught a salmon before—and neither had anyone else in my family. Dad and I swapped places so Dad could use the downrigger.

The engine wouldn’t start.

Horsefly Lake isn’t small. According to the sign in the campground, it has a surface area of 14,500 acres and is about 50km long from end to end. My parents’ boat is not very big, nor very new, and with the steering busted we weren’t going to venture too far. Even so we were still quite a ways from our campsite—too far to just shrug it off and paddle back.

What to do? We floated uselessly for a while before being able to get the engine going again…but then it wouldn’t stay running at low idle. In the end we had to give up on fishing and head back to camp at top speed. The lake wasn’t too choppy so that was a thrill (I haven’t done much boating in my life) but I could tell Dad was frustrated and disappointed.

It wasn’t a total loss. All of us headed over to the day use area where they had a horseshoe pit. On the way…

Woody Woodpecker!
Woody Woodpecker!

I had never seen a pileated woodpecker before! He was hard to photograph but I did manage to get this reasonably decent shot as well as some video footage.

Closest to the pin…
Closest to the pin…

Horseshoes, as I quickly learned, is not easy, but we had fun. One of us, I forget who, actually threw the shoe to that position in the photo above. Alas, it started raining again so we had to bail back to camp.

That night, as I lay in my tent in the dark and the drizzle, something came around the site. I could hear it moving around the tent. It didn’t think it sounded big enough to be the bear…but it wasn’t small either. Whatever it was, after a few minutes it went away and the night fell silent again except for the loons and the patter of water.

Thursday was dark and still raining. Mom opted to stay in the RV with the puppy while Dad and I walked a trail with Bailey up to a bluff with a viewpoint. From there we could see something big and black out in the lake on the opposite shore. It looked like a moose. We wondered if it was stranded, or maybe dead, and even though the boat was sopping wet, we decided to hop in it and go check it out.

For the record, it was a tree.

While we were out there trying to find this big black thing, a fresh wall of water swept up the lake and hammered us. The boat ended up with a layer of water in the bottom of it and of course we were drenched.

Fine. We got off the lake. The clouds cleared off, giving us our only opportunity to actually sit around the firepit and enjoy the stars while the loons called.

Later that night, my friend from the previous evening returned and tried to drag my tent away with me in it! Obviously not successful, and I don’t think whatever it was actually had the strength to drag the tent even if it hadn’t been pegged into the ground, but cripes! It gave it a couple of solid tugs. I had flashbacks to that scene in The Lost World: Jurassic Park where the t-rex sticks its head inside the tent where Sarah and Kelly are sleeping… NO THANKS. I was definitely ready to get out of there, but whatever it was went away again and I heard nothing more the rest of the night.

Friday morning the weather had turned sour again. This time the rain brought high winds with it that ripped the tarps and made a mess of our campsite. Dad found bear poop about twenty feet from my tent in the bushes. We talked about leaving early, and by 3:00 had packed it in. (Once more, packing up a wet tent in the rain.) Even though we managed to do a few fun things, overall we felt wrecked. Mom spent almost the entire time in the RV. I spent most of my time trying to walk the dogs for Mom, and thus, picking up dog poop. (Not a dog person.) Dad spent most of his time fixing the boat. It just wasn’t fun overall.

The drive back to Salmon Arm was dark and dreary. I did a good portion of it, and any time I was behind the wheel, Bailey sat beside me and stared at me. She couldn’t be coaxed away. Later on, Mom asked if we were sure the other cars on the road were being rained on too or if there was just a grumpy cloud following us specifically.

We hit Salmon Arm near midnight and zonked. Or rather, we tried to but none of us slept much. The next day was another slow start while Dad continued to sleep. I worked on my Yoda amigurumi and kept Mom company. Eventually we left.

The aggravation of the trip really started to show when we left Revelstoke and Dad and I got into an argument about my reading comprehension skills—apparently I didn’t have any when it came to reading legal documents even though that’s been my job for the last thirteen years. Mom slept through that unfortunate incident and then there was stony silence until we started the climb up into Roger’s Pass…and got pulled over by the RCMP.

The cops were nice enough to wait until we’d hit the top of the pass before making us stop, because I don’t know that we’d have been able to get going again on that incline. But there we were, at the side of the highway, while the cops quizzed my father about ownership because the boat trailer didn’t have a license plate on it.

Recall all the way at the start of this very failed camping trip that the boat trailer had gotten stuck inside the garage. There was a lot of time spent standing behind it by all of us, first to help get the stupid thing unstuck, then to check that the taillights were working properly and so on. Then when we arrived in Horsefly there was more opportunity to stand behind it when the boat was being launched, when the trailer was being unhooked and maneuvered into the campsite, when it was being hooked back up (and lights tested) when we left, when the boat was being loaded back onto it…

None of us noticed the plate was missing. Where was it? At home in the garage. Dad had forgotten to put it on before we left.

There were a lot of problems with this situation. The registration Dad was carrying for the plate that was supposed to be on the trailer was valid, but didn’t have the same VIN number that the trailer had. Dad had the proof of sale for the boat in the boat, and while the cops were very nice about letting him exit the RV to fetch it (while Mom and I quietly sniggered to one another that apparently the cops didn’t realize if we had wanted to steal a boat surely we would have stolen a nicer one) Bailey and Tika were both very unhappy when one of the cops peeked into the RV through the window by the table. The one cop kept circling around like he was looking for stuff. After Dad provided the bill of sale and such, the records the cops dug up showed that while the sale of the boat had been properly filed, the sale of the trailer never had been, and it was still listed somewhere as being owned by the guy who owned it prior to the person who sold it to my father.

Half an hour later they got it sorted to their satisfaction. The “good” cop said he had every right to impound the trailer and not let us keep going but as we were obviously travelling as a family and heading home, he wrote Dad a ticket for $110.00 instead with a stern warning to get the registration and the sale records sorted out as soon as we got back.

Properly chastised, we continued on. There wasn’t much talking for the rest of the trip. It stopped raining about ten minutes from home. We got in at about 9:30pm on September 10. I jumped in my car and immediately went home—I wanted nothing more than to sleep in my own bed. I spent the next several days helping Mom unpack the RV before going back to work and wishing for another vacation.

This trip left us feeling so bad that we have since all agreed that we will never go camping as a family again. Mom and Dad will go together, and Dad and I might go together, and I might go by myself (sans tent). But all of us together? NOPE.

Oh, the Kokanee?

Home cooked salmon goodness.
Home cooked salmon goodness.

We ate it the following Saturday and it was delicious, so at least there was that.

5 Replies to “Camping Trips of Doom”

  1. Reminds me of the time camping in Belgium when we literally got washed away in a flash flood during a thunderstorm, tents and all. I had an air mattress so I was fortunate to float inside my flooded tent which itself was floating around, but my friends had a truly miserable time.
    Looking forward to camping in Iceland in June :)

  2. Thankfully I did not get bitten by the swarm of horseflies in Waterton, though they were not fun to deal with. Maybe they were full after eating all the bears, elk and bighorns before we got there. :p

    I did, if you recall, get attacked by a swarm of red ants at the bison paddock as we walked along the outside of the perimeter fence. Yikes, those things don’t like it when you walk over their nest!

    Good read. :D

  3. I used to go camping a lot with my parents & some of the trips were less than wonderful, but these three have ’em beat out by miles. You’ve earned a medal for not completely losing your cool during the trips of doom!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.