I was sitting and reminiscing with my sisters this weekend, and the topic of camping came up. Dad was an outdoors man who loved hunting and fishing and camping, but by the time I came around, his heart said wilderness, his body said recliner.
The compromise we came to was what we in the family came to know as “The Dude Ranch.” This, I suppose, would be the precursor to “glamping.” There were cabins with electricity (both A-Frame and enclosed), showers at the main house, and a snack shack.
This was my first exposure to cabins and the blisters the oars cause. But be sure not to fall into the lake, because there were leaches in there.
The river was safe to swim in, and there was even a rope to swing on and drop into the river.
The highlight of the Dude Ranch, though, was always the horses. My exposure to horses was limited to these docile creatures. We went on fantastic trail rides where it didn’t matter if you were leading the horses or not because they knew exactly where they were headed at all times. The most exciting thing that happened was going downhill for 10 feet where the pace picked up, and when the horse in front of you pooped – eww!!!
I can still taste the poor boys filled with lunch meat and cheese, wrapped in tin foil and cooked in the coals. One side was burned to a crisp and the other side was still cold, but those two temperatures offset each other like sweet and salty. Endless hotdogs and marshmallows were roasted on sharpened sticks until my fingers and cheeks were magnets to dirt.
Nightly we sat by the campfire until I couldn’t keep my eyes open, but I didn’t want to go to bed in case I missed something fun the adults were talking about. When I finally crawled into the sleeping back on the thing plastic-covered mattress of the A-Frame, my feet and nose would be icicles, but by the time I woke up, they were somehow miraculously toasty.
No matter what time I woke up for the morning, Mom in her puffy tan jacket, or dad in his noisy green jacket, were always sitting at the fire. Seven out of ten times, it was raining and everything on the picnic bench was drenched.
I watched endless games of the adults and big kids playing cribbage, pinochle, and 42, while I dominated at go fish and hearts. I caught my first fish (a 5-inch trout), and we always catch-and-released. Nothing we caught was worth eating anyway.
In a world where we were already allowed to roam free, here we roamed free among all the earth, air, and water within the barbed-wire fences. And you knew if you hit a barbed wire fence you were really out in the middle of nowhere.
I love my memories of the Dude Ranch. I zip-lined for the first time here (dangling from a wooden handle, the only restraints being the leather straps wrapped around my wrists), I walked on fire here (it was accidental and actually just a campfire), and I grew closer to my family here.