Happy Travails

My wife and I very much enjoy taking our children on family camping trips. We have what is called a “tent trailer” in Canada, and “pop-up trailer” in the United States. I have no idea what the newly formed European Union has decided to call them; probably something straightforward like “hard-top caravan with cranked-up canvas tent side-outwards for sleeping accommodations” to satisfy all of the member countries.

Anyway, when my wife received an invitation from two of her cousins — who are the daughters of one of my wife’s uncles, who is the youngest brother of her mother — to celebrate the 50th birthday of her cousins’ mother — who is the wife of her uncle, and therefore my mother-in-law’s sister-in-law — we were quite thrilled. Did I mention that these cousins are twins? Regardless, we were quite thrilled until we found out that the party was going to be held in the Eastern Townships.

I have never been to the Eastern Townships, so I feel that I am well qualified to represent everybody’s ignorance as to precisely what are the Eastern Townships. It seems that the Eastern Townships are a bunch of townships located east of Montreal in la belle province of Quebec. That’s one mystery solved.

Since guests were expected to arrive around 2:00 on a Saturday afternoon, and we calculated that it would take between four and nine hours to actually find my wife’s uncle's house because there are about a bazillion townships in the Eastern Townships, we decided to leave on Friday and find a campground near the party and spend the weekend camping, except for when we were at the surprise birthday party.

After extensive research comprised of phoning my wife’s cousins to ask where the closest campground is, we set out for our trip. We arrived at the campground and, after checking in, received a fine-looking map of the campground. It was a wonderful diagram of straight lines, right angles, and squares, the sort of picture that can be reasonably drawn using the horizontal and vertical controls one at a time on an Etch-a-Sketch.

“Just turn right here, right there, and then left here, and voil&aacute (which is French for “go straight here”), there’s your campsite,” was what the campground owner said as she highlighted our right-angled path from the office to our campsite in bright neon yellow.

Unfortunately, once we set out upon our yellow path, we discovered that the map in our hands reflected the reality of the campground layout about as much as the Survivor television show reflects the reality of life. The road was neither straight nor right-angled. We took some wrong turns and got caught in a dead end. With trailer in tow, I attempted to make a three-point turn so that we could backtrack and start over. But the dead end was on a down slope, and it had apparently been raining on this campground since the beginning of time, so when I attempted the final manoeuvre (which is French for “you’re about to get hopelessly stuck in mud”) by placing the van into drive to go back up the hill, we found ourselves hopelessly stuck in mud.

Several units of time passed before we were able to cajole the camp operator into extricating us from the mud pit with one of those little four-wheel-drive all-terrain vehicles. By then, it was starting to get dark and we worried about finding our campsite more so. We made our way back to a corner campsite and asked the residents if site 214 was nearby. They pointed in French, and we were on our way. We made a right turn, another right turn, then another and found ourselves right back in front of the same corner campsite. The bemused residents told one of their children to lead us to our campsite on his bicycle.

We followed the tyke at the posted speed limit of eight kilometres per hour through the campground. This took many units of time because eight kilometres per hour is so slow that the forest squirrels, which tend to move in random directions at any given moment, were progressing faster than we were. I am now convinced that eight kilometres per hour in metric speed is actually about minus two miles per hour in real speed.

After many twists and turns, we finally arrived at…the same corner campsite from which our intrepid guide embarked all those long moments ago. We did not bother to chat with the campers and headed off down our yellow trail for the third time. We came to a fork in the road that had given us some wrong turns before. I parked the van and ventured out on foot, in the mud, to reconnaissance the situation. It was now completely dark, and I found a small segment of campground that had a few campsites on either side of the road. I bent over to read the numbers on the posts beside each site in the hopes of seeing “214,” our assigned campsite. Some of the posts had a site number that started with a “2…” and others took this theme further with a “21..” That was good enough for us, and we set up camp on one of the sites.

The surprise 50th birthday party was a smashing success, especially since my wife’s aunt's birthday was in January. When you think about it, a surprise 50th birthday party is sort of redundant because I think that we are all pretty surprised the day we turn 50 years old. Of course, some people will say, “you’re not 50 years old, you’re 50 years young,” like this solves something. This is one of life’s little ironies. When we are young, we can’t wait to get older, and when we are older, we pine for the days of our youth. Or we just become stuck in the mud.

Nick Burn is a freelance writer, husband, father of three, engineer, teacher, and is the principal behind the services of Statistics Courses. In his spare time (hah!), he enjoys camping, skiing and reading.

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