“Wow. I haven’t seen one of those in…” The man’s voice trailed off. He was strolling past my campsite at Sooke Potholes and had paused to…admire is probably too strong a word…comment on my tent.
My mother bought the Taymor Trailmaster at a local hardware store and gave it to me for my first bike trip back in the mid eighties. The price tag didn’t include a fly, but when a lightweight tent with a waterproof floor rings in at $11 and Mom’s handing over the cash, smiling and saying “Thank you” is a no-brainer.
“I’ve had it for twenty-five years.” I beamed at it fondly. “It’s as good as new.”
Except for the dental floss. And the stick.
The yellow pup tent is just about as simple as they come: the classic triangular profile with a brown woven polyethylene floor that wraps about three inches up the walls and a ripstop nylon roof pitched steep enough to shed snow. At one end, two flaps tie over a zippered mesh door and at the other, a small net window allows some air flow when the cover’s rolled up. One aluminum pole (that breaks down into three short sections for easy packing) holds up the front, another supports the back, and a handful of pegs and a bunch of cords (which now include a shoelace and some dental floss) complete the original ensemble.
A brown nylon tarp makes a very serviceable fly, and a stick inserted in one broken pole section splints it to the next without affecting the overall elegance at all. Last but certainly not least, the entire kit weighs in at about a kilogram. Including the stick.
“It works as well as ever,” I amended.
“I used to have one,” the fellow at the campground said nostalgically. “I had to give it up when I could see the stars from inside.”
I nodded sympathetically, hopeful that my home away from home will be star-free for a few more years. Properly guy-wired, the tent has kept me dry from clearcuts north of Kispiox to sheep meadows in the Outer Hebrides. The mesh has foiled midges on Skye, blackflies near Smithers, and mosquitoes at Nimpo Lake.
While rainstorms and biting insects are, generally speaking, on no-one’s top-ten list, they were really not my mother’s idea of holiday material. Or a suitable work environment, for that matter. She liked indoor plumbing and embroidered cotton pillowcases.
But she was a mom, and since she couldn’t follow me around forever saying, “Stay out of the rain or you’ll catch cold,” she did the next best thing.
For a quarter of a century and counting, whether I was driving to Mexico, hiking the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, planting trees in the Rockies or pedalling the gentle Galloping Goose Trail, I’ve carried the shelter Mom gave me.
On my last night at the Sooke Potholes campground, when I was tucked out of sight in my bugless reading room, a couple of girls on the cusp of adolescence wandered near my site. Their high-pitched chatter hip-hopped closer and closer and then, when they were only a few yards away, it stopped. The silence stretched from one second to two.
“Oh. My. Gawd,” one girl finally said, her voice steeped with horror.
I set down my novel.
“Look at it. I could never sleep in a tent like that.”
I picked up my book again and thought, “Kid, you should be so lucky.”