Introduction

My summer of discovering freedom is ridin’ on strong. And summer is still a few days away. Who decided on the first day of summer, anyway? It’s pretty hot out. I don’t care about the solstice.

So I’m going up to this weeklong event in Lancaster, New Hampshire. It is called PorcFest, which is short for Porcupine Freedom Festival. The Free State Project holds PorcFest every summer for libertarians and anarcho-capitalists to get together, network, have fun, see speakers, join seminars, dance, camp, mingle, and otherwise ignore the state in one large cluster. I’ve never been, though I’ve been involved in the “scene,” if you will, since 2007. It may be because I am a “pre-stater,” and have never really been involved in FSP. The hurricane that L dot me has become, however, has helped me meet numerous new friends and aquaintances, and of course, we are all determined to meet up and camp out and have a good time. Already having bought a few nights in one of the last reasonable sites at this privately-owned campground, I learned that Jeff Berwick, Jeffrey Tucker, and Joel Salatin of all people are speaking! Dance, dance! I’m also excited to see Nick Gillepsie from Reason as well as John Bush of the Sovereign Living show. Not to mention other DIY talks ranging from how to be a better storyteller and lessons in knitting. So much to do! I am still too scared to look at the schedule in depth to figure my plans out.

Enough about that for now — you will get my reports in full detail — wild ride! style — before long. I have to jinx PorcFest right here and now: Everytime I have ever gone camping. Everytime my family in my entire life has ever gone camping. Everytime you, New England reader, has ever gone camping…IT HAS RAINED. Not just sprinkled a little and put a damper on a night or two. No, the US just invaded Normandy, if you will.

I’ll be  homesteading a little RV back-in site in some quiet corner of Roger’s Campground for four nights and some morning at PorcFest.  It’s going to rain, rain, rain, rain rain, right? You know my little scout tent will get stuffed into the mud, much like that car in Jurassic Park with the little kids screaming, right? Make it stop rainin’, lord…

But you know, sometimes ominous weather makes things better. Miserable experiences are terrible at the time, but like all miserable experiences, you can laugh about them later. I’ve been bothered by a bear at 1 am at the side of the Appalachian Trail; I’ve gotten a DUI; I’ve been burned by girls and I have hilariously burned myself in the presence of girls; I’ve been caught in hell storms in Baltimore Harbor and had to hoard with 100 other strangers on stairwells, pretty shady; my van broke down in Ossipee, NH, about 60 miles from home at 10 pm with five people and a full band’s worth of equipment in it, yet we got everything home cheap; I’ve been pulled over in Maryland in that very van with four of us, drug-searched and threatened to be arrested because one of us had an empty bowl that some dog I wanted to shoot (cops shoot dogs, remember) found. All those stories are hilarious campfire stories. Oh, did I just tell my L dot me friends what fireside stories I should tell y’all? Yes. I live an adventurous life. There is no other life to live.

Anyway, I would like to offer a prelude to my PorcFest stories. Last summer, I went on an adventure gone awry, and I want to share it with you. When things go wrong, they go really wrong. One of the reasons I love nature and being outside is because it so unpredictable. Life is unpredictable. Central planning is predictable: it will fail. But let things happen and they might roll right. New Hampshire is toursity, and tourism is a planned activity. Vacation plans go wrong real fast, especially in the mountains. Read on!

[Bienvenue à New Hampshire, amies!]

 

A WASHOUT! MISADVENTURES AT DOLLY COPP CAMPGROUND

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runnin’ scared

One of the most heralded and historic campgrounds in New Hampshire is the Dolly Copp Campground, right up Rte. 16 in Gorham. This White Mountain National Forest site is minutes north of the touristy North Conway, Mount Washington’s Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, the Wildcat Mountain Ski Center, as well as great swimming spots on the Peabody river that I know about and you don’t. And don’t forget Story Land. Good ol’ Story Land.

storylandkid

[source: awkwardfamilyphotos.com]

Dramatic, inspiring, haunting mountain peaks and forest bear down on all this, and you, a true wonderland. I’ve sided with the camp that believes New Hampshire is the wildest, happiest piece of nature in the world, especially in its tiny little middle-finger shape of a border. More value for your dollar. No sales tax…

On June 25, 2013, Dolly Copp is where I drove for a fun night of camping, weinie-roasting, and a raging fire.

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not quite raging…

The Dolly Copp Campground is one of the largest and most secluded parks around. The park is named after the local legend, an innkeeper. It is built around her homestead. The park is overlooked by the dramatic yet condescending, childish smug Imp, also known as “Dolly Copp’s Imp.” This is a cliffside carved by nature into the profile of a laughing spiritous little runt, the Imp. If the Old Man on the Mountain was wise and silent, The Great Stone Face [pdf] of Nathaniel Hawtorne; the Imp is Bacchus. “Ba-ha-ha-ha-chus,” is more like it.

[source: google search]

If there is one thing you must do before pitching a paper-thin canvas tent and spending $20 to do it, it is this. Lesson one: CHECK THE WEATHER REPORT. Not only is the weather in the mountains completely unpredictable, it is absolutely more extreme than the accurate reports can pin down. What begins as a beautiful, humid, sunny day (the summit of Mount Washington was picturesque, surreal, clear, and ethereal! — yet, see the picture below from a few hours later), can end as Armageddon. Two hours after I pitched the tent, built a fire, and toured some of the park, I was thinking, “Armageddon outta here!!!”

Let us start from the beginning: It was my intent to pitch tent, drink beers, burn some Andouille sausages on sticks, then crawl over every inch of this campground for a thorough review. Dolly Copp sports sites in fields, birch, along the river, on hills in pockets of spruce, on hill fields, as well as sites embedded in the young forest. It is a wonderully diverse place for anyone who wants tent-pitching options. Most of the grounds allow RVs, but some of the roads are so narrow, hilly, and windy, that no RV is getting up there. Guess where we pitched our brown, sad sack.

A favorite book of mine, The Best In Tent Camping: New England, called RVs “land yachts.” Yes, yes! McMansion-mobiles! I enjoy some social atmosphere when camping, but I don’t want my neighbor to have a satellite that picks up the Nature Channel nestled in a tree branch. Lafe Low, the author of the book, has this to say about the Spruce Woods area of Dolly Copp:

Spruce Woods is another great spot for tents…As soon as you turn in to this loop, you’ll feel as if you’re driving deeper into the forest. The whole area is densely wooded with fir, pine, and spruce trees, so there’s a nice sylvan atmosphere. The forest floor remains cool even on the sultriest summer day, and the sunlight filters down through the trees in fractured columns, adding a mystical air to the woods. Even if you have neighbors on both sides, you may not be able to see them. This is my favorite section of Dolly Copp.

L and I debated three sites we liked from different parts of the grounds, including Spruce Woods. The first site was at the very end of the dead-end path that is Spruce Woods. It was surrounded by sprawling forest. One would have to park and carry all their equipment in, about fifteen yards from a common parking area. Come nighttime, there would be a truly isolated feeling one can only experience in the middle of the woods. Knowing that there might be epic storms afoot (from the report printed in the ranger’s office), we vetoed the site as it was the only one in Spruce Woods with no tree cover. This section of Dolly Copp, however, is excellent for tent campers. I saw numerous sites I’d enjoy staying in — on a starry summer night. A change in the weather was a’comin’ …

The open fields were a no-go, even though the view of the Imp was unforgettable (I wonder how many kids have nightmares of Ba-ha-ha-ha-chus). Lack of tree cover and RVs are a terrible combination for a tent-pitcher. We drove up a hill and entered a beautiful, quaint woods and found a site nestled in spruce and coddled by a babbling brook. I knew this was it, but we had to continue our tour of the park. After descending the hill, we tried a neighboring hill that was mostly fields — much too open for a possible storm, but good tent-friendly camping.

The Birch Lane was also picturesque, especially along the Young River, but much too open and public. RVs and tents mingled in fields with birches and trees that were too young and bushes that did not reach high. It felt like a backyard, honestly. In the busy part of the season, I figure it is a backyard. I think I’d enjoy a camp here late in the season when the crowds have dispersed for the year. I can imagine it being lazy and friendly. The End Loop boasted a last tease that intrigued L and me. A bit too open for a day like today; it was embanked on a mountainside. I wondered if it would buffer us against the storm, then I thought of the Willey family lore (o’er on Rte. 302). Their home was destroyed by a storm and a rockslide. They all died. So, even though we saw the host of this section sitting in the sun at her site — a lovely older lady and a friendly dog (surely good camp stories and camper advice) — we settled on the high hill covered in spruce trees. It truly is the prettiest and most private site in the entire park.

After registering with the ranger at the entrance, I immediately pitched tent. I decided to hell with this weather. It was beautiful out! I hastily borrowed a two-person tent for this trip. I didn’t think to inspect the contents. It was missing two pieces of its hind-pole! Scout tents needs their A-frames. Drats! What to do!

Lesson two: INSPECT EVERYTHING. Camping is not just leisurely enjoying some trees and dirt and hoots and howls and perfect little fires. It is a recreation of man vs. nature. “Recreation” sounds so pretty today, but it means man vs. nature. Shelter = survival. You can have a cell phone and you can have food, but if your tent isn’t working, you don’t have shelter. And no shelter might mean no survival.

Creek Stewart is a survival expert and he winds it down to “The 3 Survival Rules of 3” [excellent infographic]. In extreme circumstances, humans can survive:

3 hours without shelter
3 days without water
3 weeks without food

Good thing I can think. I found a young tree and hacked it down with my pocket knife. I plugged the spruce branch into the odd-ball tent pole. Thankfully the spruce I planted the tent under was on a slight hill, which allowed me to apply less pressure as I pegged the ropes attached to the makeshift pole. I salved the tent in a way that wouldn’t cause passersby to chortle in camper contempt (il est stupide quebecois!!!!). I’m proud I can rig a tent with makeshift parts. I’m not proud, however, that I didn’t think to bring a tarp and some rope.

2

Lesson three: BRING A TARP, NO EXCEPTIONS. Trust me. Our neighbors had tarps over their tents and picnic tables, and they didn’t mind the oncoming weather a bit, from what we gathered later on our sad soaked drive out of Dolly Copp.

Earlier in the day, L purchased a scratch ticket and lost, jokingly blaming it on the Canadian penny she used. When we arrived at the campsite, I found a penny in the dirt: Canadian. Bad luck, right? If that wasn’t an omen, this was: I opened my Andouille sausage packet only to discover they were slimy and gross. We made the best of things with some chicken sausages we brought, including some experimental smoked sweet potatoes, which we ate quickly as the rain began to drip drop. Pitter patter. Eventually cold, wet teeny bombs of misery.

We picked up some gear quick and hid it in my car. I covered the tent with a small tarp (hardly a tarp) I brought. It was not worth the money, at all. The rain seemed to hold up, however. I could tell the pregnant clouds were about to break, so while L insisted on sitting in the quiet, comfy, dry car, I ran down to the RV field to track the storm and view the Imp.

reveling in evil glee!

reveling in evil glee!

In the mostly empty field, I studied the clouds, watched lightning strike the mountainsides, and listened to land yacht generators hum as comfortable “campers” watched Netflix and/or wondered who that nut in the poncho was and why he had a compass and a camera and a huge grin on his face as he looked up at the mischievous, laughing Imp in its eerie, mythological pose. The storm was moving east, onto the Imp, itself. This was the calm before the storm, friends. This was a Spielberg movie. The first few crashes of thunder seemed farther off but suddenly it sounded as if it has struck right on top of me…err, us. Mostly me. The hum of the RV and me. Me and the Imp.

I jumped in surprise as the deafening cannons roared through the Whites. I was checking my compass in one moment of light rain, then sprinting back to my campsite as the rain relentlessly punched the earth in the next.

I had wandered a quarter-mile from our site and ended up running the hardest I had in my life. The rain was brutal, cold, and violent. Almost hail. I don’t doubt there was hail on the Imp. It laughed; I ran! It sat put, stony and giddy, frozen in its menacing tirade of humor, reveling in its evil glee.

I retreated up the hill of the High Woods and slung myself into the dry haven of my car. I watched our fire get snuffed in my rearview mirror. My tent was sad, soaked, and lonely under that spruce tree.

sad sakk

sad sakk

L wasn’t budging. The storm clouds weren’t either. I decided to man up and get out there! I grabbed my necessities and ran to the tent. Once inside, I felt great! Here I am winning against nature! Man builds shelter, man has food, man has light, man has beer! Keep your stinkin’ fire, nature! Ten minutes later: water, water everywhere! The tiny tarp worked wonders, but the water was seeping in from the corners on the ground. Since the tent wasn’t on a perfectly level piece of ground, the water the seeped in was rolling down towards my head, and my stuff. There would be no sleeping here tonight. The site was turning into a mudpit and it was going to get worse, regardless of the rain and hail.

26

look closely for water seeping in

Here is the lantern I wanted to write by; this snug brown and yellow shelter we planned to call home for a night; there is the wet wood and fire wood that lies dormant for an undisclosed time until another human enjoys its comforting embrace of flame. I know someone will love finding that abandoned firewood.

Little does Miss Big Mama Nature know, that is how we humans won. She can scare one of us off, but another of us will linger upon the scene and use his abandoned resources. Pretty soon man has a system and Nature, that unchanging behemoth, can only laugh at the unprepared…like me.

Alas, I was down! Rats! When all else fails, get a cheap motel room!

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RULES

I ripped the tent up in a fury — pegs still on strings and all! — and I drove us back to North Conway. As I cruised down Rte. 16 in the fury, the fury subsided. A thick fog and mystique remained. When we passed where Mt. Washington and Mt. Adams are supposed to be, this is all we saw:

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seriously, there the tallest mountain in the east is somewhere back there.

We found a lovely little place called the Eastern Inn. I ended up signing up for the VIP program on the spot: five stays, get one free! Thank you hell storm! Our room was cute and simple; the pool and jacuzzi were real fun to take over for an hour or two. First hotel I’ve ever been in with a flatscreen. Seriously. Showers, AC cranked, TV on all night. Use every freebie!

A rugged camping trip turned into a summer resort getaway within an hour. I am glad I had fun instead of drown in a mud puddle under the Imp’s godawful grin as the heavens burst upon the only lands that dare to try and reach it.

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In the hotel room, I concocted numerous camper-friendly and silly ideas: diving in the pool, blanket tents, hotel room Frisbee, and lobby microwave s’mores…but in the end L and I wanted nothing more than the AC, marshmallow pillows, more beer, and Family Guy. She dozed quick, while I stayed up late and wrote and wrote and wrote this adventure into my moleskine diary. Oh, and I peeked out the window to this eerie view:

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The Imp followed us. Horrifying…

The next morning we schmoozed around North Conway like a couple of geezers from New Jersey: breakfast at some overpriced diner, visiting the old-timey train station, buying retro candy and gum and little rabbit figurines in the general store. Later we stopped at another secret swimming hole I know of on the Kanc (if you know what “Kanc” means, you’re halfway there) and really enjoyed the beautiful summer day. A slow ride home made it perfect.

"Little light, tonight, I just saw a whole life..."

“Little light, tonight, I just saw a whole life…”

Miss Big Mama Nature, I will be back soon. Very soon. There is much I missed at the Dolly Copp Campground: the Copp homestead, the graveyards that were right near our campsite, the campsite hosts and their knowledge, the rangers’ exhibits, the nature trails, the chats with fellow campers, the hike up that menacing Imp. I promise I will check the weather reports, inspect my equipment, bring extra tarps, and hopefully not bail out for a hotel room the next time.

Whether or not I do, I will live. And I will enjoy it.