Back to Writings
Back to Home

The Pit Toilets of Rock Island

7.22.99
Returned from camping in Rock Island, WI last night.  Pit toilets, no shower, and many, many biting flies.  Of a group of four, I was the only one who got bit.  And, coincidentally, I am the only one who tends to have allergic reactions to the anti-coagulant used by biting bastard insects.  So now, I'm taking a party dose of allegra and Keftab.  (Keftab is the familiar name for cephalexin hydrochloride.  Yeah, that's real familiar.)  Jeff, tired of my whining and bitching, took on the task of dabbing ointment on the smarting, red, irritable bumps.  The confusing intimacy of couples, BAH!

The trip out to the island was long.  Long, long, long.  Six hours in the backseat of a Blazer with a big marmut, Sven, and his mistress, Heather.  Sven was not pleased with the seating arrangement...I suppose he expected he was entitled to the entire backseat.  He showed his displeasure by sticking his tail in our faces at every opportune moment.

As soon as we saw the light at the end of the tunnel, as soon as we were on Door County, the last of the mainland, we came to the sudden realization that we were not going to make the second ferry that was to take us to Rock Island.  To our sleeping bags and pitched tents.  To our feast of burgers and trout.  To warm cups of sweetened coffee under starlit skies.  We were going to miss the ferry by twenty minutes.  Matt, the third happy camper, put the pedal to the metal so that we only missed the ferry by 15 minutes.

Lucky us.

Being that the four of us were alpha personalities, unlikely to be deterred from peaceful rest by a missed ferry, we brashly approached every person with a water-capable vehicle at the Washington Island ferry landing.  I took on the concession stand.  Heather, Jeff and Matt took on the unsuspecting dockers.  Eventually, we scored with a one-two punch.  The trio sweet-talked one party into a non-answer.  As the targeted party was discussing it among themselves, I smiled at the young blonde man at the helm and suggested they give those sad campers a lift.  The beautiful blonde captain grinned at our predicament and conceded that taking us to the island was a far better fate than letting us loudly yearn the evening away at the dock.

The mist on my face as we were approaching Rock Island was among the sweetest nectar I've tasted.  I don't think I've ever fully understood the feeling of reaching land after a long voyage.  Swiss Family Robinson, Gulliver's Travels, so what?  Now, I get it.  Our ferry masters refused to take payment.  Refused even a drink.  We must of amused them sufficiently. In all seriousness, they were the nicest, most generous, open-hearted folk I've met in a long time.  Kindness is karma, I must remember to show that generosity to some other desperate stranger.

A half hour later, Heather and I arrived at our campsite.  She promptly brought out a gallon of rum, assuaging the doubts the rest of us had lurking in the back of our minds.

"How is her pack so small?"

"Why isn't she offering to help with the rest of the gear?"

"Damn urban princess."

Shut us up, didn't she?  To further prove the need for tummy-warming liquids, as soon as we got our tents staked, we got caught in a massive thunderstorm.  Now, the weather forcasts said "patchy showers."  In my book, thunder and drenching rain do not fall in that category.  Luckily, we had a tarp that we hung over the long picnic table, so we could huddle and play cards while all our firewood got soaked.  Mud all over my new, low-top hiking shoes.  Those shoes were the best purchase I've made in a long time.  In a fit of insecurity, I bought the shoes to give me the courage to camp out in a place where flushing toilets are a fantasy.  Dinner was one sandwich each.  The homemade burgers and trout would have to wait.

The next day, I got up at 5:30 am, awakened by the warm sunlight streaming in through the tent.  Since no one else was going to crack an eyelid for some time, I went to get water from a pump about a half mile away.  When I returned to camp, I decided to light a fire.  I had a heavenly vision of a cornucopia of coffee, crackling bacon and fluffy scrambled eggs for one and all.  An hour later, I spat on the wet wood, cursed the wet matches and stomped on the wet firepit.  It was time for a solo hike to the beach.

Wow.  Stunning view.  This is the stuff of romantic fairy tales.  This is the stuff you ride off in with your knight in shining armor.  (At the moment, my knight in shining armor was snoring loudly in the tent.  Ah well.  Anyway...)  The fog just graced the tips of the trees on the southern side of the sand, and gentle waves tickled a big gray rock somehow buried in the middle of the beach.  I didn't know what to say.  How many of us have dreamed of standing on the shore of our own deserted island?  How so much beauty could be captured in one little spot, and stay undisturbed only to be discovered by a disgruntled, frustrated twenty-something.  Too many odds to beat, yet I broke the bank.  The elation that you could feel...

When I returned, the rest of camp was arising.  As it turned out, breakfast that day was wonderful.  Each of us spent about 45 minutes stroking and coddling the campfire.  Matt wanted a cup of coffee so desperately, he stubbornly blew on a bic-sized flame long enough to boil a Coleman kettle of water.  The wet frustration running down his back, the red, desperate face, evoked enough pity in me that I gave the fire another go.  We managed to keep the flame lit long enough to roast sausage, make scrambled eggs and two pots of instant coffee.  That coffee was the best instant coffee I've ever had, because it was made with the sweat and spit of four desperate campers trying to coax fire from wet, stubborn wood.

After breakfast, we took an 8-mile hike around the island and explored the first lighthouse ever built in the midwest; gawked over small cemetaries with overgrown headstones; and climbed down 80 broken stone steps that led to rocky beaches with water so clear, you wouldn't know it was there except for the ripples.  I picked up a jolly good walking stick, with a jut on one side that perfectly suits my thumb.

That evening, we took a leisurely stroll to the beach to look at the stars.  My God, I didn't think there were ever that many bright, twinkly things in the universe!  The absence of a moon made the stars seem so much more the brighter.  Under their amused watch, I made a sand angel.
What an amazing place.  To be filled with so much satisfaction and contentment can't be possible...yet somehow it managed to envelop me!

Yay, camping, I highly recommend it as a soulful retreat.
 

Back to Writings
Back to Home