The Great Outdoors

Or, in this case, the great right-out-my-back-doors.

I think I mentioned recently that while we were off gallavanting around IMS my in-laws bought Boy a tent.  It’s a purchase I’d been contemplating myself, actually, so I was rather pleased.  So of course I was game to give it a shot.

I’m sure my in-laws really figured it would mainly be a big living-room plaything for Boy to have out a time or three a year.  But they didn’t know I was signing him up for Cub Scouts and (after our very enjoyable little rented-camper escapade from a few weeks back) contemplating getting back into camping my own damned self.  So let’s just say that the very inexpensive Wal-Mart model they bought isn’t exactly heavy-duty.  I forgot to take pictures for reasons which will become clear, but here’s a shot of the tent from WM’s site.

(Wow, they put a lot of white space around that pic.  Oh well.)

Since I don’t have the green-twig bones of a 9-year-old anymore, I also went and nabbed a queen-sized air mattress and a Sleeping Bag of My Very Own t0 go along with Boy’s.  When I tried it (still in the living room) it fit fairly snugly inside the tent with a little space left over for our miscellaneous stuff.  The floor was actual tarp material instead of more sheer tent material, so it looked like it might even survive contact with the ground.  Nevertheless, I bought a heavy-duty tarp to put beneath it as insurance.  All in all, it looked like it might be serviceable in the right weather – which it looked like we’d have on Saturday night.  So I made an appointment with Boy to camp out in the backyard that evening.

Friday night I obtained his help in tearing down the tent from the living room and had it all set to go on Saturday morning.  With his help, I got it set up on the tarp outside in probably 15 minutes or less – considerably less time than it took us to set up our old pop-up camper when I was a kid camping with my folks.  With the sides staked out taut, it was even roomier than it had been in the living room, which was an added bonus.  Boy was clearly excited.

Surprisingly for a tent with an open-mesh top, it got hot in there really quickly as I was busily spreading seam sealer on the inner seams.  I didn’t exactly know what the seam sealer was supposed to look like when it was done, but I think I did a halfassed decent job of it anyway.  Of course, I didn’t read that you were supposed to seal both sides of the seams, but hey.  I’m still a newbie at all this, so whatever.

The biggest problem I foresaw in our backyard was the assault of hordes of mosquitoes.  We have a drainage ditch along the back edge of our property that funnels runoff from the hill behind our house in heavy rain.  It saves our yard a ton of flooding but it also makes a fantastic breeding ground for the little bloodsuckers, and there is basically nothing you can do to stop them.  So I set up the tent as far away from the ditch as I could, in a flat spot near our deck, and put up burning mosquito coils to hopefully keep the little bastards away.

After bugging the crud out of me on and off all day, I felt that it had cooled down by 7:30 or so and finally gave Boy the nod to start loading up the tent.  We made several trips out hauling sleeping bags, blankets, books, lanterns, bottled water, etc.  Then we spread out our sleeping bags, grabbed our books, and read (interspersed by talking) until 8:30, at which point I switched on the lantern and we read a while longer.  Boy’s bedtime is generally at 9pm, and sure enough, by that time he was about ready to go lights out, so we did.

“Lights out” doesn’t mean the same thing in a campground as it does in my backyard, it turns out.

Between the little solar lights on my deck rails and the general ambient lights of neighbors’ houses, street lights, etc. I found that we could quickly see fairly clearly even with all of the lights off.  I put my iPod on and turned on some music to help get to sleep, but within about 30 seconds I decided that was cheating and so took them right back off.  Still, it wasn’t so bad.  It was warm enough that Boy and I were both on top of our sleeping bags (under blankets), but I’d run an electrical cord from the deck to power a small fan, so it wasn’t too terribly uncomfortable.  It wasn’t as noisy as our neighborhood could have been.  The air mattress was actually quite decent.  And even the relatively bright light could be dealt with.  I figure I finally drifted off at about 9:30 or so.

You’ll notice this post goes on for quite a bit longer.  Not a good sign, eh?

Some time later I woke up to the sound of a light rain on the tent.  Surely it was early morning by the light?  I grabbed my cell phone from the little gear loft overhead – nope, 12:30am.  I was fooled by the local phenomenon of the airport – it’s only a mile or two away, and on cloudy nights the sodium lights of the airport and nearby industrial complex can reflect off of the clouds making it much brighter than a clear night.

I made a quick check around, and nothing appeared to be leaking, which was really quite a relief.  So I settled back and tried to get back to sleep – at which point the rain picked up.  Considerably.  And so me being a somewhat paranoid person by nature, I started checking things over again – and found that rain was coming in through the bottom of the door zipper quite freely.  I’d faced the door away from the mosquitos, but in doing so made a real rookie mistake – I’d faced it to the west.  Oops.  I sacrificed my blanket to roll it up near the tent door and soak up whatever water was coming in that way.

Meanwhile, the rain started to come in harder.  The little rain flap over the roof was doing an awesome job – but elsewhere that wasn’t the case.  Not only was water coming through several of the horizontal seams (where I’d done a less-than-ideal job of sealing) but also through the actual material itself in a few places.  Not much you can do about that.

It wasn’t a horrible leak, more of a slow seeping, but I spent the next hour and a half, from 12:30 to 2am, moving back and forth around Boy’s sleeping form (he woke up once, looked around, and at my reassurance went right back to comatose) to keep checking for particular wet spots.  At one point I gathered up all our books and his loose clothing and stuffed them all into the sleeping bag sacks to keep them as dry as possible just in case we got more water infiltrating.  It turns out that at some point during this time, Dys came outside, took our sandals which were lying on a mat just outside the tent door, and put them into a plastic bag for us.  Amusingly I couldn’t hear her over the rain and she had no reason to assume I was awake.

During that time my mind raced as I pondered how to deal with the problem.  Finally I just accepted that hey, this was a $30 frickin’ tent, it wasn’t made to scale Mt. Fuji in winter.  Things were getting a little wet in places but not terribly.  Maybe there were a few things I could do to waterproof it some more, but in all likelihood I’d just have to upgrade tents or give it up for a little while.  With that acceptance, and the rain slackening to a drizzle and then stopping, I fell asleep again.

I woke up around 6:30 to a brightening sky and not significantly more water than I’d fallen asleep with.  Shortly thereafter Boy woke up and we were ready to exit the tent.  Unfortunately I had to prick his bubble a bit and tell him that we’d be striking the tent immediately rather than leaving it up to play in all weekend.  I also made him pack up just about everything before we opened the tent door for the first time, because I was certain (correctly) that once we did water would pour in from the front side through the opening.

So we packed up our gear as best we could and hauled it into the house in as few trips as possible – all without waking Dys, who was taking advantage of the opportunity to sleep in.  Then we deflated the air mattress enough to remove it from the tent and leaned it inside the garage to dry before unstaking the tent and moving it, bodily, inside the garage as well.  I put the small fan back inside and brought our larger fan from the house to dry off the outside of the tent.  Finally I grabbed some towels from the house and speeded the process along as best I could.

It was probably noon before the tent was dry enough to be put away, but all in all it was none the worse for wear, and neither were we.  It wasn’t an ideal night, but it was fun.  And I learned a few lessons from the experience as well – first of which would be not to trust a $30 tent to the elements, even if you ARE in your own backyard.

I’ll admit though that I’m already looking forward to a possible next time.  I’ve even got my eye on a decent tent.  We’ll just see how it goes from here.

And Boy eventually got his wish – as we have his room destroyed to paint it, he’s spent the last few nights camped out on the air mattress, in the tent, in the spare bedroom downstairs.  Happiness abounds.

All’s well that ends well.


4 Responses

  1. A fan?!?!? Backyard cheaters! 😀

    I’m sorry you got wet, but it still sounds like fun. I think I probably would have just gone back inside when I started getting wet. Couldn’t do that if I was really camping, but in the back yard…Hee!

    Running back inside seemed more like cheating to me than the fan. We might be able to get a tent site with an electrical hookup, ya know…

  2. The first time Todd and I went camping together, he had this crappy ass old tent from when he was in scouts. It rained cats and dogs. But we were on a platform, so none of it seeped in through the ground. But he did tell me “Don’t touch the wall because that will make it leak.”

    What do you think I did next?

    Used your magic powers to make the rain go away!

    BTW: Don’t think of pink elephants.

  3. “It turns out that at some point during this time, Dys came outside, took our sandals which were lying on a mat just outside the tent door, and put them into a plastic bag for us.”

    Aww, you got a good one, there.

    I chided her for not standing over the tent with an umbrella until the rain stopped, of course. 😀

    Yep, that was a very nice surprise in the morning.

  4. Great story. You know, if you’d just had a normal night out and hadn’t had to face the elements at all, you might’ve taken the tent with you to somewhere more exotic than your own backyard on a bad-weather day, assuming the best. That would’ve been a mess.

    Yep, I was grateful for that circumstance in the end.

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