Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Lost City of Palataka and the Night Whistler

I came out of a deep sleep to a very insistent sound of someone blowing a whistle. As in many occasions in life, context was everything. If I were home in bed, it could have been many things, but I was deep in the woods, wrapped up in a mummy bag, inside a tent, enjoying the cool-enough but not cold evening after a long day of bicycling up and down the Palatka trail. The whistle trailed off, and I thought it must have been part of some strange dream of unknowable significance. About 15 minutes later, I heard the whistle again and opened my eyes wide. It was full dark, and according to my watch, about 4am in the morning. Was somebody lost in the woods and trying to call for help? Usually, our camping trips include me and my 2 brothers, but on this trip there was actually a decent-sized group of people camping near us. Could it be one of them lost while making a midnight trip to the latrine? I worried about them for a moment.
There seems to be an often-said thing: 'those millennials!' as if a generation of us is responsible for something wrong. Truthfully, we did not know how old those folks were that were camping near us, but they definitely wanted different things from the experience of tenting in the wild than us old dogs. They had pulled up in 3 fancy Jeeps with so many accessories that I was hard pressed to understand the functions of all of it. One had the fancy array of LED lights across the roof, a snorkel just in case it had to drive through deep water, and giant tire jack, capable of changing one of the huge mud tires that looked cleaner than the tires on my little car. And that was the more normal-looking jeep. The fancy one also had a tent on top, and this is where brother Steve decided that millennials didn't get everything wrong, because he liked those rooftop tents and had one on his Punisher truck. In fact, at one point during the previous day he was admiring the snorkel and wondering aloud if they made such a thing for his pickup truck. Aside from the jeeps, the group of friends had a really nice layout on their picnic table and were preparing a meal that seemed much more along the lines of healthy restaurant food than our hamburger and baked bean dinners. All of this was accompanied by board games, some kind of beanbag toss game and very loud 1940's big band music. I'm not sure who told them that camping was something other than long political discussions around a campfire, but that particular night, the politics at our fire seemed to swerve to about how little millennials were doing to fix the mess we had created in our lifetimes. I suggested at one point we might consider ourselves lucky if they don't invent some kind of ninja game for oldsters on television where if we win, we get to live, else we get to help fertilize the soil for future crops. We spoke a bit more quietly after that, to make sure we were not heard over the loud blare of the Glenn Miller orchestra.
Finally, at one point, we gave up and headed off to our tents to the sounds of our neighbors swing dancing around their campfire. I knew I would sleep well in spite of that, because of the hard biking done during the day, plus we had another long day coming up. Somehow I drifted off to sleep, in some kind of dream where I was the solitary French horn player in the Glenn Miller band, and counting 500 bars through the sheet music until I got to play my two notes in the piece, somehow knowing that I would get it wrong, and Glenn would stop the band and say 'let's hear just the French horn this time...'.
Suddenly, the whistle sounded again, and then again quickly. I was starting to get alarmed and got out my flashlight. I got out of the tent and saw another light on by Steve's truck and went over quickly to see who needed help. In the end, it turned out that my gadget-happy brother had gotten one too many electronic toys. Instead of the little sissy bell that most of us have on our bikes to warn someone that we are approaching, he had purchased an electronic version that could make many different sounds. And he loved to use the sounds, if we were coming up on a group of people walking abreast on the trail and oblivious to us, he'd treat them to the full range of sounds at his disposal. I think it included everything from an 'ah-ooga' model T horn to the sound of a bomb exploding (not sure why they included that, but Steve liked it a lot). Apparently he had been using it too much and the whistle sound was to let him know the battery was running low. He was really embarrassed about a piece of gear failing on his watch. He yanked it off his trike, pulled the battery and tossed the mess in the trashcan. He said that now he knew why people used the simple stupid bells.
All I know is that the next night, we didn't have any big band music...…..

1 comment:

  1. Good article. I really like the rooftop tents as well. Very convenient and with the addons, you can have lots of enclosed space around your vehicle as well.