Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Tale of the Camping Trip

... So one of the (Federal) Law Enforcement Rangers comes out to the campsite.
This is never a Good Thing, especially when it is a) 9:00pm and you know he was off duty at 6 and b) he's open for business- i.e. Taser, nightstick, pepper spray. This is no social visit... he's Expecting Trouble.

We're all gathered around the table.
One of the handles of Captain Morgan's Rum is empty. The other is half gone. The empty jug of Sailor Jerry rum, the empty wine bottles and the bone-dry mini-keg of Heineken are arranged like an alcoholic artist's drinkable pop-art sculpture.
The remnants of the Stone Crab Feast is making the table look like a crab-shell bomb went off, scattering orange, black and white shrapnel everywhere.
The Ranger surveys the carnage. He clears his throat...

"Guys... We've had some complaints."

Maybe I should start at the beginning...?

(Disclaimer: In order to protect the innocent, shield the guilty and avoid embarrassment, some names have been changed, a few identities have been masked, and some events have been completely skipped in order to protect Domestic Tranquility. If you want to know the whole unabashed truth, buy the book.)

December 7th is a day that will live in Infamy.
Not only is it Pearl Harbor Day, but it also marks the 1st Semi-Annual IDS Tortugas Fishing & Drinking Trip.

At IDS we usually have our company holiday party the first week of December on a Thursday, then have Friday off... Some times we'd have a golf outing, occasionally we'd go out to the North Florida Gun Range for a day of skeet shooting and a meal at Hooters to cap it off.
This year was different.

Back in Early September I had put out a RFI to all the possible participants via email and had about 20 positive responses.
Basically- A camping trip to the Dry Tortugas National Park after the Holiday Party, instead of the usual golf or shotgun fest. I would arrange transportation to DRTO, food, drinks, and most camping gear. It would be a relaxing weekend of sunshine, food, drink and fishing to start off the holiday season with a healthy tan or maybe even a case of melanoma... And afterwards a night in Key West to ease back into the work week.

I headed off to London, several NHL cities, then 6 weeks in Asia for some basketball in Shanghai and Macao and the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai. By the time I got back, the trip was in jeopardy. Over the fullness of time, many people dropped out, but a good core of folks kept true to the event. We just hoped for good weather and kept making plans.

The schedule was as follows:
We'd hit the holiday party, enjoy the festivities, then afterward we'd head south, probably about 9:00 or 10:00.
We'd hit Key West at 5:00 AM and do some last-minute shopping at the 24-hour grocery on North Roosevelt, and be loading the boat by 6:30AM.

We took two cars- I drove Physalia, loaded to the gills with camping gear, and coolers and bins full of victuals and booze. Jingles drove his Expedition packed with fishing gear, luggage, and most of the passengers.
The participants were Yours Truly (duh), Jim, Alan K -Jim's friend and partner-in-crime (remind me to tell you about the trip to Fantasy Fest sometime), Brad R -a friend of mine from Way Back, we're talking high school here..., Zack -from and IDS ETS Staffer, and Frau- Ex IDS LPGA Staffer and all-around Cool Guy.

(Click pic for full size version)
The Gang of Six. Frau, Alan, Zack, Brad, Jim and Yours Truly.

In retrospect, for a first effort this was the perfect group. Jim had been out to DRTO before, and everyone else was perfectly at home with the primitive camping concept- no one really high-maintenance.

Everything went according to plan- the trip to Key West was uneventful, the weather for the boat out on Friday morning was perfect, the only fly in the ointment was that the grocery store in Key West that is usually open 24 hours was closed that morning. We had to scramble a bit to get the goods we needed but in the end we did OK.

The boat got loaded up with our gear, we secured our cars, and by 8:00 we were headed out of the harbor and on our way for the final outbound leg.

Jim and I both had driven all night, the entire way from Jax to Key West, so we both napped during the 2 hour trip out to the Park.
And except for a certain episode of extremely loud audible flatulence that actually woke up people at a table 10 feet away, we kept a fairly low profile on the trip out.

About 10:15 Fort Jefferson hove into view... By 10:30 the Yankee Freedom II made the dock on Garden Key and in short order we off-loaded our gear and picked out a spot to set up camp. By 11:30 we had made ourselves at home; Our tents were up, gear was stowed, sunscreen had been applied, and the first drinks were poured.

As we sat at our picnic table pondering our next move, another passenger from the Yankee Freedom, a girl from Germany named Tina stopped by.

We had chatted on the boat during the trip out and she knew we were staying a couple days...

"So..." she asked, "What kind of meat do you have?"

A loaded question to ask this group.
She had given the picnic table an appraising glance. There were four 1.75L bottles of rum, 2 handles of vodka, 4 bottles of wine, several six packs of beer, mixers, and ONE package of crackers.
I WANT to believe there was something lost in the translation, that she perhaps meant 'What kind of FOOD?' did we have, since it was obvious we had plenty of beverages, but no food in sight.
Well, the damage was already done...
There were several replies to her question...

"Hot Beef!" was the first reply... Then the answers and comments came fast and furious;
"Yeah, in your case, Vienna Sausage."
" Kielbasa!"
"We've got some seafood too" one smart ass quipped, pointing to another guy "He's packing a shrimp..."

Needless to say, we were an embarrassment.

After the Yankee Freedom and the Sunny Days left for the day there was only park staff and 5 other campers- a couple from Pennsylvania, a guy from Washington DC and another couple from Nevada.

We toured Ft Jefferson a bit, did a little swimming and snorkeling, and then went out to the dock to fish for a bit. It was relatively productive as we pulled in several legal-size mangrove snapper- reserving them for dinner the next day...

Friday night was relaxing and subdued- we put a big dent in the supply of rum and drank most of the bottled beer. There were beef and chicken kebabs for dinner, then we went out to the dock to fish for more snapper.

Saturday was another nice day... a bit windy but sunny, and the water temperature was still in the 70s. More relaxing, catching some rays- more snorkeling, and some more fishing.
The ferries came and went...

We all gathered on the beach for Sunset... We took the mini kegs of beer down to the beach and invited the other campers for drinks.

I had a drink with the guys then went to prepare dinner-
I had arranged some to get stone crab from Deb on the Yankee Freedom; I had lime, tomato, onions, cilantro, salt, vodka and the snapper we caught the night before, so I whipped up a nice ceviche... I also had steaks marinating in mojo crioillo, a few chicken kebabs, and some potatoes to throw in the fire.

By the time the sun was down and the rest of the guys returned, I had prepared a lavish spread.

Chilled stone crab claws, snapper ceviche with pita chips, mango salsa and tortilla chips- the guys dove into the appetizers with gusto.

There was a good deal of banter and apparently some kind of wager had been made while the guys were down on the beach. I'm not certain what the wager was, but apparently some kind of frat house/locker room agreement was entered into...

As I served up the steaks and was just tucking into my dinner, I was briefed on The Plan.
"So... We all have to make a run completely around the fort. Naked." I was told.
"What do you mean 'we', white man?" I asked.
"We all decided."
"Bullshit." I said. "Dude, I work down here... I come back all the time. All I need is for something to happen that would screw up my chance to work out here or over on Loggerhead Key..."
"What could possibly happen?" they asked.
Those are famous last words if I ever heard any...
"Well, just off the top of my head... Running in the dark is dangerous enough. Lots of stuff to trip on, let alone trying to run a half-mile in the dark, on the moat wall, AND naked... one misstep and you are over the edge and you'd have to swim all the way to the north or south beach; besides, even if you weren't injured, there are quite a few toothy beasties that would be glad to give you a taste as you tried to swim in the dark water.
"I can just see it... We have to go inside the fort to get one of the Rangers to treat a broken limb (or worse) and have to carry said injured naked guy back to the infirmary for treatment, let alone having to explain why he's naked."
There was no dissuading them.
Streaking was on the menu.
Ben, the guy from DC was sitting with us, enjoying a tasty beverage, and the couple from Pennsylvania had just headed back to their tent.

It started rather quickly- I had just freshened my drink and sat back down when I saw a flash of white heading across the campground toward the swim beach. Brad had taken off out from behind the tent and sprinted for the moat wall...
I could only shake my head...
An ambush was arranged with flashlights and Zack's camera... As we waited for Brad to make his reappearance from the north side of the fort, Alan shed his clothes and took off for the moat wall...
(About this time, the Pennsylvania couple were sitting in the dark at their campsite watching us...)
We waited a bit for Brad and found he had made his way back to the tent along the shore, away from the ambush and had gotten re-dressed rather quickly...

Alan made it back just after Jim took off wearing only his Tevas and a goofy grin, and Zack took his clothes with him as he made his run.
That left only Frau having to fulfill his end of the wager.
By this time there was quite a bit of sound and fury accompanying the departure and the arrival of Streakers.
Jim got back rather out of breath.
"About.... halfway... around.... I wasn't...worried...about being....naked... I was... worried... about... making it... back... to the... camp... before.... passing.... out." he panted.

By the time Frau got under way, we had another spectator. As soon as he left our campsite he was hit by a large spotlight from the second level of the Fort as he headed toward the beach... It also illuminated the Penn couple as they watched the parade...
We saw the spotlight and started howling.
"Holy Crap!" Frau shouted as he ran back to the campsite to get his clothes, "There are people over there!"
We were dying laughing. We figured one of the rangers or the Campground Hosts (Ken and Peggy-very nice folks) had heard all the noise and were waiting with the spotlight.
We gave it a little time, hoping the furor would die down a bit...Then Frau got his second wind and took off again.
The Mystery Spotlight hit him again as he ran down the moat wall, illuminating him for the full 100 yards of moat wall before the first turn. He just held his arms over his head as he ran with his ass to the spotlight.
He got back without incident... Mostly, anyway.

Moon over Ft. Jefferson

Part two of Saturday night's entertainment was just about to get underway when the fallout from the Streaking Incident hit us...
One of the Rangers appeared at our campsite.
Someone had taken the trouble to go find one of the Rangers at home inside the fort and tell them there was nudity on Garden Key... He then had to get his rig and other Ranger Stuff on and come out and find out what was going on.
Couldn't have been any of the campers since they were all with us out in the campground...We figured it could only be one of the construction crew that was on the island working on the restoration project.
How bad is it, when a construction worker complains about guys running around naked.
Was it jealousy, perhaps?
It was a bit of a double standard... If there was a bunch of girls streaking the moat wall, would there have been complaints?
Something to think about. Then again... It's the DRY Tortugas.. Not the NAKED Tortugas.

"Guys? We've had some complaints."

He looked at all of us to be sure he had our attention.
"Has there been some running around naked?" he asked.
"Uh, define the term 'naked'" one smart-ass quipped "'cause I still had my sandals on..."
I could only shake my head. I knew better than to be funny. Citations from some local Barney Fife are one thing- but this place is a National Park, that means Park Rangers are Federal Law Enforcement Officers, and if he's open for business, it doesn't pay to cut the fool...
"Uh, yes... There has been some shenanigans...but that is all over now. All wagers have been paid and all debts fulfilled."
"Ok...Listen." he said, again, making sure all of us heard him.
"Clothes. Stay. On. "
Dead silence.
"Yes sir. Won't happen again."
Mumbled assent from the others.

Thus chastised, the next few hours were much more subdued.

Now, Constant Readers will know that I don't tend to do things in moderation... I'm going whole hog, or I ain't going.
I had tired of dealing with my hair, the ponytail and hair product routine, so I had kinda decided to cut all my hair off while on this trip.
I had told The Perfect Child of my plans, but she had no faith... This only heightened my resolve.
I wasn't really prepared to do it, didn't have any shears or hair trimmers with me... I thought about borrowing one from one of the Rangers, but since we had gotten the reprimand, I figured we were in the dog house. Best to keep a low profile.

I found my cable shears in my bag...

These orange-handled trimmers are what I use to cut cable and to strip wire on installation jobs.
Not exactly made for cutting hair...
...But they did the trick.

Frau and Brad went after my hair with the gusto of a couple hound dogs chasing after a rabbit...
Zack took pictures of the event, shaking my confidence in my decision with every comment he made.
"Dude- I had a dog with mange kinda look like he did on one of his bad days."
"Man...Is that blood?"

"You look like a chemotherapy patient."
After that one the others suggested his comments might get him...let's say "damaged", he stuck to photodocumentation and left the humor to the professionals.
I didn't care; I was just worried about getting yet another scar on my cranium. (I have plenty from walking into low doorways and ceiling fans)
After all, I had two pretty inebriated barbers working me over, in the dim light of a camp lantern. How hard would it be to slip and clip off one of my ears?

About 10:30 or 11 o'clock we called it a night... They had trimmed me to a bare (heh) minimum, and we figured to start in with a disposable razor in the morning light.

I felt weird the next morning... A bit hung over, and no hair on my head.
I felt around my scalp and could feel a very uneven layer of hair...
We needed to finish the job quickly- I figured it looked pretty bizarre... hunks of hair here and there, and the blinding white scalp.

I lathered up with shaving cream and Brad once again played Sweeny Todd...

"Careful with the razor, Dude..."

Afterward, as we were breaking camp one of the other campers came over.

"You, uh... you weren't bald last night, were you?" he asked.

I got several other great responses...

"How much rum did you guys drink?"
"Did you lose a bet?"
"Holy crap!"
"Dude. Sunscreen. Quick."
"Cover that thing! The glare is killing me."

The good one was when I saw the Ranger from the night before.
He looked at me and got a concerned look on his face.
"Turn around for a sec." he said.
I turned my head.
"That...wasn't...uh. " he shook his head.
"Never mind. I probably don't want to know."

The couple from Pennsylvania stopped by just after breakfast.
"We didn't disturb y'all too much last night, did we?"
"Disturb us? No... It was rather funny- seeing your white asses as you were running by..." the girl, Christie, replied.
"I saw you" she said, pointing at Zack, "and you." pointing at Frau.
"You were very funny." she said.

How emasculating is that? What is the descriptive term you want used when someone sees you naked?
Girls only want one of about 3 or 4 adjectives- Sexy, Desirable, Alluring...


"He was naked, it was..."

Funny is not the adjective I want used in this case.
Oh well...

We broke camp and took all our stuff back to the dock to await the arrival of Captain Rick and the Yankee Freedom...
The rest of the day passed without too many incidents.

We still had most of a handle of rum and a full handle of vodka...
We decided it would be better to drink it rather than carry it back on the boat.
(This was, in retrospect, a bad idea for one of our party.)

We sat out in the shade at one of the picnic tables and drank Bloody Marys, rum and cokes, and sometimes just rum...I suggested moderation because the ride home would be rather rough...Seasick and drunk is not a good combination.
One of us was heavily under the influence as we boarded the boat from Key West.
He was, as the saying goes, feeling no pain.
There were several embarrassing moments when one of the deckhands on the boat came to me and asked if there was anything I could do about our boozy compatriot.
"If'n you don't settle him down, I'm gonna hog-tie him and stuff him in a boat locker."
"Warren," I told him "I have absolutely no control over him. I know he's one of my group, but he's a grown-up, and responsible for his own actions. You do what you gotta do. I won't take offense."
Warren stalked off to find a length of rope... I turned my attentions back to the DVD I was watching on my laptop.
I have found the two or so hours to Key West passes so much quicker when I watch a movie.

We got into the harbor about 5:30, and by 6:00 Jim and I had retrieved our cars and loaded up.
Jim, Alan, Zack and Frau were spending Sunday night in Key West... I had a flight to Montreal the next morning, so Brad and I were having dinner with the boys then heading north...
Dinner at the Half Shell Raw Bar with the boys... We said our good byes then 7 hours later we were in Duval County... No speeding tickets, no problems. It was a bit colder, but we were OK.


With the watchwords from a very tolerant Ranger down at Fort Jefferson as our guide...
"Clothes. Stay. On."
...Who wants to go with us on the next trip to camp in the Dry Tortugas?

Tentative dates for the IDS Spring Fling... Sometime in mid to late April.

Who's game?

TBG out-


Luc said...

It's about freaking time!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you SO much! For the memories, the story, AND the pics! (I will refrain from adding any adjectives :)

And, I wouldn't underestimate Warren -- I've seen him in action. Tough old dude who doesn't put up with much crap and who means what he says. Y'all can try him if you want ... I'm just saying ...

We'll be there in July -- take good care of my fort in the meantime!