PETERSEN: Hey honey, we’re going camping

By Jeff Petersen, The Observer August 23, 2013 08:42 am

In every couple’s history, there are important firsts: first dance, first kiss, first bear encounter.

Some are major tests of the relationship. Take first camping trip, for instance. I knew better than to take Wonder Woman, my wife of almost two years now, camping too soon. Finally, almost five years into the relationship, I decided the time was right to share a night in the wilds.

The scene: White River Campground in Mount Rainier National Park. The campground is about the size and population of Island City, except with fewer fast food restaurants and traffic lights.

I wanted everything to be perfect. She had borrowed from a friend a sleeping bag and camping mattress. The mattress had everything but “sleep numbers” and when properly inflated was the envy of the forested neighborhood.

My sleeping pad, meanwhile, is about as thin as a newspaper page and provides all the comfort of a bed of nails.

About then, the clouds started to gather for a party around Mount Rainier. The mountain is a cloud magnet. It attracts clouds the way a picnic attracts ants, and bears.

The tent was set up, and just in case the weather turned icky, the rain fly was attached. We were sitting in our red and blue camping chairs when the firewood guy went by in his pickup truck. We waved him down like a New York taxi and then lit a campfire. It was the perfect campfire, built in a tripod that maintained its integrity. It was the envy of the neighborhood.

 Then, the first innocent drops of rain began to fall. We raced to the car, grabbed our umbrellas and sat around the blaze as darkness and raindrops fell.

In the distance, the White River roared through its canyon and many streamlets danced down from the canyon walls, adding to the ambience.

Somehow, the peacefulness of the forest was enough to keep Wonder Woman from demanding that we pull up stakes and do the sane thing — find a motel in the nearest town, which was many miles of painfully slow driving away.

We dined like gourmets, that is, if gourmets appreciate the finer qualities of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

The month-long drought had been broken. That might explain why the bear at that moment decided to take a romp through the campground. We did not see the bear. Other campers did, and had the wild-eyed look to prove it. 

As we retired to the tent for the night, after telling tall tales around the campfire and dodging raindrops, and storing all smelly things in the car except ourselves, we made preparations for a midnight visit. 

Being a he-man and protective by nature, I situated Wonder Woman and her super fantastic camping bed near the door of the tent, knowing she has a strong right hook. Any bear nosing around the door of the tent was likely to get punched in the nose and run off through the woods squalling.

Wonder Woman thought she was situated near the door in case she needed air when I made my inevitable “nighttime noises.” I am not talking snoring here.

The rain pitter-pattering on the tent fly and the roaring river nearby lulled us into a blissful sleep. Sure, I thrashed about some, trying to rearrange the rocks under my razor-thin camping pad to make a body-shaped indentation into the gravelly soil.

The bear apparently was lulled to sleep by the softly falling rain, too, and failed to make a nocturnal visit.

When we woke up in the morning, we wringed out the rain fly, let the air out of the camping bed and drove to Sunrise Visitor Center to watch the sunrise. Inexplicably, Wonder Woman was smiling, ready for another night in the wild.

The bear slept in.

Contact Jeff Petersen at 541-963-3161 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it Follow Jeff on Twitter @lagrandenewsGo.