Boardman, and, for that matter, the entirety of Eastern Oregon, give visitors the strong impression that they are unwanted and would do best to pack their things and leave, or better yet, not even visit in the first place. Everything in Eastern Oregon is really far away from all the major population centers in Western Oregon, the climate is a tad inhospitable, and there is the ever present Puncturevine.
I had never known that something so insidious as Puncturevine existed, but I found out quickly when Whitney, who had been walking around our campground in cheap rubber flip-flops, shrieked several times and then presented the sole of her shoe to us, revealing several small spikes that had embedded themselves so deeply into the sandal that the spines had come through the other end to poke her foot. This was Puncturevine, the spiny offshoot of an indigenous plant that’s so sharp it’s been known to deflate bicycle tires. The City of Boardman had put wanted posters up, advertising that they would pay people $1.00 for every bag of Puncturevine they brought to city hall. When a cash-strapped village of 1000 is willing to pay people to go and tear up local flora even in these environmentally conscious times, you know you’re dealing with a plant that is, to say the least, a bad motherfucker.
Most of our second day in Boardman was consumed with the aforementioned construction of the awning and expedition to Hermiston in search of propane. That evening we lit multiple citronella candles well before the mosquito horde arrived; as a result, the bulk of the pestilence stayed away and let us enjoy our bratwurst in peace. However, several times I thought I heard rain pattering against the awning, only to see it was swarms of flies and mosquitoes trying to find a way to get at us that didn’t put them in citronella’s line of fire – for them, this meant repeatedly flying into the roof of the awning in hopes that it would eventually tear open and grant them better access to our delicious blood.
We had been unable to go tubing on our second day because the Columbia River was too choppy, thanks to the heavy winds coming from the Gorge which succeeded in destroying our campsite while we were gone in Hermiston. However, on our third day we awoke to find the river calm and serene, like a muddy mirror filled with seaweed.
We hopped into Henry Winkl- We hopped into Whitney’s Dad’s motorboat and set off down the river, looking for a suitable place to tube. Sitting at the bow of the boat was a refreshing and wonderful experience for me, because it exposed to me to an unending windstorm in the face. You see, at that point, I had not showered for over a day, which meant my hair didn’t have any product in it, which meant that it was constantly flopping down into my eyes like a thick greasy blindfold. The wind at the front of the boat, though, plastered it all back to my head like a thick greasy form fitting helmet.
To look at the Columbia River you’d think its deepest point was in the middle, but that’s not the case. Whitney’s Dad had a depth indicator set up in the boat that would frequently jump from 30 feet to about 2 feet as we moved through the Columbia, as though the riverbed was trying to spring up surprise us. In some places in the middle of the river the water was so shallow that you could look over the edge and see the sandy riverbed. I was tempted to get out and go for a stroll around the river, but we were in a hurry to find a suitable depth for tubing.
What can I say about tubing? Tubing, I believe, is almost all my fears at the same time – all of them if a bikini-clad Sarah Palin is along for the ride. I had expected that we’d be using innertubes for our tubing, but in fact Whitney’s Dad owned a big inflatable craft with three seats and handles in it; truly the Titanic of innertubes.
Well, okay, maybe that’s a bad comparison.
The innertube was connected to the boat by way of a long rope, and for the next ten minutes Whitney, The Girlfriend, and myself were towed along behind the boat as Whitney’s Dad did donuts in the river. This sent us skipping off the wake like a big inflatable rock and at other times sent water cascading over the front of the innertube, leading me to believe that everything I’d learned about air being lighter than water was false and that we were all going to die. I guess I have a hard time enjoying an activity where it’s basically accepted that the vehicle you’re riding in will eventually spectacularly crash and send you flying God knows where. Grand Theft Auto is a rare exception, mainly because the aforementioned crashing can also be used to kill hookers.
Before we could crash and kill any hookers, however, the boat broke down, marooning us in the middle of the Columbia. I was more than willing to walk over to shore to get help, but a friendly couple on jet skis arrived first, noticing our orange distress flags.
“We’re dead in the water.” Whitney’s Dad explained. “Can you go get someone to tow us in?”
The man, suntanned and powerfully built, his head shaved, eyes hidden behind Oakleys, said, “I can do it.” He ran his hand appreciatively across the handlebars of his jet ski, and I suddenly knew what pure testosterone looked like. True to his word, the friendly giant towed us back into Boardman Harbor, refused any payment, and then rode off into the sunset. As we loaded the decommissioned boat back into the trailer, I looked over my shoulder for one last glimpse of our rescuer. I think, but I’m not sure, that I saw him kicking a rampaging grizzly in the face as he and his wife blazed downriver.
The boat’s engine out of commission, we spent the rest of the day swimming in the harbor before going back to our campground for a dinner of steak, potatoes, corn, chicken, hamburgers, s’mores, and cigars. People may go on vacation, but hedonism does not.*
*Of course, by its very nature, hedonism is always on vacation. Work would be a vacation for hedonism.
The next morning we dismantled our equipment in record time and trekked back home again. There isn’t much I can do to make this paragraph terribly funny, so let’s move on to the next one, shall we?
In spite of anything in this update or the previous one that’s made camping sound un-fun, I actually had a remarkably great time. Yes, there were mosquitoes and yes, I did have to walk farther than I normally want to when I had to pee, but that’s really what camping is about. In a world where everybody is so hooked up to technology, it’s really refreshing to be able to take a few days where the only people you have to contend with are the ones right in front of you, not the ones on your cell phone or your Facebook page.
What’s more, camping is an opportunity to truly rediscover our roots as hunter-gatherers: Being out in the open, confronting and solving problems that don’t involve finding reliable Internet access. Like a good fight club, a camping trip offers a chance to reclaim the instincts and abilities we’ve lost thanks to evolution and indoor plumbing.
And tubing? Tubing reminds us what fear really is.
Truman Capps didn’t smoke any cigars, but the s’mores were probably less healthy.