Sunday, July 26, 2009
Whitewater State Park is a beautiful spot down in the Mississippi River valley, which we've been to before and wanted to revisit. We left the Twin Cities after work on Friday and took I-35 South through the 'burbs and into Minnesota farm country. It was a beautiful summer evening and as the sky turned pink, we chatted idly. We're rarely short of things to talk about, Wamby and I, as we both do like the sound of our own voices.
I was playing navigator and had my trusty Google Map directions clutched firmly in my little hands. By American standards, this was a stone's throw; spitting distance, a hop, skip and a jump from the Cities. A two and a half hour drive - hell, we've driven further for dinner. We'd both had a hard week and this journey we didn't even have any driver/passenger arguments, not even when we missed our turn and ended up in a small town called Chatfield about eight miles South of our destination.
So we took the scenic route. We arrived at Whitewater around 8pm, with the sun setting slowly in the sky, only to find the campground full. Not a problem, we thought; there's bound to be another State Park nearby. In fact, the nearest one was also full, the next one along was John Latsch Park - merely a clearing in the woods with no facilities, just a walk-in pitch with no running water or toilets. As it was starting to get dark, we drove the 43 miles to John Latsch and pulled off the highway up the driveway the led into the woods. It didn't occur to me to be scared until Wamby asked if I was sure I would be OK on my own while he drove to get firewood. I looked around the clearing and suddenly realised that I felt very much like a sitting duck. Aware that there could be a hundred pairs of eyes that I could not see locked on me at that very second, I decided we should both go for firewood.
'There should be a gas station any minute now....somewhere just around the next bend...maybe in that town up ahead?' We kept stating things like this to each other, only to be disappointed that the next 'town' or strip of civilisation we came to consisted of nothing more than a bait shop and a bar. Around 30 miles later, we stumbled across a 'Kum & Go' petrol station. Wamby has affectionately nicknamed the chain 'conceive and leave' and 'pump and dump', which I can honestly say, just never gets old.
As we pulled in, we were well aware that we had just driven North for about half an hour past John Latsch Park, and that perhaps if we drove another half hour, we could reach Red Wing State Park, which had hot showers and more flush toilets than you could shake a stick at. The risk being that we may arrive at Red Wing to find that was full too and have an hour drive back to the clearing in the woods, or an hour drive back to the city to sleep in our own bed, having done a totally pointless five hour drive around Southern Minnesota.
We entered the petrol station and asked the charmless woman behind the counter if they sold firewood. She had a face like a dropped meat pie and a slight stoop which made her look older than she was. Through a slew of 'Aww gees' and other colloquialisms, we gathered that they did not sell firewood, but that there was a wagon-full in front of a house four miles up a dirt road on the other side of the highway, where we could drop a donation into a tin by the gate. Well, we'd come this far - we were going to buy firewood if it was the last thing we ever did....and it almost was.
We drove up the desolate winding track with our headlights on full beam and eventually saw a farmhouse with three or four outbuildings and a wagon - just as pie-face had said there would be - stacked high with firewood. We eased into the driveway, dipping the headlights and as I searched in my bag for change, we heard them.
They were in the distance at first, well up the driveway near the house. A scrabbling sound on gravel and barking that got louder, and louder. Two dogs came hurtling towards the car - picked up at first in the headlights - teeth bared and eyes wide.
We looked at each other, not really knowing what to do. They were small, but they seemed vicious and we weren't sure what breed they were. They calmed for a few seconds, so W tried to open his door. They barked ferociously and the headlights picked up more and more of them. Within seconds there were eight or nine dogs around the car, all barking and growling, one even jumped up at my window and was scratching at the glass. I laughed nervously, sure that at any moment the owners would come down the driveway, round them up and apologise. They never came.
We sat on the driveway for five minutes or so, waiting for them to get bored and go away but they never did, so we reversed without checking the mirror, hoping to hit one of the little bastards, confident in the knowledge that an unleashed dog is fair game in any US state.
The feeling that we may well be in a Stephen King novel was starting to dawn on us and we headed straight back through the cornfields to the highway, aiming for the town of Wabasha - home of the film Grumpy Old Men. Shining like a beacon was a BP garage with a stack of firewood outside. We stopped and bought the wood and a $2 scratch card. I scratched it off and checked it twice: we had won $12!
Wamby went back in and asked for our winnings in one dollar bills and made it rain through the sunroof like an NFL player in a strip club. Our luck had changed. This was going to be a good night after all! We decided to head back to Latsch Park for the night rather than risk being turned away from Red Wing, and look for somewhere else to camp the next day as it was now 10pm. As we drove back the way we had come, we saw a brown sign for 'Richard J. Dorer State Forest'. We could hardly believe our luck as we drove up the hillside into Kruger Campground, where there were other campers staying too. We marvelled that we had never found this little nugget before. We found a site and began unpacking the car. That's when we heard them.
'Yo, where the party at?!' 'Not here', I'm thinking, leave us alone. 'Man, why you pulling up so late?' Leave us alone. 'Dude, where you from?' Leave us alone. Three guys bowled straight into our site, drinking neat J.D. from bottles clothed in paper bags. We said as little as possible to try to persuade them to leave us alone, but they insisted on inviting us over for drinks. We politely said we were tired and were just going to bed. After hot dogs and a beer to unwind, we hit the hay, praying for an easier journey tomorrow.
"Left my niggaz house paid
Picked up a girl been tryin to fuck since the twelve grade
Its ironic, I had the brew she had the chronic
The lakers beat the supersonics
I felt on the big fat fanny
Pulled out the jammy, and killed the punanny
And my dick runs deep so deep so deep
Put her ass to sleep"
Are you kidding me? I'm in the middle of a state park, it's midnight, I just want to sleep and you're gonna play Ice Cube so loud the bass bins shake in your ugly Lincoln Navigator? And so we laid in our tent for a while. Maybe they'll just listen to one song? Maybe three? Maybe a ranger will come along? I did the very British thing of moaning about them and clenching my fists, but ultimately laying there not actually doing anything about it. W did the very American thing of going to unzip the tent saying 'I'm going to tell those jack-asses to knock it off!' I talked him out of it with the flawless logic that we are in the middle of the woods with no cell-phone reception; going to confront three drunken hoods is not a good idea. Around 3am, the music died down and I drifted into a shallow sleep.
Two hours later, I woke with a feeling in my stomach that I prayed would go away. I looked over at W and he was sound asleep. I felt like my stomach was being put through a mangle. It was the unmistakable gripe of food-poisoning, and I knew it wouldn't go away. I woke Wamby and he said he would walk me down to the pit-toilets, which were about 50 yards from our site. For any of you who have never camped, pit toilets are essentially a hole in the ground with a toilet fixture attached, which is usually peppered with blue bottles, there is no flush. They are unappealing at the best of times, but the idea of possibly having to hug one whilst heaving my dinner into it from one of my orifices was considerably unpleasant.
I crawled out of the tent and took perhaps three steps before I collapsed. My knees went weak under me and I was seeing black and white fuzz, like static on a TV. I made it to the picnic bench and rested for a few moments while W unlocked the car. He carried me to it and delivered me to the toilet hut by rolling down the hill with the handbrake off. I barely made it the ten feet inside before almost collapsing again and I saw my arm shaking uncontrollably from side to side as I reached out for the torch Wamby was holding out to me. I will spare you the details as to what took place inside that shed, suffice to say it has now been declared a toxic waste site.
We don't talk about that night. It was a glitch in the matrix that saw all our bad luck and dangerous encounters for the next two years rain down on us in one evening. Knowing that we have officially used this up, we have begun playing the lottery, buying pull tabs and attending meat raffles at the Uptown VFW on a regular basis. So far we're up $7 and a turkey crown. To infinity...and BEYOND!