Thursday, April 29, 2010

Back to the Peanut Butter Circuit

It should come as no surprise to regular readers of this column that travel is a big part of our plans when my spouse hangs up her bookbag this spring after a dedicated teaching career. Our kids and grandkids live far apart--1,571 miles by my computer-aided reckoning--plus there is a lot to see in this beautiful country of ours, and we want to experience as much of it as we possibly can. We even dream of traveling outside the United States, with a variety of friends to visit and sights to see in different parts of the world.
Of course, there are still some details to be ironed out.
Like money.
But we’ve been in that situation before. We’ve always loved to travel and have never really had the kind of financial resources required for lengthy stays in five-star resort hotels. Instead, we’ve opted for five-star locations without the expense of fancy hotels and lavish dinners out. It was years ago, during an idyllic three weeks spent camping, basking and bathing on a series of wonderful, near-private barrier island beaches on the eastern seaboard, that we coined the term “the Peanut Butter Circuit,” based on the idea that we could go to great places and do neat things if we were willing to cut back on the expense by camping out and eating simply.
It all started out early in our married life with a little blue tent that, as I recall, actually attracted heavy rainfall whenever it was set up. After many, many midnight soakings, we bought a Volkswagen microbus that I roughly converted into a dry shelter with the help of some homemade curtains courtesy of my skilled-seamstress sister-in-law and a sheet of plywood that allowed room for a full-sized mattress on top and ample storage underneath. We took our beloved VW to some of the prettiest, most remarkable spots in the United States, including the Atlantic Ocean and the Rocky Mountains, while cooking on a little Coleman stove and swimming and hiking our days away.
Eventually, though, life got in the way of our travels, as little league and other local summertime pastimes kept us closer to home. Vacations became more hurried as we desperately worked them around school and activity schedules.
It’s just been in the last few years that we’ve started dialing the urgency factor back a bit, taking the time to enjoy the journey as well as the destination.
But there’s still that money thing to consider, and the microbus is long gone.
So we bought a new tent.
I wasn’t sure I was ecstatic about the idea of wrestling with another hellborn nylon-and-aluminum contrivance again. My recollection of tent camping was filled with memories of determined struggles to set the thing up by the light of a rapidly dimming flashlight in a steady rain, all the while responding--politely, of course-- to the advice, questions and assistance of the person holding said light.
She: Do you need another tent stake?
Me: Yes, why don’t you just drive it through my heart?
Once erected, our old tent provided a convenient, free-flowing waterway for any nearby rainy runoff, while the air mattresses we hopefully blew up each night deflated almost instantly. But modern technology has conquered even these mundane trials, with a new dome-style tent that has proven to be pretty darned waterproof and a cushy, full-sized mattress that, believe it or not, actually holds air. We’ve even used our past experiences to begin to assemble a “camping box,” one of those jumbo plastic tubs, that’s big enough to hold the tent and mattress, sleeping bags and a few things we know we’ll need, like a lantern, extra matches, a coffee pot and frying pan and some other essential gear, even leaving room for staples like bread, a few canned goods, and, of course, the ubiquitous jar of peanut butter.
We’ve tested out our new rig a few times on short campouts in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan, and have high hopes that our 37-year marriage will survive longer spells of roughing it together.
I think it will.
Because, after all, being together was the reason we got hitched in the first place. Our children and grandchildren and friends and relatives have all been--and will continue to be--happy, essential parts of our lives. We look forward to extended times together with our loved ones as we take the opportunity to enjoy growing families and new discoveries together.
But, we know, too, that there will be times when it’s just the two of us. Times that will truly define the rest of our lives together. Times when I look deep into her eyes as we sit side-by-side next to a glowing campfire and say the words that will last a lifetime.
“Honey, can you pass the peanut butter?”

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