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Published on June 21st, 2015 | by lafelow

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The Time My Son and I Camped in a Cemetery

By Lafe and Devin Low

Even when you consider yourself a veteran outdoor geek, you can have an off day every now and then. When you’ve done something a million times, it becomes such a comfortable activity it can feel rote. You think, “I’ve got this,” without thinking. Well, think again.

I can’t count the number of times Devin and I have been camping. My book Best Tent Camping: New England is dedicated to him partly because I dragged him around a bunch of trips while checking out campsites. We always have a blast camping. So a few years ago when we made a triumphant return to one of our favorite spots—Zoar Outdoor in Charlemont, MA—for a weekend of camping, whitewater rafting and zip lining, we didn’t give it a second thought.

Now I love my Moss tent. I can—and have—set it up in the absolute pitch dark. I can—and have—set it up in the rain. I greatly prefer to set it up when I can see and remain relatively dry. We were very excited for this trip to Zoar Outdoor, and we were determined to make it a great one. “Oh, we’ll leave nice and early and avoid traffic and set up camp before it gets dark,” we told ourselves. It was a perfect plan. Oh, did I mention it was Friday the 13th?!?

Well, by the time we finished food shopping and packing, we eased onto the Mass Pike with everyone else in Massachusetts who owns a car. No problem. We didn’t care. We were just happy to be heading out for this long weekend. Well, by the time we finally arrived at the campground, it was pitch black. I mean, can’t see your hand in front of your face type of black. And it seemed even more intense after just leaving the dimly lit interior of the car—which seemed like a bank of klieg lights by comparison.
Zoar Outdoor is situated along a hillside near the banks of the Deerfield River in western Mass. In fact, the Deerfield is their primary rafting venue. The forest canopy is tall and extremely dense, so at night, especially on a dark night with barely a sliver of a moon, there is less than zero ambient light. You kinda feel like you’re in a black hole.

A small light guided us up to the pavilion where we could check in by signing in on a notebook. I’m fairly certain we were the last ones to check in that night. Then it was time to unload. That’s when things just hilariously fell apart. Never mind the fact it was darker than dark, never mind the fact it was Friday the 13th, that was the point at which Devin and I apparently forgot how to camp!

Our campsite was a short steep hike up the side of the hill. It was dark. We didn’t see any of the carts that are often present to help haul your gear up the hill. So we start hauling the heavy stuff—the cooler, the cookstove and the cooking gear. After working up a decent sweat in the penetrating blackness, we stumbled upon one of the carts. So we used that one to carry up all the gear that was left, which of course was the light stuff—the tent, the sleeping bags and sleeping pads. Once all our loot was up at the campsite, we had to return the cart.

We made the ill-fated decision to go around the other way on the way down—down what I remember being nice grassy slope. It was indeed a nice grassy slope, until it wasn’t. Since we had to return the cart to its spot near the bottom of the stairs, we thought we would be smart and turn in before the camp headquarters building to get over toward the parking lot. This took us stumbling over a sidehill of stumps and rocks and roots in the absolute darkness toward the staircase. Thankfully, we didn’t break the cart. Once we got the cart out onto the ramp and the rest of the stairs, we shook our heads and continued down.

Approaching the final staircase, we opted to follow the grass beside the stairs, instead of bouncing this poor innocent cart up and down the stairs. The cart had suffered enough already at our inept trailblazing. Or perhaps not… Again in the depth of the darkness, we plunged that sorry cart into a ditch that was apparently near the bottom of the staircase, which daylight would later reveal was the only ditch anywhere near the parking lot. Let me take this opportunity to point out that I am not inserting any direct quotes from myself or Devin. I’ll leave it to your imagination as to how we were narrating our own fumbles.

Back at the campsite, we set up a couple of lights and started to set up camp. In the semi-light semi-dark, eyes burning with perspiration after our misadventures with the cart, putting the wrong poles into the wrong sleeves on my tent seemed somehow appropriate. After inserting, extracting and reinserting the tent poles several times more than I care to remember, our home for the night was secure.

Finally, Devin grabbed a lemonade, I grabbed something stronger, we sat in our chairs and gazed out from our campsite. By now, a thin shard of moonlight dared venture down through the forest toward us. Then we saw in front of us an old 17th century cemetery—the final resting place of the Moses Rice family. It was Friday the 13th. We were camping 30 feet from an old cemetery—not too creepy! At that point, we honestly weren’t creeped out at all. It was more funny and fitting given our less than smooth landing at the campground. But the rest of the weekend, the rafting on the Deerfield River and zip-lining through the forest canopy was absolutely fantastic! We got all our goofs out that first night.

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About the Author

Lafe Low is a lifelong New Englander. He has spent his life camping, skiing, biking, hiking, and paddling his way throughout the People's Republic of New England. He is the former editor of Explore New England and Outdoor Adventure Magazine and is author of Best Tent Camping: New England (Menasha Ridge Press). He is currently living in Massachusetts, and working as a tech writer and editor to help finance his funhog lifestyle. You can find Lafe's book here.



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