Acadia Night 3 — Tent Camping Etiquette

Imagine, for a moment, sleeping in a tent in a mixed pine and deciduous forest near the ocean shore. The trees are patterned with frosted-green lichen. The ground is covered in a blanket of leaves, interrupted by luxurious patches of moss.

Everything is still. The quiet — especially on a windless night — is like being wrapped in a bubble. All is hushed, because you quickly realize that although your footsteps are hushed by the bed of pine needles, every sound you do make travels. So, out of consideration for your neighbors, you ask your children to use their inside voices, and you cringe at each loud noise, hoping that you're not alienating your neighbors by breaking the hush as the evening fades into night. Even your children's most minor bickering sets your teeth on edge. Every. Sound. Travels. And your neighbors are close by. For two nights, you work hard to ensure that you're not THAT family — and your efforts seem to pay off. No one shoots you death glares in the bathroom.

Note the proximity of our neighbors' tent behind us.

Friday morning dawns bright and beautiful. You watch, somewhat bemused, as many more of your neighbors than you expected spend the morning breaking camp. They're clearly more savvy than you. Why did these obviously savvy campers book their sites so that they have to leave right at the start of the weekend?

Your reservation ends Saturday morning. Friday evening, the weather forecast looks a bit iffy — at best — for Saturday morning, so you make an executive decision to break as much of camp as possible on Friday night, leaving only the tents, sleeping bags, Thermarests, and a change of clothes and toiletries for Saturday morning. Breakfast will just be a stop on the road, you decide, as you've got a long drive from Seawall Campground down to the Sebago Lakes region.

Some new neighbors have moved in. You crack a grin as you watch some of your hapless new neighbors struggling to carry a load of wood loosely wrapped with some plastic to their campsite. Logs are dropped, and you offer some advice: "You know, you say, there are a few large wheelbarrows around that belong to the campground, but they're there to help you load and unload your stuff."

You get a grateful smile, and although you don't see one at the moment, you provide some advice on where you were able to score one on your move-in day.

Your site is set a few hundred yards away from the road and parking area. Fortunately, you luck out, and as you're beginning your move-out, you score one of the few heavy metal wheelbarrows, which is sitting empty and unused on one of the shared paths. You bring it back to your campsite, and load it up with a precariously balanced load of cooler, camp chairs, camp stove, and assorted Tupperware bins of camping gear. As your husband finishes loading it, a woman you haven't seen before walks into your campsite, which in and of itself feels like a real violation of your personal space.

"Excuse me," she says, surprisingly aggressively, "But that's OUR wheelbarrow. And we NEED IT to move our stuff."

You stare at her, perplexed. "I'm sorry," you say, "but it looks just like one of the public wheelbarrows provided by the campground. We're happy to return it, of course, but it was sitting out on the path that runs in front of the campsites and we honestly just thought it was one of the shared wheelbarrows the rangers told us about when we arrived — just like the one we used to unload our gear to pitch camp a few days back." She stands there — looking — staring — and you uncomfortably — and skeptically — start to unload your precariously balanced load as she repeats, "It's OURS. Our friends BROUGHT IT. IN THEIR TRUCK. And we NEED IT to move our stuff." You're skeptical. Because seriously, who would bring a giant, metal, non-folding, somewhat rusty, ancient wheelbarrow on a camping trip, even if she did have a large truck?

"Yes," she says. "Our friends have a REALLY big truck and brought it with them."

She starts to realize that she sounds a bit ridiculous, and the vacillation begins. She continues: "I think. I'm pretty sure. I mean, it was sitting next to our campsite. Or outside of our campsite. Or between our campsite and our friends' campsite. I will check." She rallies, convinced of her own self-righteousness: "But they brought it. It's MY FRIENDS' wheelbarrow."

You watch as her self-doubt creeps back in, and perhaps some vague self-awareness of her own entitlement. "But," she interrupts, as half your load is now sitting back on the ground, "you can use it for now. You know what, I will double check with our friends. But I think it's ours. Or theirs. It's their personal wheelbarrow."

"Thank you," you say. And smile as best you can. And you begin to reload. Again.

Time goes by. She doesn't return to reclaim HER FRIENDS' wheelbarrow. So you shrug and run a few more loads out to the minivan. Still, the woman does not return. You shake your head.

On your last load, she passes you. "You were right," she sheepishly admits. "It wasn't my friends' wheelbarrow."

You smile, and of course reassure her that it's no big deal. After all, the 80% of your stuff you were able to pack tonight has now been successfully loaded into your minivan. You ask if she'd like the wheelbarrow next, but apparently she doesn't want it now. So you return it back to a public area for anyone to use.

Darkness falls. You finish your supper, send the kids off to do the dishes, and then get all of that loaded into your car as well. 10 o'clock arrives. Quiet hours. Around this time, you start to watch, bemused, as your new next door neighbors arrive. It's dark, and they start to set their tent up in a really odd place on their campsite. They're going to be sleeping at quite a steep angle. Your kids have just gone off to bed, and then you hear it: "rrrrrrreeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrr rrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrr rrreeeeerrrrrrr whine whine whine rrrrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrr." Yup, they're blowing up full-size Aerobeds with electric motors a half-hour after quiet hours have begun.

Okay, they arrived late and they've got little kids and you feel like it's cool — you've had kids and arrived late at a campsite once or twice in your life. But really? The screech of a loud electric motor? Through the stillness of the pines, and the utter lack of wind? Remember: it's a forest. Every. Sound. Carries.

They continue talking. And telling stories. Loudly. But finally, sometime around 11:30 PM, they quiet down a bit and you manage to drift off. An hour later, you're deeply asleep. And then you hear it. And sit bolt upright. Holy crap! It's the LOUD LOUD crackle of a fire. It sounds really close to you. Did someone not put out a campfire? Is there a fire running out of control?

You hurry to pop your head out of your tent, ready to grab your kids as you panic and flee.

But no. Your other new neighbors, who have been very quiet until now, just decided to build up their campfire to a loud, roaring bonfire. At 12:30 AM.

You traipse off to pee, and come back to your tent, heart still pounding. The bonfire continues to be obnoxiously loud as you lay in your tent, trying to get back to sleep.

And then, at 1 a.m. MORE folks — a LOT more folks — arrive at the aerobed folks' site.

Suddenly, they've got lights everywhere. Noise everywhere. Loud conversations. Laughter. No thought that other people are sleeping — or least were sleeping — behind thin nylon all around them.

At 1 a.m. RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRREEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRR RRRRRRRREEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRR RRRRRRREEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRR.

More aerobeds.

1:30 a.m. RRRRRRRRRRRREEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRRR RRRRRRRRRRRRREEEEEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRR.

My G-d, how many fucking aerobeds can they fit in their goddamned tents?

RRRRRRRRRRRRREEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.

If looks could kill… but of course, they seem oblivious to the idea that there's anyone else camping in the fully-booked campground tonight.

Finally, sometime around 2:30 AM — and after about three more bathroom trips — I manage to drift back to sleep as the bonfire people's campfire, which has been roaring through all of this, finally burns out and things quiet down.

3:30 AM. PARTY TIME! Aerobed folks decide this is the PERFECT time to tell funny campfire stories. And to laugh. Uproariously. At least someone is having fun. That someone, however, is not me.

Finally, somewhere around 4:00 AM, they quiet down, and I start to drift off again.

But not long after — CAW CAW CAW CAW.

The sky begins to get light, and the crows go to town. CAW CAW CAW.

Okay, okay, I know they're not people, but at this point, I'm not feeling the urge to commune with nature. CAW CAW CAW. Fuck you, Crows.

Around 6 AM, quiet hours are done, and the entire campground begins its morning ablutions. Thankfully, our kids still seem to be asleep, so we leave them be until around 7 AM. I go to the bathroom, in my Star Wars pajamas. One of the women from the wee-hours bonfire campsite compliments me on my "so cool" Star Wars leggings. I'm sure these folks are quite lovely — other than their decision to build a raging bonfire at from 12:30 AM to 2:30 AM, but I've got no politeness left in me. So I simply utter a pre-caffeine grunt.

We pack up and move out.

Luckily the rain has held off.

By some miracle, Mike and the kids managed to sleep through significantly more of the overnight hijinks than I did. So Mike gets the fun of driving for about four hours mostly on Maine's two-lane roads.

For the first time in my entire life, I stopped at the ranger station on the way out to complain about our neighbors' lack of respect for quiet hours.

But we obviously learned our lesson — no more camping on a weekend night, especially in a campground where you have no clue whether the rangers will enforce quiet hours.

The seasoned campers who'd all packed up Friday morning apparently got that memo years earlier.

Lesson learned.

But folks — if you're tent camping, please, please, please try to be courteous to your neighbors. Sound travels, and just as you are sleeping under a thin layer of nylon, please remember that your neighbors are as well, and that campgrounds have quiet hours for a reason.

It was such a comedy of errors that I have to laugh now, but jeez, people, common decency isn't quite that hard.

Oh, and by the way — the wheelbarrow people and the aerobed people were all part of the same group. OF COURSE.

As we pulled away from the campground, I really, really, really hoped the skies would open up after all. Sometimes a good drenching is well-deserved.

With apologies to William Carlos Williams:

so much depends
upon

a brown rusted wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the rude
campers

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5 thoughts on “Acadia Night 3 — Tent Camping Etiquette

  1. Oh my gosh, this brought back memories. I am 65 years old now and quite quiet, but I must confess in my earlier years we were those awful people you had to put up with!

    We are Canadians and while raising our two children, my first husband and I lived in a small town in north central British Columbia. Every weekend in the summer, a large group of people, who lived in our small town, would migrate for the weekend to the nearby lake and campground. And the noise was just what you said – loud, lots of laughter and especially the men would stay up far into the night telling stories that got ‘taller and taller’ as the night went on. Those of us that went off to bed had to learn how to get to sleep in the noise. (One of those girlfriends is still a friend today and when we went off to Africa together a few years ago, I noticed she was still wearing earplugs at night!). My own private little hell was the fact that I was married to the man who would stay up the latest – sleep a little bit – and then be up at 5:00 knocking on friends doors, saying “time to go fishing!”

    I used to yearn for the quiet life. Well now I have the quiet life and although I sometimes want to be one of those loud obnoxious party makers again, I realize that a party that ends even before the lights out and consists of a drink of wine followed by a chaser of tea (with lots of milk please) is what my speed is now.

    Anyway, I was drawn in to read your story because of I love the trees and the fresh air and now only the idea of camping. Thank you for your story, it gave me such a chuckle.

    My closing blessing to you “May you find peace in the your campsites”.

    Laurie Mueller, M.Ed Victoria, BC 250-213-2355

    >

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  2. Sarah, I’d probably be a passive aggressive type who made sure my family was up early and finished breaking camp as loudly as possible. I know it’s a bit sneaky/petty but really!?!

    In a week I’ll be tent camping in a hay field with over 400 of our friends. It’s a folk festival and I won’t expect to get much sleep. Lol

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  3. This is so reminiscent of our many years camping in Maine. I don’t know your itinerary but if you are travelling north in Maine, there is a really nice state park called Cobscook Bay State park. It’s right on the Bay of Fundy and if you can luck out an get the unreservable site #125 it’s really nice. You can watch the tides go in and out but don’t get stuck at low tide out on the island or you’ll be there all night!
    You may not run into as many rude campers all the way up there. Arcadia is very touristy and busy this time of year. From the Cobscook Bay state park area you can visit Campobello Island or take a walk over the Canadian border.

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