“Sixty seconds my ass!” – and a picture of a tent in the text message – is how my story began.

Spring has sprung in the Yoop, which means it’s that time of year again: Cooter Camp! Each April on opening trout weekend, a bunch of my girlfriends and I (Mumma included) take to the Hiawatha National Forest armed with tents, kayaks, a camper trailer or two, jello shots, too much food, and perhaps even a fishing pole to actually fish for trout. This year in particular brings a smile, because as Camp Historian, I was delighted to note that this will be the 20th time the Hiawatha has survived an invasion of a half dozen to twenty women, ranging in age from their 20s into their 70s, who share a love of the outdoors.

Kayaking Jackpine Lake

Cooter Camp 2016

Oh, if those trees could talk. Last year, for instance, was a doozy. 

Cooter Camp

It was an unspoken agreement among some of us that we’d gotten too soft lately, and that we should “woman up” to reclaim our bad-assed-ness on this year’s camping trip. Mainly, that meant leaving our luxurious campers behind in favor of roughing it with a tent and freezing our butts off. I should mention that sometimes April showers are in fact April snow showers in the Hiawatha.

April Camping in the Hiawatha

Swan Lake – 2002

Fair enough. Over the last couple of years I’ve developed a phobia of pulling a camper, anyway. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m worried about getting it stuck; or having to pay to fix it if I wreck it; or that it will fail me in some critical area like keeping me warm at night, keeping my beer cold in the fridge, or keeping me awake because the damned carbon monoxide battery is about to die and beeps every 14 seconds while I’m trying to sleep.

I think the real reason is that it carries too much responsibility, none of which I want while trying to have a good time in the woods.

So doesn’t it sound much easier to throw a tent in the car, rack a couple of kayaks, and commune with nature and my fellow Cooters? This is what Mumma, her BFF Avis, and I planned on doing this year.

Racked and Ready

Racked and ready!

And that’s when things started to go horribly awry.

Avis and Mumma decided to go in halfsies on a new tent, since I think the last tent my parents owned was an old Army model back in the 70s. I used to own a tent as well, one I affectionately called “Old Yeller” because it was yellow. But after Todd and I slept in about an inch of rainwater the night before Todd ran a half marathon, I think Old Yeller knew the jig – or the rain fly? – was up. Just like in the book, I knew it was time to put Old Yeller down after it displayed too much rabid, aggressive behavior towards us campers. I’m not certain what happened to that (insert expletive here) tent, but rural legend has it that it just sneaked off into the woods after packing itself up, and it now lures unsuspecting campers into it for shelter and wreaks havoc on their lives. Oh, those poor, trusting souls. That damned tent also reminded me a little of the Stephen King movie Christine, except that this isn’t Hollywood. This is the UP, and c’mon, everyone I know has their own tent horror story.

Old Yeller

Old Yeller’s horror story of 2002 – the year it got buried at Swan Lake

Mine continued this week with that text message and a picture of Christine Junior. Earlier in the week, Avis had announced that they’d purchased the new tent. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Christine’s last name is “Coleman,” and she is a lovely new 3-person “Instant Dome” model. Can set her up in 60 seconds or less. Says so right on the box.

Christine Coleman Before

Christine Coleman – out of the box

So when I got Avis’s text message that day and later confirmed that she and Mumma had taken over a half hour to set Christine up, I’d just assumed it was because they didn’t have my technical skills or years of tenting experience, which amounted to sleeping in a tent maybe three more times than they had. It’s like Avis had thrown down the virtual gauntlet with that text message, and the challenge was on. I’d show them what they were doing wrong, and we’d have that puppy pitched in under five minutes!

Christine Coleman After

Christine “60 seconds my ass!” Coleman

But let me set the stage first: I stopped by my folks’ after work to meet Christine, who was all snug and set up in their garage. Before I could make my introductions, however, Avis and Dewey had stopped by with pizza, almost as if they knew there would be free entertainment provided later. Somehow after dinner we got on the topic of yoga, which morphed into me showing my septuagenarian parents how to stretch into “downward dog” and “chaturanga” poses, which then further morphed into having Dewey show us these pushups you can do with your arms extended out. I always knew those Marines were crazy!

Maybe it was all this one upmanship and false bravado that emboldened me to say, “Hey guys, why don’t you bring your glasses of whiskey out with you to the garage and watch how easily the chicks can tear down and set this little tent back up again.”

And that’s when I learned that Christine was a biter, and possibly rabid.

But not before treating Dad and Dewey to some excellent entertainment in the form of multiple yoga contortion poses and some colorful language that would make even a Marine drill sergeant uncomfortable. There’s always some idiot who ignores reading the instructions, and this time, that idiot was me. In my defense, I couldn’t have read them anyway without cheater glasses, which is probably why it took only 60 seconds or less to dismantle Christine, but another 33 minutes to put her back together. I know this is accurate because in my attempt to brag at how quickly we could do this, I had turned on my phone’s timer app. 

“Okay, guys, we have to do it again, now that we definitely know how to take it down and put it back up. Practice practice practice! We’ve got this!”

I stopped the timer after 42 minutes the second time. How the hell did we manage to get the poles, which are permanently sewn in and attached to the tent itself, all tangled up? After the third try of starting over by folding up and then unfolding and extending the poles, one of them nipped a rather large chunk of flesh off my index finger, and I christened Christine with first blood.

Maybe I should have called her “Cujo” instead of “Christine.”

At this point, I felt my first real inkling of pure, unadulterated rage. I had a flashback to when I was a little kid playing with my little toy telephone with wheels on it that I’d pull along by its phone cord. Every so often, that phone cord would get wrapped around the wheels, and Mumma grins when she tells me how I’d pitch a fit and nearly knock myself unconscious, crazily swinging that phone back and forth in a giant arc, trying to get it untangled.

I was definitely pitching a fit at Christine, but I wasn’t going to let her win or let her knock me unconscious. I had skin in this game! And a blood blister. And wounded pride when this grown-ass woman had to have her Mumma clean my wound with Neosporin and then listen to my retired lumberjack father tell me that, “Back in the day when we cut ourselves in the woods, we didn’t have any pansy-ass Neosporin. We’d just piss on the cut and then get back to work.”

The next day, I got on Amazon and bought another tent. Don’t judge me.

I had to laugh hysterically, though, when I masochistically sought out reviews for Christine “Cujo” Coleman on Amazon. Surely someone else must have encountered this horror story before? After skimming through comments like “Best tent ever,” “Easy for 10-year-old Girl Scouts to use,” and “Set up by myself at night in dark. More like 10-20 minutes by myself,” I was also gratified to find rants like “Pure junk,” and “At some point this tent will drive you crazy trying to untangle a mix of poles that can’t be disconnected.”

I received a call later in the week from Mumma, who swears Christine is now easier to handle and has stopped biting, now that she’s “figured her out.” She’s convinced that we can bring her camping and we’ll all be just fine this weekend. But maybe Mumma’s the Arnie Cunningham who will now become obsessed with Christine, to the detriment of her daughter and Avis, who will die a slow, agonizing death, crushed or further maimed, in this Hiawatha Horror Story.

I’m tempted to bring a shotgun on this camping trip, in case we need to put Christine down. But like the movie says, “How do you kill something that can’t possibly be alive?”

Here’s to a box-office hit this weekend. Wish us luck.

Be happy, be well.