The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Saturday, August 11, 2007

One Whole Gale and a Whole Lotta Love

By Antonios Maltezos

I had some misgivings about our trip to Shediac, New Brunswick, home of the giant lobster, but I thought I knew from where they’d originated. I fell asleep, once, while driving back from the Eastern Townships, so very briefly, but just long enough for the car to point itself at one of the concrete pillars of an overpass. I awoke just in time to jerk the wheel, straighten the car, and wake my wife, who’d been pulling a grandpa, her mouth slightly open, probably dreaming of shucking corn. Everybody and their mothers grow corn in the Eastern Townships. I’ve never forgotten that split second, and neither has my wife, Nicole. You okay. You awake. Smack, when she slaps my thigh. You were nodding off. Ouch I say, making like I’m going to smack her back, grabbing myself a handful of that thigh instead so she has to remind me that the kids are in the backseats. I’ve come to depend on her for these long trips, the car full of rug rats, our children, our family, our reason for living. New Brunswick was a long ways away from Montreal, so that’s why I figured I had the misgivings.

Tent Cabin: A tent cabin is a structure whose frame is made entirely of wood, whose mass rests upon cement blocks much the same way your shed may be sitting on blocks. From the waist down, it looks like a regular cabin, shingled and all, but from the waist up, the frame is covered by a tailored canvass designed to fit like a glove. When it gets wet, the canvass tightens. It’s a fucking giant drum, basically.

We got to our campsite late in evening – five minutes to ten. The old guy at the reception told us to grab the first empty lot we came across. We were thankful because our children were already half-asleep. We were to inform him of our location in the morning. Great.

We chose lot number 12 because it was nearest the bathrooms. Awesome. I got halfway through pitching the tent in the dark when a lady shows up, arms crossed over her chest, demanding to know what we were doing on her lot. Seems like number twelve was already taken, but the boobs who’d taken it had decided to park their camper way at the back of the lot rather than up by the chemin where the fire pit was. We promised her we’d find another spot in the morning if she and her husband, who’d remained just outside the reach of my crank lantern, would allow us to finish pitching the tent.

(notice the camper deep in the background)

When everything happens for a reason: Sometimes, and always in retrospect, it just seems like some benevolent being was guiding your steps along the way to an event that could have proven itself catastrophic had you made that one wrong turn. You run through the list of people you’ve known who’ve since passed on, and sometimes you’ll pick yourself a guardian angel.

The next morning, Nicole and I decided to take a stroll through Murray’s campground before going to the head office. We wanted to know what our options were before committing to any lot. Up on a hill, overlooking the Northumberland Strait, we came across four cabins, two of which seemed empty. We decided then and there that we’d try and snag one of them. To our delight, tent cabin C was free, the only one with straps holding down the canvass roof. We took it.

With our gear safe and secure inside the cabin, we decided we’d spend a couple hours by the beach before heading towards the Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island, the longest something or other in the whole world I think. You can cross the bridge for free, but you must pay a forty dollar toll, or thereabouts, if you want to make it back across. This is according to Shelly, the nice lady working the front desk at the campground. She’ll be a grandma for the second time soon, btw. She advised us not to cross over. Go to the Bay of Fundy instead. After getting our pictures under the bridge, we’d head off to the Hopewell Rocks area, which has the greatest tides in the known something or other.

One whole gale

It started raining while we were still down by the flowerpots, those magnificent and very frightening rock formations. We couldn’t believe our misfortune. In fact, we refused to believe that the rain would last. We even bought ourselves some campfire wood, a twelve pack of Bud for me, and a bottle of Strawberry wine for Nicole. Once the rain stopped, and the kids were safely tucked away in their bunk beds, Nicole and I would enjoy a nice fire and a couple of drinks, our lawn chairs facing the cliff and the surf beyond. We deserved it, after all, some special mom and dad time.

2 am. I hear my name being called, rousing me from my sleep up on the top bunk. The cabin had leaked, so my wife and children had crammed into the two lower bunks. We’d rigged up some tarp we’d brought along on the exposed beams of the roof framing, channeling the water down the sides. No room for me down below, so I’d found a semi-dry spot on one of the upper bunks. Again my name. As I reached for the flashlight I had somewhere next to me, I realized that I had a terrible hangover headache from the six Bud I’d downed while rigging up the tarp. I also realized that there was a horrible, violent noise raining down on my head from the outside, which had nothing to do with the cans of Bud.

Golden showers: If you must piss in a hurricane, make sure the wind is at your back.

Earlier in the day, when Shelly had shown us the inside of the cabin, I’d asked her about the noise level inside if it where to rain. I had no reason to ask because there hadn’t been a cloud in the sky. Maybe it’s a writer’s thing, wanting to store information. She was more than happy to chat with us, telling us about the water spout that had come up on the campground the year before. Destroyed everything but these cabins, she said. Yours even has straps holding down the canvass, so I wouldn’t worry, she said.

Straps or no straps, we were being bombarded by something ferocious that was going to destroy us. I climbed down from the bunk so I could have a look outside, a sinking feeling in my belly. The front door had a curtained window. I couldn’t see anything until I pressed the flashlight up against the glass. Friends, the ghostly white Chevy Uplander we’d rented for the trip was rocking on its springs like a rowboat in choppy waters. I was f-ing mortified, but my wife had called out to me frightened for us all, so what could I do. I told her it was nothing and that I needed to piss. The pissing part was true. I donned my windbreaker and put both hands on the door handle. Once I’d shut the door behind me, every step I took away from the cabin felt like a bad idea, like I was going to pay a heavy price for leaving my family behind. Screw the cinderblock washrooms building. I made it to a stand of trees not far from the cabin, very flexible trees whose measly crowns were tickling the earth like feather dusters, and I had me a golden shower.

There was not much else I could do but get back inside the cabin, show myself to my wife, tell her I’d had my piss and that it was bad out there but survivable. I was standing right in front of her, after all.

Ten hours of this hell, friends. One hundred kilometer an hour winds blasting our cabin, forcing us to sleep in shifts, escape by Uplander out of the question because the country road leading to Murray’s Campground was unlit, 15 kilometers long, and marshy on both sides. By the time Shelly came to check on us around 7 am, we’d become as sturdy as the locals, barely registering the still heaving, slapping canvass. You guys all right? We’re still here, aren’t we, I said, feeling like a shit after because I hadn’t asked her inside out of the weather. It wasn’t her fault the perfect storm blasted through. Nice people in New Brunswick. The folks at the general store up the road asked us how it had been for us in the cabin through the night. How they knew we’d slept in one of those tent cabins, I have no idea, but they were genuinely happy to see us in their midst picking up two coffees and four hot cocoas.

So how do we feel about New Brunswick now that we’re back home? The children have an adventure they can’t wait to share with their friends when they get back to school. They thought the trip to the Bay of Fundy was out of this world, and they’re extremely disappointed they couldn’t spend more time in the lovely waters of Shediac. My wife wants to return. In fact, she’s trying to figure out which business we could start if we were to move there permanently. Me, I’m still in awe of their rolling highways, the gorgeous landscape, the lovely people, and my wife, whose presence at my side gave me the comfort I needed when I needed it most. One whole gale, and a whole lotta love – that’s how we’ll remember it.

(Murray's Campground at its best)

(... and at its worst. Our tent cabin is just out of view on the cliff.)


Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Wow, what a saga! What I want to know is if it would have been better or worse at site #12. Glad the kids had such a good time. You must have hidden your fear well. I relate to your falling asleep at the wheel. I did that twice. Once I went off into a ditch on the way to work in Illinois, no damage. The other time the kids (aged 9 and 6, maybe)were asleep in the back seat and I woke up just as I was about to rear-end the car in front. I don't drive long distances anymore.

Sat Aug 11, 06:20:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

Not one tent escaped shredding by the wind that night. Thankfully, there weren't many tents in the campground to begin with. We found out in the morning that these people used their cars for shelter. Us picking lot 12 saved our skins. the tent cabin proved to be the safest spot on the whole campground. Even the large Winebagos sustained some kind of damage. Thanks for reading, Tricia!

Sat Aug 11, 07:30:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Ooh, that's why I'm more of a Holiday Inn kind of gal.

Sat Aug 11, 07:56:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Anne C. said...

Hey, I spent this afternoon in Shediac! We call it Disaster Beach. A five-year-old girl went missing (and was found) and someone else had to be carried off by the paramedics.

And yet I'm going to stop there tomorrow on our way home.

Sat Aug 11, 08:17:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

Wow. Well worth waiting for, Tony. I've always wanted to visit the eastern seaboard. This does not scare me off one bit. What a great protector you are. Pissed on, indeed!

Sat Aug 11, 08:23:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

Hey, Tamara! Anne, you've got to be kidding me?!? When you go through Shediac again, ask any of the locals about the freaking wind storm of wednesday night/thursday morning. If they say it was nuttin much, tell em' i said go fuck yourselves!! New Brunswick is great though. Loved it.

Sat Aug 11, 08:44:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Mel said...

What an adventure! Coincidentally I was speaking with my dad just last night about visiting Shediac and the east coast, and how we drove from PEI and back home (SW Ontario) in one go way back when I was 18. Insane!

Sat Aug 11, 09:04:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Anne C. said...

I'm not sure that there are any locals at Parlee Beach. It was my impression that everyone was from Montreal.

Sun Aug 12, 06:50:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

The beach we used was called Murray's Corner down the 955. We'd thought about going to Parlee beach. Have a safe trip back.

Sun Aug 12, 07:11:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Chumplet said...

I remember the marathon drive from Ontario to New Brunswick. I was supposed to take the second shift, but couldn't sleep through Montreal because of that damned freaky concrete highway section that has tall lights and goes clunk! clunk! clunk! in the middle of nowhere.

By the time it was my turn to drive, dawn was breaking over the St. Lawrence and my eyes were drooping. It was scary. My husband was sleeping soundly beside me. I wanted to kick him.

Great story, Antonios! I lived in Shediac when I was a babe, and my Mom lives in Saint John. There is no limit to the beautiful vistas in The Maritimes.

Don't get me started on the weather.

Sun Aug 12, 11:48:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Great adventure, lovely writing, Tony. Reminded me of camping adventures with our kids. I remember the disasters so fondly now! Hey, remember the time when our tents blew right off of us? And we all laugh. Not funny at the soaking time of course. Cold, bitterly cold, and you didn't know that it would turn out all right and into a good story. Thanks for sharing and taking me back to those times. My kids are all teens now, but I'm hoping to squeeze one more camping adventure in, before they all start going off to university. But maybe a cottage will do.

Sun Aug 12, 02:36:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

Thanks for reading, guys. There was so much more I could have told, but honestly, I've told the story maybe fifteen times since we got back thursday night.

Sun Aug 12, 08:06:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

Very cool. We are actually working on a project that will use tent cabins, so any insight you have would be very helpful.

We never got out East when we lived in Ottawa, I still regret that. Thanks for this, Tony.

Mon Aug 13, 07:35:00 pm GMT-4  

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