“Camping is always an adventure. You never truly know what’s going to happen.”
I had that thought in my mind while I was riding shotgun in my best friends’ jeep for the first day of our adventure. My friend, Jungle Jake, was trying to catch up to my dad after we had been caught by a red light before going onto the Westbank Expressway. Instead of pulling over, my dad, Bayou Bill, just took off in a flash. Bayou Bill is like a shark that’s always moving to survive.
We had this trip to Palmetto Island State Park planned out for at least month before we left. Ever since Jungle Jake and I met each other in high school, the three of us had always tried to take camping trips each year. It became a tradition for us.
When we caught up to Bayou Bill, we were already about 30 minutes into our three-hour trip from Gretna to Abbeville. To pass the time, I told Jungle Jake how I was happy we were going camping again. He said he was too, but wished his girlfriend didn’t have to work so she could’ve come with us. When he said that, my inner tick showed its ugly self:
“I’m sorry,” I told him.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said.
We went quiet for a while, so Jungle Jake put on his Jurassic World soundtrack to clear the silence. Listening to the John Williams-esque score, my mind berated my words. He’s heard me say that phrase too many times in our relationship. It’s just a phrase I spit out whenever something awkward comes up or I feel like I’ve been a burden. I never mean to do it. At least, I try not to.
After three hours of cramped legs and dinosaurs on the brain, we arrived at Palmetto Island. We decided to go kayaking in a bayou near Vermillion River first. While paddling, we noticed the bayou had a lot of gators either in the water or on the banks. I warned Jungle Jake not to put a gator in his kayak and bring it back with us. He gave me no promises.
We had passed a man who was fishing in his own kayak and he told us to be on the lookout for Big Bertha, one of the biggest alligators in the camp. I didn’t pay him any mind until we were going through a very narrow part of the bayou. Jungle Jake and I were following behind Bayou Bill until he just stopped. I was about to say something to him until my breath got caught up in my throat. “Big Bertha” was lying on a bank about seven feet away from us. She looked to be about 10-feet-long. I held my breath and went right by her as quietly as I could. When we were a good ways away, I told them that if I heard a splash, I was gonna sprint across the water just like Jesus would’ve done.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to do that and we finished our kayaking without having to experience Lake Placid first hand. We then headed to our cabin, which was deep in the campground. It had a living room area with a flat screen TV, a kitchen, bathroom, two bedrooms and cellphone service. Truly, we were roughing it.
We barely finished touring the cabin when Bayou Bill suggested we go biking around the camp. Right off the bat, Bayou Bill sped off in front of us while Jungle Jake complained that his butt and legs were already sore. He had done the Crescent City Classic right before the trip, so his legs were threatening to just explode out of defiance. We had gone about half a mile when I heard a loud pop. My front tire had gone flat. I stopped, which caused the two of them to turn around for me. Bayou Bill figured I needed a new bike tube and tried to put on a spare. He went through four different tubes trying to replace it and all of them failed. When he went through all of the tubes with no luck, Bayou Bill told me to wait on the side of the road while he and Jungle Jake would ride back to the cabin and come back to pick me up in his truck. They left and it wasn’t even five minutes later when Jungle Jake came back, saying he didn’t want me to wait by myself.
“Aww, thanks,” I told him. “At least we won’t have to kill ourselves keeping up with Bayou Bill now.”
We laughed, trying to make light of everything. 10 minutes later, one of the other campers in the park pulled up in his truck and asked to bring us back to our cabin. Tired of waiting for Bayou Bill, I threw my bike in the back of his truck and road with the guy while Jungle Jake followed us on his bike.
When we got back, Bayou Bill immediately told us to go to the nearest Walmart in Abbeville and get new bike tubes. He said if he didn’t find out what the hell was wrong with my bike, he would get a brain aneurysm. So Jungle Jake and I rode 30 minutes to Walmart, got the new tubes, and had smooth sailing back to the campground until Jungle Jake ran over an animal. A water moccasin, to be completely exact. Split right in half at the middle. I tried consoling him because he was upset about killing it.
“Hey, think on the bright side,” I said. “You probably saved someone’s kid in the future.”
He laughed and we continued back to the cabin. After a very long day, we had tacos for dinner and watched Chopped for the rest of the night. Sitting on the cabin’s leather couch, I thought to myself.
“Oh God, this was only the first day.”
I ended up setting off the smoke alarm in the cabin.
I wanted to surprise Jungle Jake by making pancakes for breakfast. I put the burner on the highest it could go so the pancake mix could solidify quickly. I also forgot to turn the fan on over the stove, so it only took about a minute for the alarm to go off. So, like a sensible human being, I started running around the kitchen while yelling, “Oh, crap. Oh, crap. Oh, crap.” Jungle Jake ran out of the bedroom, grabbed the pan with the burning pancakes and put it outside. Bayou Bill was already outside fooling with my bike tire. While we were waiting for the alarm to stop, I kept whining about how sorry I was. Jungle Jake told me it was fine and started singing the chorus of “Let It Go” from Frozen to brighten my mood. Bayou Bill actually walked over to the burnt pancakes and took a big bite out of one of them.
“Best crunchy pancakes I’ve ever had,” he told us.
We all laughed hard at that.
After that, Bayou Bill suggested we go kayaking and biking again before he had to go back home. Right before we left for the trip, my 85-year-old grandmother ended up scheduling a knee surgery for March 30. Despite wanting to spend the week with us, Bayou Bill needed to go back home to make sure someone took care of her. We ended up kayaking directly on the Vermillion River for a while. The wind was in our faces the entire time, but overall it was nice.
When we finished kayaking, we immediately went straight to biking. Jungle Jake was taking bets on when my bike would go flat again. Bayou Bill said if that happened, he would get in his truck and run over the damn thing until it was a pancake. Fortunately for his sanity, my tire didn’t go flat. Unfortunately for Jungle Jake and me, that gave Bayou Bill permission to ride all over the campground. We rode on the road, around the trailer area and through the wood trails. All the while, bugs were flying around our heads and into our mouths. We rode until Jungle Jake and I could ride no more.
With the bike ride finished, which was around 2 p.m., Bayou Bill loaded everything in his truck, gave me a hug and took off. After that, Jungle Jake and I spent the entire rest of the day watching TV. We stayed mostly quiet between the TV time and the fact that he was fooling around constantly on his phone, but I didn’t mind. We needed to relax and unwind anyway.
The beginning of this day seemed all too familiar, just like the end of the last one.
Jungle Jake and I woke up around the same time and then ended up watching a marathon of Pawn Stars through breakfast and lunch. Jungle Jake was still fiddling with his phone through most of it. I tried throwing out conversations constantly to keep everything from going silent, but I couldn’t find one that would stick. While we were just sitting there, my mind began to wander to dark places again.
“Am I not being fun enough on this trip?” I thought to myself. “He’d have a better time if his girlfriend were here instead of me, right? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I ever stop worrying?”
These thoughts kept flashing in my head, making me more upset than they really should have. Without a single word, I went outside and just started walking down the road. I stopped at a boat launch that was about a quarter mile from the cabin, sat down on the pier and just emptied my head to calm myself.
I knew I was being foolish. Jungle Jake and I have been good friends for years. We’ve opened up to each other on so many occasions and we completely trust each other. My problem was that I’ve always been scared of losing my friends either through time or my own faults. I love Jungle Jake like a brother and I didn’t want that to happen with us. These are childish thoughts. I know I shouldn’t have them.
It took me about 45 minutes to clear my thoughts. When I was ready to head back to the cabin, I saw Jungle Jake riding towards me on his bike. He told me he was worried about me and asked why I had left. I said I just needed to clear my head.
“When you left, I thought you had gotten a phone call from your dad,” he said. “When you didn’t come back for a while, I went outside looking for you. I couldn’t find you near the cabin. Then I thought, ‘Oh. God. He got a call saying his grandma is dead and he ran off.’ So, I got on my bike and came looking for you.”
I was very touched that he was so concerned about me, but it made me even more ashamed with myself for making him freak out. My tick came out again.
“I’m so sorry,” I told him.
“It’s fine,” he said in a low voice.
We walked back to the cabin and decided to just fool around. We watched more TV, looked at stuff on the Letgo app, tried to get one of those “adult channels” just to see if we could, and made spaghetti and chicken meatballs. After dinner, we got in his jeep to go animal searching. While driving, I noticed the air coming in through the jeep’s vents smelled like pee. Jungle Jake said he noticed earlier in the day what looked like fox prints on his jeep and he thought it decided to mark its territory. I actually really wanted to see a fox, but we ended up seeing a wild pig, a deer and an armadillo instead.
This was it, the beginning of the end of our adventure.
We packed our bags, emptied the fridge and made sure everything was accounted for. When it came time to take out the garbage, we ended up having a lot more trash than we thought. So much so that the bag ripped and spilled all over the outside porch. Jungle Jake cursed and my tick came out at the worst possible moment.
“Sorry,” I mumbled.
“Did you put a hole in the bag?” He snapped at me. “If you didn’t, then what the hell do you have to be sorry for?”
I was dead silent when we gathered the loose trash and put it in the outside garbage can. Walking back into the cabin, he started laughing.
“You want to say it again, don’t you?” he said.
“I’m not going to say it.” I said. “I know you hate it when I say it.”
“Yeah, I really do,” he told me. “There’s such a thing as being too apologetic.”
“I promise I’ll work on it,” I said. “I won’t say it again.”
I ended up breaking that promise later when I didn’t position his passenger mirror the way he wanted it, but that was genuinely my fault so I think it was appropriate.
As we drove out of the park, Jungle Jake hooked his phone up to his radio to prepare us for the long journey home. I made some promises to myself as we sang our diaphragms out to Bruce Springsteen, Carrie Underwood and Aerosmith. I would make myself more fit to at least try to keep up with Bayou Bill and I would remove my tick by any means necessary, like a hot needle. Not literally, though.
I vowed to not apologize so much for things outside of my control and to enjoy my life for as long as I still have it with the people I love. At the very least, I promised to better myself by the time Jungle Jake and I have another adventure together. With all he’s done for me, I owe him that.