Flashback: The Orange Tent

Cutting grass, raking leaves, folding laundry be damned, sometimes I just need to get away. I hope you can appreciate that sentiment. Most times a drive out into the country on Saturday afternoon is enough, but others require a plan to overnight away some where. I enjoy camping a good bit. It doesn’t take much to be able to “survive” out in the woods a night or three.

The Orange Tent - Jason Sparks - Tenkara Angler - Drive In
Escape the city and head for the hills.

Escape the “Everydays”

I am lucky enough to be a part of a group of close tenkara buddies that understand that need to escape our “everydays”. For the last several years, we have been getting together about three times a year. We move the meeting place around to different watersheds. Since we converge from about six states, we have a nice selection to choose. The destinations have been loosely between Great Smoky Mountains and Grayson Highlands, touching in North Carolina, Tennessee and Virgina. We have an itching to get into North Georgia and Kentucky and the Southern edge of Pennsylvania also. These camping trips are usually 3-4 nights long.

Autumn Bliss

This past October, we planned our gathering to be when the leaves were changing and making their way to the forest floor. That is always such a great time to be in the mountains. The plan was for the 8 anglers to meet up at a cabin for a 4-day weekend starting on Thursday with everyone peeling out sometime Mid-day on Sunday. I found the time to add another day to the front end and planned to get up there a day early.

The Orange Tent - Jason Sparks - Tenkara Angler - Stream
There are few things in life better than this.

Poof. Gone.

I waited until the day before to pull the adventure load together. The easy part was getting my waders, boots, rod bag and flies into a large plastic bin for travel. Next was the tent, sleep bag, cooler and food. I went into my outbuilding to pull out my little 3-man red dome tent and couldn’t find the elastic-linked structure poles for it. They were nowhere to be found. Poof. Gone. My other regular tent is a “tiny house” sized 6-person dome tent. I’ve slept in it before by myself and it is like being in a bedroom sleeping on the floor. It is also a pain to erect by yourself. That tent is grossly oversized for one dude, but without poles for the smaller tent what was I going to do? Then I remembered…

The Other Other Tent

I remembered that I had an orange tent bag on a shelf in the back of the shed. I’ve had it maybe 8 years and never actually looked inside it. Does it have poles? Is it useable? Is it really a tent? I worked through the storage to get my hands on it. I made my way back out to the yard, opened the bag and laid out the contents. What was in there?

The Message

This orange carry bag did have an orange tent in it. This is a tent that my father passed down to me 8 years earlier. During that visit he gave me his tackle box, his mother and father’s tackle boxes, his beloved long Fenwick spinning rod, several old Mitchell reels, two sleeping bags, a propane two burner camp stove and this tent. I recall that when he offered them to me I was both pleased, and sad. The sadness was in the unspoken message that he wasn’t going to be using any of it again. He hadn’t for years, but that didn’t make it hurt my heart any less. I think that realization was tough for me to acknowledge – his agedness. “Pleased” was for the memories of adventures we shared in that gear.

The Orange Tent - Jason Sparks - Tenkara Angler

The Orange Tent

That orange tent, yeah I remember it. It was THIS 3-man tent that my father bought to take me and my brother out of weekend adventures as kids. This was going to be part of our escape of the “everydays” back in the late 70’s. We had several adventures in this orange escape pod. JC Penny Sports Center sounded like serious gear in those years.

One of those weekend getaways was to the Cherry Hill Recreation Area in the Sumpter National Forest outside of Walhalla, South Carolina. For 9 & 7 year old boys, that was “way up in the mountains.” I have a very specific memory of that camping trip. Last year my younger brother and I were having a reminiscing moment about “Dad” and he brought it up. I was so pleased that he held that same memory. It swelled big inside me and I was glad we still each held that.

Cherry Hill Recreation Area – Campground

The Mighty West Fork

On that trip, dad had backed his mid-70’s burnt orange Chevrolet Chevelle wagon (we called it “The Pumpkin”) into a tent pad spot about mid-way around the gravel circle at Cherry Hill. We had set up this orange tent and rolled out three full-size sleeping bags for the “men’s weekend away”. On the picnic table he had setup the orange camp stove and a cooler with eggs, sausage and some sandwich makings. There was a small trickle creek running at the edge of the camp area. Looking it up today, I see it is “West Fork Crane Creek”, which makes it sound much bigger than my little kid mind remembers. I can’t imagine that there were any fish in there, maybe not even minnows.

The Memory We Shared

The creek did have something in it. Crawling around in the rocks there were crayfish. My brother recalled like I have these last 40 years, that we went crawdad hunting in that creek bed. Our father, Jerry, schooled us in how to move slowly to get in close on the crayfish. He explained that they turned to get the pinchers facing us in a defensive posture. He showed us how to take that thumb and fore finger and move over the head, behind the claws, so we cold safely pick them up. Once we knew how, we worked the creek pretty good.

Bucket of Tails

We gathered up a dozen or so crayfish all about the size of our thumbs. I don’t suppose they were very big at all. At least not big enough to scare us away from the task. Dad got a small pea-pot of water boiling on the camp stove. We washed them good and he dropped them in the rolling hot water. In a quick minute, he was scooping them out. We had caught and cooked some crayfish.

The next lesson was how to separate the tail meat from the body. I have a clear vision of his thumb peeling the tail section from the bottom and lifting the shell off the top. That was the motion for getting it ready to eat. We followed suit and peeled a few each. Then we popped them in our mouth. It wasn’t a meal, and was not much of a snack either. Still, those few crustaceans hit the spot in a way that made a lasting memory for two young boys.

The Orange Tent - Jason Sparks - Tenkara Angler - JCPenney
This JC Penney tent is more than 45 years old.

The Orange Tent Revisited

I packed that tent up for my trip realizing that it smelled like it was 40 years old. It very likely had not been out of the bag is 30 years. Maybe not since those nights at Cherry Hill. I was taking it though, regardless. This is an old school triangle tent. I had two poles and a lot of tie-down strings. It was going to work. Pack it.

The Set Up

I drove the 5 hours to the rendezvous spot, right up the #12 site where I had planned to set-up. No reservations at National Forest wilderness sites make that a gamble sometimes. I pulled the tent out first to get it erected before any of the light started to dim. I laid the footprint out in a good spot. Next, I counted out my tent stakes and made sure I have enough for the guy lines. I put together both three-piece tent poles and got them in place and stood it up.

I was surprised at how easy the tent went up with just me doing it. It actually was probably easier that those crazy long elastic linked poles that are 15 feet long and need to be snaked through the “belt loops” on the tent dome. In just a few minutes, the guy lines were staked in place and I walked around again making adjustments to the taut lines. All set.

I took a few steps back and just looked at it. The tent was beautiful. In that tent bag were protected and preserved memories of times in the woods that Jason, John, and Jerry Sparks had shared. A part of my lifetime. A part of my deep inner soul. The whole thing was beautiful to me. It was moving.

The Orange Tent - Jason Sparks - Tenkara Angler - Set Up
The 3-man tent with a lifetime of memories.

The Lonely Night

I sat in front of the campfire from dusk until well after midnight. The temperature was dropping with not a cloud in the cold winter sky. I kept wood on the fire for hours and stared at the dancing flames. I rolled my head back and stared at the one million stars in my view. I looked over at the tent. The entire setting was perfect. I was alone, but the night was not lonely.

The night passed at a very slow pace. Nothing was rushing by. There was a new memory being created that night in the orange tent. It was a seamless blended with a moment from 40 years ago.

The entire night was in slow motion like this.

I started off sharing about the camping trip with a group of friends. I think this more accurately became two different events that happened to be over consecutive nights. That first night will stand alone as the memory. A camping memory of a camping memory. There was some healing that took place under those stars and in that orange tent on a Wednesday night. I guess that was another part in my journey through this life. Looking forward to planning the next adventure to sear into my mind… and never forgetting the places we’ve been and who we were with for the memories in our past.

Thanks for letting me share this rambling through memories. I’m pretty sure there are many that can relate to this and many that have memories tied to their passed-down gear and the adventures in their youth.

Please consider sharing a small memory here in the comments. I would love to hear it. If you want to write up an essay about it, you can always submit it to Tenkara Angler for publication. We do love sharing the stories of our fans, friends, and family in this community.

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  1. Jason great memories! Thanks for sharing. My dad wasn’t an outdoorsman. He was a golfer. I can’t remember the first time that he took me to the golf course. I was very small. I would walk with him and watch him play. When I got a bit older I would carry a wood, iron and putter. All hickory shaft. Over the years I would own several sets of clubs.

    It’s been a decade since I’ve teed it up. Holding and swinging a club just isn’t as easy as it once was. Age and ailments. My “orange tent” is in my basement. Along with those three hickory shafted clubs, are a Spalding Driver, a Wilson Sam Snead sand wedge and an old Bullseye putter.

    Every so often, when I’m in the basement, I’ll pick up one of my Dad’s clubs. Place the grip in my palm and fingers. Close my eyes and I’m walking down the fairway again holding his hand.

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