The Price of Free

Taking a cue from Sarita at Sonlight, I got this great idea to go camping this fall – as in the kind where you get tents and go into the woods and you sleep there overnight. I know, anyone who knows us well has fallen out of his or her chair in sheer shock, but Craig proved to all of us that he could do it this summer, so I figured it was worth a shot for an inexpensive get-away.

I found a campsite and then realized, “Oh, it costs $9/night to camp. Good to know.” Then I clued in to the fact that, oh yeah, you have to have camping gear – like a tent and sleeping bags and cooking stuff. I asked Sarita for a detailed list of what they use for camping, and suddenly my little inexpensive get-away idea wasn’t turning out to be such a great one. So much to consider, I had a naive expectation that it would be as easy as getting in the car and going, only having to think about leisurely things like whether I should bring my monocular vs binocular set up. Alas, this is real life and the wild is, well, wild and that’s why we prepare so much.

Well, I reasoned, we weren’t going that far and we wouldn’t be staying that long; if we get a tent we can make this work. So, I asked on the local freecycle list if anyone had a tent to spare. I got a huge surprise when a woman emailed me back and said she had several. She said they were moving in two days and hadn’t been camping in 6 years and she might as well get rid of them. She also said they were kind of dirty and needed some cleaning, but if I came and got them they were mine.

Now if you’ve ever acquired anything from freecycle, you sort of know “kind of dirty” tends to be a code phrase for, “nobody in their right mind would use these ever again.” But then, when have I ever claimed to be in my right mind?

I drove over the next day. My spirits lifted as I realized I was driving into one of the ritzier sections of town. The house they were moving out of was one of those mini-McMansions and was very nice. We got there and they showed me to the massive pile-o-tents, which didn’t seem that bad at first, but when I got closer I realized that “kind of dirty” translated to “covered in massive amounts of spiders.” We were a comical lot of five squealing ladies pulling these tents out of the pile, shooing off spiders with sticks, and shoving the tents into the back of the van. Somehow we managed (though everyone was on edge for the 30-minute drive home).

To make this long story a little bit shorter, I asked my friend Joanna if she could come over the next day to help me make sense of the crazy pile of tents. She was happy to, so the next day we dragged all these things all over the backyard and set about to the task of figuring out which poles went with which tent and how they went together (okay, Joanna set about that task; I set about the task of holding her 3-month-old baby).

As we were assembling, we realized what a score I’d made: two 6-8 people Field & Stream tents, one 6-8 person other tent, one 2-4 person L.L. Bean tent, and one 2-4 person Walmart brand. The two 6-8 people Field & Stream tents were in great shape, as evidenced here:

Home Away From Home

I kept one and gave the other to Joanna. The other large tent was excessively dirty, so we chose to toss it. The L.L. Bean was in okay shape, and then there was the Wal-mart tent, which seemed to be in great condition. After getting three tents fully assembled, Joanna went over to the Wal-mart tent, picked up the edge, shook it, and said, “This one is actually probably in the best shape of all!” She walked inside it to see how tall it would stand, and about as fast as we saw her disappear, we saw her jump right back out yelling, “THERE’S SOMETHING DEAD IN THERE!!!!”

Friends, Joanna doesn’t freak out easily – she has two boys, for the love of Pete – so for her to freak out was an instant clue to the rest of us that this was serious. I thought it might be a mouse. After showing Joanna some true concern and care doubling over in laughter after Joanna popped back out of the tent, I was finally able to ask her what was in there. She was still shaking and said, “I don’t know. It was big. I think it was a cat.”

We all had to look. Sure enough, in the front corner of this un-assembled tent, was a very large lump of fur – very cat-like in appearance. It turned out “kind of dirty” actually meant “contains a dead animal.”

From there it was a total psych-game of “Can you believe I stuffed that tent IN MY VAN yesterday and drove with it for 30 minutes? I then put it in the basement? I’VE BEEN HAULING AROUND A DEAD CAT FOR 24 HOURS NOW!!!” We squealed like only two grown women and four young girls can and somehow got that nasty piece of camping gear stuffed in a trash can before heading inside to scrub our bodies clean of any potential dead cat residue.

And the moral of the story is…well, I don’t know what the moral of the story is. We did get a majorly good deal: we just had to dispose of half-a-dozen nasty spiders, two less-than-stellar tents, and one unfortunate cat. That, I guess, is the price of free. While I’m glad for the great tents, had I known about the cat on the front end, I’m not sure we would be going camping any time soon.


16 thoughts on “The Price of Free

  1. lyrahelen says:

    Hilarious, Megan! I’m so glad you shared this!
    You should ask around and borrow the camping equipment you’ll need. We did that this summer and it worked out great!


  2. Chelsea says:

    I’m wondering how many “Lost Cat” posters that woman put up in her neighborhood about six years ago. I’m guessing it’s best not to email her and tell her about that particular discovery.


  3. Jamie says:

    How did a cat wind up folded into a tent without anybody noticing? Didn’t the original owners ever wonder what happened to good old Tabby? I almost feel sorry for whoever moves into Tent Lady’s house next; if there was a dead cat in the camping gear stored in their basement, who knows what might be lurking in other odd places.
    At least you scored a tent. Yay for free (spider and dead cat infested) stuff! 😉


  4. Megan says:

    The case of the missing cat has been the topic of family conversations for the past 48 hours now. No kidding. We’ve come up with several theories of how in the world that cat got in there.
    We also agreed it was best to simply say, “Thanks for the great tents!” to the givers and not mention the surprise inside. What good would that do? 🙂
    In other news, the trash guys took all the trash yesterday EXCEPT the tent with the dead cat inside. So, yes, we’re still in possession of said animal in our backyard. Nas-ty. I have to go get a gigantic trash bag to put the tent in so the trash guys will take it next week.
    So…if anyone is looking for a free tent, we have one. It’s kind of dirty though…


  5. Joanna says:

    Yes, I too have been wondering about that cat and how it got in there. I did go home afterwards and gave myself and LR a REALLY good scrubbing and a sinus rinse.


  6. Mom says:

    Oh, Megan! Your dad came to get me and said “You’ve gotta read Megan’s blog. You will fall out of your chair laughing”, and I almost did. Now I’m so “high on laughter” I may not be able to go to sleep soon. You really ought to go on Letterman as a stand up comic. Your life makes for some good stories. Like I said, “Honey I love you, but give me Park Avenue.” (quoted from Eva on Green Acres)


  7. Lana Day says:

    Oh, Megan, I agree with your Mom and Dad! YOU are hilarious!!! This is a priceless story and needs to get on Letterman! (I just love St. Louis and all it has to offer…free tents, dead cats, and funny gals!) Lana from Owasso/Ashley’s mom
    *you must be a great Mom! :=)


  8. Luke Holzmann says:

    Wow, for all our camping experiences we never had anything like that. Of course, we had the same old tent for years until it finally caved in on us during a particularly bad storm.
    Good, good stuff, and memories your family will cherish forever. Dead cats and all. [smile]


  9. Shannon says:

    This is my first time here, and I’m enjoying your blog so far!
    As for the tents, please add one more “little girl” screaming and doing the “icky dance” in spirit! LOL I’m not sure I would have had the nerve to stuff the supposedly spiderless tents in my van to begin with, so kudos on all of your bravery!


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