Last month, just before leaving for my annual motorcycle trip, I texted my family a picture of my bike, loaded up for camping, sitting in our driveway.
“Dad’s three favorite things in the world,” one of our kids texted back. “His motorcycle, his Jeep, and our tent.”
The implication that we also have three kids is intentional, and not lost on me.
But when it comes to inanimate objects at least, they may be right.
I bought the 2006 Jeep Commander a year ago. It’s already become one of my favorite used cars. And, since I've loved every used car I've ever owned, that’s saying something.
I bought the 2004 Harley Sportster in 2006. It has carried me to 35 states, onto 20 ferries, through 11 National Parks, and over the highest paved road in North America.
And we bought the tent — The Tent! — in 1991. Then-girlfriend Lindy and I had decided to go wilderness camping in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
We needed to buy a tent. The cheap, three-person version was $18. This good, or at least slightly better, one was $32. We had to go home and think about it. We spent the $32.
That tent sheltered us through that first camping experience together. And then, over the next 30 years, through The Time That Mouse Wouldn’t Stop Scratching At Our Tent. The Time The Monsoon Lifted Our Tent With Our Entire Family In It And Dropped Us Down In The Adjacent Campsite. The Time I Insisted We Try “Winter Camping.”
And so it’s gone, through tornado warning rainstorms at Whitewater State Park and subfreezing weekends just off the Missouri River.
Last year, during a hike-through weekend in a state forest, 14-year-old daughter Emma and I and new rescue dog Finch listened to the coyotes howl at what sounded like just inches outside that tent.
And, last month, I rolled that tent in a tarp and strapped it onto the back of my motorcycle.
I headed north along the Mississippi and set up the tent in the dark — I've done it so many times I can do it in five minutes — at Banning State Park.
Headed east along Lake Superior to Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands and camped in Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains. When it started pouring rain at 3 a.m., I set up the rainfly — I've done it so many times I can do it in five minutes — in the storm.
Then headed south for one last night in the tent. One last night of perfect, 60-degree sleeping weather.
I set up my campsite, right on the Mississippi, early. Made a fire. I was tucked next to sprawling sites with campers who have strung lights along temporary gazebo tops and set up full-sized grills.
I broke out the tent repair kit and patched, yet again, the screen on the top and fixed a broken pole for the rainfly.
So, you’re probably wondering, how do I respond when people say to me, “Steve, why don’t you get rid of that old raggedy tent? Why don’t you get yourself a nice, new one?”
Well, first of all, no one has ever said anything like that to me.
I can’t, in fact, imagine a situation where someone would ever even mention our tent. Or say anything like that. To anyone.
But if they did ask — if they did wonder aloud about our “raggedy old tent” and why we still held on to that “silly old thing” — I would say something like “Because it means something.”
Then I would look them right in the eye and tell them “and because that ‘stupid dumb asinine tent’ — as you call it — has sheltered us more than once in times of trouble.”
Then they would probably say, “Wait? Are you still talking about that foolish, laughable, worn-down tent?”
And I would say yes.
Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester Magazine. His column appears every Tuesday.