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Thursday, 14 May 2015

The Wedding of Mike and Sarah, Part I: The Groomsmen Weekend

In May of 2015, I had the honour of being Best Man at the wedding of my dear friends, Mike and Sarah. It was a fantastic day, all brought to fruition by the days which preceded it. This post concerns one of those precedent events, the Groomsmen Weekend.

One month before the big day, Mike invited his groomsmen out for a camping weekend. Since many of us were not located in the same city, the idea was to get us all together, work on some of the aspects of the impending wedding, and have a nice weekend.

I had many people look at me with raised eyebrows when I told them I was going camping, in April, in Canada. While the season of Spring officially started in late March, anyone who has been in Canada long enough knows that, in most cases, Winter continues until late May when it suddenly becomes Summer. But, the groom asked us to assemble, so we did!

The first bit of fun I had was in meeting one of the groomsmen for the first time. In order to get down to the campsite near Stoney Creek, I ended up getting a drive from Jeff, Mike's cousin. It was a fantastic trip, with sunny skies and great stories exchanged between Jeff and myself. I was glad to meet more of Mike's family and I could not only see but hear the resemblance as the McKenna family all seem to have the same laugh.

When we finally reunited with the other groomsmen, we were both excited and dismissive of the campsite, at first. A small acre-sized lot near other acre-sized lots, the campsite looked more like a parking lot for recreational vehicles than a place to pitch a tent. None of us had ever been to such a campsite before so it was weird to think we were camping when we could still see urban areas in the distance.

Diving right in, we all set up our tents, which was amusing, I must say. It was clear from the onset that we all had different experience levels with camping. Some of us grew up in rural areas where camping was just an extension of living at home. Others had spent most of their time in cities and while they had camped before, it had been a while. I set up my tent in minutes, and then turned back to watch the fun. In fairness, it didn't take the others much longer, but there were a few fun cries of, "What's that pole for? Where does it go? Why is it shaped like that?"
Dom, Jeff, and Alex getting started. I like the Welcome Mat, it's a nice touch.
Me and Jeff? Myself and Jeff? Grammar? The western tendency to see things left to right but the grammatical tendency to place yourself at the end of such things (Jeff and I, Jeff and me, etc.) causes an interesting paradox. Anyway, here we are, setting up my tent. 
Mike, foreground, and Jeff, background, both having a good time!
I'm not seeing much progress on this tent!
There we go, a job well-done!
Once the tents were assembled, we moved our attention to making a fire. Fearing the worst, and always trying to be prepared, I had ample tools for starting a fire. I had flint and steel, a lighter, matches, lint from my clothes-dryer, newspaper, and some pre-split kindling. On our way in, we bought a couple of bags of firewood just because it had been raining earlier in the week and we had no idea how dry any of the available wood would be.
James, myself, and Jeff
Never having taken the time to try my flint and steel, I did so and was delighted at how easy it was. After a minute or so of trying, we got the fire started. Keeping it going, was more difficult. The fire pit was simply the area inside a metal ring, but unfortunately the ground was quite wet. Unless we wanted to shovel and scrape the mud out of the fire pit, we were forced to build our fire on top. Hoping for the best, we had a long mid-afternoon of keeping the fire lit while it melted/boiled/evaporated the wet ground beneath it.

Once the fire was properly lit, some of us began grabbing snacks and things, while others went into the "forest" to grab some wood. The great thing was that, since it was so early in the season, the dead wood had not been cleared out yet by other campers.

The downside was that the only hatchet we had was a rather rusty, chipped, not very useful tool. It more resembled a sharp hammer and it was more of a test of endurance than of skill to cut through anything. Still, we did our best and got the job done.

It looks like Alex is saying, "Hey! Check out my cool friends!"
Later in the day, as Alex was chopping away at another log, Mike told Alex to stop, give it a rest. We all thought Mike was saying that because it was getting late and the noise may be getting annoying. We were wrong.

Mike told us to all take a seat and he began talking. Going around the circle, Mike reminded each of us of the good times we've shared and told us of the effect we had on him and his life. As he told us this, it started raining so we had to unceremoniously shuffle into one of the tents for the rest of the speech. Each of us had uniquely and significantly contributed to the well-being and happiness of Mike's life, and the main reason for this weekend was to recognize this.

In honour of our friendship, he gave us all groomsmen gifts. Each of us received a Zippo lighter, engraved with a word in Latin which uniquely identified us. These included the Latin for "to create/build", "to light a fire inside someone (to inspire)", "to whisper", "together", and "brother". We were all very honoured and we all laughed, shaking our heads that Mike let us fight with the fire for hours when he had 5 perfectly good lighters hidden away. Then he made us laugh some more.

Along with the lighters, he presented us with other gifts, suitable to our camping weekend. One of us got a log saw and knife, another received two hammers, another got two hatchets, Alex got a splitting wedge, and I got a machete/saw. We stared at these gifts, impressive as they were, and all burst out laughing! "You let us chop wood with that terrible "hatchet" for hours? Hours!? And you had these all this time?" It was hilarious, mischievous, and very memorable.

Since the rain would not let up, we continued the party in the tent, sharing food and snacks. Being the excessive nerds that we are, we began playing Dungeons and Dragons, 5th edition. Jeff was new to the game and so we spent the first night going over the rules and making characters. Not too long into beginning our adventure, everyone decided we should continue the following day. Everyone was really tired.

Cooking over a fire is always a messy but rewarding experience. Even if you're a professional, like me, you still get completely covered in the smell of wood smoke.

It is always funny when you see someone posing for a picture in a manner completely unlike them.
Bacon, eggs, toast, pepperoni, all beautifully cooked over the fire. Jeff even brought a coffee press, surprising us all.

After breakfast, we went back to our D&D game.
James, explaining the rules
Alex and Dom making new characters
My pensive look is the result of me coming up with my character's backstory
It was pretty cold, so most of us were cocooned in sleeping bags, like Dom. 
You may think alcohol was to blame for the blurriness seen here, but it wasn't. Just a bright flash in a small, dark tent.
D&D, friends, and Oreo cookies!
That night, as we all sat around the fire, taking a break from D&D, it started to snow! It was a pretty funny weekend after that point because most of us were both relishing the experience (yeah! Manly men camping in the snow) and also "complaining" about it (wow, it's cold!).

Quite the ominous sight/site

The tents, after we had shaken the snow off of them

Clearing the table
Yours truly
I was fine. I have had camping weekends rained out completely in late May, so I wasn't taking any chances this weekend. I had several sets of clothes, thermal underwear, scarf, mitts and gloves, and a Coleman sleeping bag. Yes, it was cold, but it was also fun. Even in our "complaints", we all had a really good time.

The Sunday of that weekend was my birthday! Deciding that we had had enough of the snow, we packed up our tents and went back to Mike's place. There, we warmed up, cleaned up, and I had the chance to call some loved ones and say hi to them on my birthday. After which, we finished up our D&D adventure!

Between the rain, snow, groomsmen gifts, and D&D, we managed to check out a DJ Mike was considering for his wedding, and also go and get measured for our suits. The DJ was a long-time professional with a lot of connections and experience and I could tell right away that he was perfect for the job. The suit measurements were quite amusing. It was pretty funny to consider all of us men going from camping in the mud, rain, and snow, into a suit store to be measured. Always striving to be prepared, I had brought along good clothes and had changed into them beforehand. The other guys were "mad" at me for showing off, but I have lived long enough to know to always have dress up and dress down clothes.

The Groomsmen weekend was a fantastic experience, full of comradery, good times, and a lot of laughter. There was still a lot of work to be done before the wedding, but I'm glad to have done some of it while camping with my friends.

Thanks for reading!

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