Adventures in Laundry

I was a camper at Camp Stephens every year from the beginning of eligibility at age 9 in 1964 until I aged out in the ’70s. I think I was an Intermediate in 1966 or 1967 when I heard the definition of “mung” from Jeff C. I think he was one of the canoe program trippers at the time and he and some other miscellaneous camp staff were in one of the old white cabins on the cabin line just before Neoniskos. I was in that cabin a lot because as a camper, I gave massages/back rubs to the various canoe staff on many afternoons, partly as a means of escaping the mandatory siesta time in the cabin. Jeff’s description of mung was quite gross and had nothing to do with the bean. The polite version is that mung was some sort of biological material that had gone far more than rancid, and graphic descriptions involved decomposition, ooze and an obnoxious array of really awful odours. A slightly nastier version was called mungus, and was embellished with mold or fungus. Several jokes and examples were provided involving dead animals and some squished food item on the bottom of a pack at the end of a canoe trip.

That year, I was in a cabin with Jim H, Hume M, and 5 other campers (who’s names escape me). Hume was, shall we say, not quite organized with his laundry, right from day one of camp. A few days into camp, he had already accumulated a small pile of laundry that showed up on the cabin floor, and for some reason, was not picked up or processed appropriately like everybody else’s. We had a bit of wet weather and Hume did not like to be wet. He repeatedly changed into dry clothes and left the wet ones to somehow get dry in that pile on the floor. I remember Jim and I needled him a bit after a couple of days since a bit of mildew had started to set in and the aromas were not friendly. We referred to the pile as “Hume’s mung” or “Hume’s pile O mungus” after noting that it continued to grow and continued to be really gross. Somehow, adding fresh (but wet) clothes to the top of the pile seemed to subdue the odours a bit and Hume managed to get away without picking up the mess. Methinks there was some kind of favoritism from the counselor. Right about the time the pile of laundry would have reached critical mass and been cleaned up, our cabin went out on trail for a few days. The pile remained in the cabin, waiting for our return. … which we eventually did, about 6 days later.

It was awful! Jim and I harangued Hume immediately, referring (naturally) to Hume’s mungus by name. The entire cabin joined in. Hume’s great pile O’ mungus came to life and got a lot of attention very quickly. Neighbouring cabins heard about it and everybody developed stories, which changed, expanded and morphed as the last week of camp went on. A lot of the tales involved the pile getting more and more toxic; some stories involved the pile getting bigger and bigger and eventually overtaking the island, the lake, and the planet. Some suggested using it as a weapon of war. Never mind the Geneva convention. Somewhere along the line, the pronunciation of mungus changed from soft “G” (rhymes with “brung us”) to hard “G” (rhymes with “brung Gus”). The phrase “hume mungus” became the word “humongous”, used as a synonym for something large, threatening and foreboding, along the lines of Godzilla’s arrival on the next supply boat from Kenora. Camp was a place where campfire stories involved chainsaws, serial murderers and death in the woods. Hume’s mungus fit right in, and the stories of the hermit miner and “the green hand” were left in the dust. Counselors and camp leaders used the word as part of the nightly camp fire entertainment. We had a lot of fun with this and a few days later, went home for the summer. I don’t recall what happened to the laundry.

The next year upon return to camp, Jim and I ended up in the same cabin again (I don’t think Hume was there at the same time). We were surprised to hear “humongous” as a term used in frequent conversation amongst fellow campers and counselors. The campfire style stories continued, with Hume’s laundry a long forgotten feature of the tales. Nobody seemed to know the origin of the magic word, but everyone enjoyed using it, and propagated it as a feature of every camp tale.

Sometime that fall or winter, I was at home listening to a Winnipeg radio station and heard the lady being interviewed say that something was “humongous”. I smiled quietly to myself, thinking that perhaps she knew someone that I knew from camp.

Then I heard it on a national show on CBC television. I heard it several times over the next year or two in other places from people disconnected from camp. Hmm, my acquaintances from camp travel a bit.

A couple of years later, I was watching Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show, and he said that something was “humongous” in one of his punchlines in his opening monologue. I thought “Oh. My. We’ve created a monster.” The word was out, so to speak. At that point, I realized how far this thing had gone.

Over the years, I have heard ‘humongous’ used many times by many people. I live in the USA now, a long way from camp. For a few years, every time someone said “humongous” around me, I used to say something along the line of “Hey, I was one of the guys that invented that word!” The replies were always similar to “ummm yeah whatever” or “yeah and I’m the King of France”. I don’t interject that way any more, but I’m still amused and think of the wet pile of laundry in the cabin every time I hear it. Two weeks ago, I heard my mother in law (from Florida) say “The Word”. I didn’t say anything but I think I laughed out loud. The conversation continued unabated as I smiled quietly to myself.

I’ve lost touch with most camp friends, but think of my camp days often. At least, every time I hear somebody say that something is humongous. I also wonder now if Hume does his own laundry.

Day 24

Sat 2013/08/03

Daily mileage: 9.34 Segment 206.8 Total 709.0

Route: Ride the bike from the hotel to the Memphis bus station, Greyhound bus back to the car.

My free ride didn’t work out, so my ‘back to the car’ option is Greyhound bus from Memphis to Fordyce, AR.  It turns out that the bus from Memphis to Fordyce leaves at 03:05 a.m.  Hotel checkout is 11:00 a.m.  I probably should have just travelled from the I-55 bridge crossing to the bus station and not checked into the hotel.  I was told that the bus station was on Main Street in the Northern part of downtown Memphis.  Research on the web gave me departure times and the updated address, near the airport.  I got my bike and gear together, checked out of the hotel, and rode to the Greyhound station on Airways Blvd. Right when I rolled out of the hotel property, it started to rain.  I didn’t need to be in any hurry, but I went straight from the hotel to the bus station.  I bought a ticket, and was told that my bike needed to be in a box; the shipping department around the corner would help me.  I had all the time in the world, so I took my time and packaged the bike as well as I could with the resources available from the shipping department – a box for $10 and all the packing tape I could handle.  At least I wouldn’t have to worry about the driver rejecting me or my bike after waiting all day for the dang bus.

I then waited in the bus station for 14.5 hours until my bus arrived at 03:05 a.m.  I was a bit taken aback at the slice of society that I observed in the bus station.  The station was never empty but yet never really all that crowded, as buses arrived and departed from various destinations.  I figured that I might be able to catch an earlier bus to Little Rock, where I had to change buses anyway, and do some of my wait time there instead of Memphis, but the few buses going there were all full or nearly full.  I ended up waiting the full time in Memphis.  My bus arrived about 30 minutes late, departed almost full about 60 minutes late, and I was concerned that after waiting the majority of the hours in a day, I might miss one of my connections in Little Rock and/or Malvern.  But connections were there and the SCAT bus in Malvern was waiting for us.  It was a 12 passenger bus with 7 of us on board.  I was tired, and hadn’t slept, but I somewhat enjoyed the trip back to Fordyce on the roller coaster road.  The bus driver dropped me about a half mile from where the car was and I had all gear loaded in the car about 10:30 after some creative cargo movement.  I had breakfast at the hotel restaurant and I was on my way.  The trip was done.

More later…

Day 23

Fri 2013/08/02

Daily mileage: 8.78 Segment 197.4 Total 699.5

Route: West Memphis to Memphis TN (Super 8 at Crump Park).  Today’s mileage is a lot lower than average; I was unsuccessful in stopping earlier yesterday, but I wanted to allocate a lot of time for today since I had to find the route across the Mississippi River.  It is not straightforward.

I left West Memphis about 11:20, and headed to the river crossing route I scoped out the week earlier.  I was here in my car about a week earlier, and spent about 8 hours finding the bicycle route to the I-55 bridge.  I only have the bike today; hopefully it will be a lot simpler today.

I am hurting from the saddle sores, but I pushed through it all and survived.  The previously locked red gate was unlocked and open.  I stopped for a break after the gravel road/paved road change, stopped at the BASF factory, told them about the mislabelled MRT sign.  They were friendly and happy to get the info this time.

The time I spent last week was quite worthwhile.  I was quite relieved that I was able to find my way to the I-55 bridge without any trouble. Crossing the bridge was no problem.  I pushed the bike through the grass, up the embankment and for about 50 feet after the concrete bridge walkway started, and was able to ride all the way across the bridge, arriving in E.H. Crump Park on the Memphis, Tennessee side.  When I visited by car the previous week, the bridge railing did not look that high and I thought that I might have to walk the bike across the bridge, but I was able to ride the bike all  the way without any confidence problems or vertigo.  The side clearance changed every 15 feet or so due to the bridge structure, and I did not hit anything in passing.  On the other side, I rolled down the grass embankment, across the park’s parking lot into the hotel parking lot without getting off my bike.  This was much easier than I had thought it would be.  I was quite amazed at the amount of shaking and vibration on the bridge.  I somewhat expected a little seismic activity from all of the heavy trucks, but even passenger cars made it shake.  The bridge is quite old and I don’t see how it stays together like that.  I suppose that it is appropriate that the bridge to Memphis has a “whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on”.  Sorry Elvis.

Well, I made it to Memphis.

Day 22

Thu 2013/08/01

Daily mileage 41.05 Trip 188.7 Total 690.75

Route: Forrest City to West Memphis AR (Quality Inn).

I was fighting a fairly strong cross wind all day (8 to 10 o’clock).  I was well rested but got exhausted early for some reason.  I went about 8+ miles before my first break.  After a cloudy start, the sun came out, and I struggled the rest of the day.  I had numerous

I missed out on breakfast, couldn’t find a restaurant or otherwise reasonable place to eat until about 13:00, when I stopped at a gas station in Shell Lake.  There were friendly people at every stop I made.  Before the gas station lunch, I stopped at a house under construction, and owners/builders gave me an iced bottle of water topped off with some nice conversation.

The lunch (I suppose it was really breakfast) rejuvenated me and I was able to make it to West Memphis without any issues.  I thought I would run into a hotel (any hotel!) before making it to town, but the nearest one was more than half way through the city at an I-55 exit.  I spent a little time trying to figure out how to get to it without interacting with freeway speed vehicles, and I made it to the Quality Inn by crossing an old overgrown parking lot.  The nearest restaurant was a Cracker Barrel that I had to get to by walking along freeway access road about a half mile.  Challenging route, good meal after a tough day.  I had some serious saddle sores in Djibouti, soothed a bit in the hotel pool.

Day 21

Wed 2013/07/31

Daily mileage 42.47 Segment 147.6 Total 649.7

Route: Clarendon to Forrest City AR (Save Inn).

Weather forecast: 40% chance of rain (“scattered showers”).  It seems to have rained overnight (I slept through it).  It was cloudy in the morning but no rain following departure.  More importantly, I had a tail wind almost all day!!  After about 10:30, the clouds cleared, and it got very hot and humid.  I started having breaks every ~5 miles after the heat/humidity showed up (Brinkley & East).

I didn’t have breakfast at the gas station or diner next to the motel, and just started riding, anticipating that there would be somewhere to eat before I got through town.  There wasn’t, and I ended up not eating anything until I arrived in Brinkley about 10:45, and had an early lunch.

I was pretty tired when I rolled into the Save Inn in Forrest City.  The hotel was under some renovation, and my room was not stellar, but the price was reasonable.  Again, I soak my saddle sores in the shower.  After recovering from the ride, I walk about 2 miles (round trip) and have dinner at a Mexican restaurant nearby.  This is not a good part of town but the restaurant is a bright spot in the neighborhood.

Day 20

Tue 2013/07/30

Daily mileage 22.41 Segment 105.1 Total 607.2

Route: Stuttgart to Clarendon AR (A&J Motel).

There is possible rain in the forecast, but I saw nothing but a slight sprinkle in the early afternoon.  The temperature was a little more bearable, so I suppose that means that I had no weather issues today.

The major challenge for today is the bridge just before Clarendon over the White River.  I drove this by car the week before, and my recollection was that it was a 2 mile bridge with no shoulder, no breaks.

I left Stuttgart at 09:00, and found myself pedalling steadily for a mostly uneventful ride.  With cycling, teenagers and explosives, boring is good.

When I approached the dreaded bridge, I discovered that there is a new bridge under construction just before old bridge.  I pedalled about a half mile into the construction zone, and determined that there was no way to cross with my bike.  I talked to a construction worker, who said that it will take another 2 years for the new bridge to be completed.  I ride back to the dreaded 2 mile bridge, and discover that it is actually about a 0.5 mile bridge, separated by berm with narrow shoulder for 0.5 miles, then another 1+ mile bridge.  This is not outstanding, but at least I was able to have a break to recover a bit and let traffic clear before the sprint across each bridge.  Four cars passed on the first segment, 4 trucks (1 18 wheeler) on the second segment going up the main slope to river crossing.  I survived!

I stayed at the A&J Motel in Clarendon, taking the last room and paying for a double bed.  I would have been in a little trouble if the room was not available.  The hotel was fairly old but in reasonably good shape, run by a friendly lady.

I had a late lunch at a nice diner around the corner from the hotel, and a fried chicken dinner later on from Valero gas station next door.

My saddle sores have gotten worse, and I know will cause problems tomorrow.

Day 19

Mon 2013/07/29

Daily mileage 34.95 Segment 82.66 Total 584.8

Route: Pine Bluff to Stuttgart AR (Best Western).

The forecast called for 92 deg temperatures, with a South wind.  It was very hot, with the wind from 2 to 4 O’clock all trip – the same as yesterday.

Again, I had a nap at about the half way point (Wabbaseka), in a city park.

There were more friendly people in a gas station where I had lunch and filled up with water in Humphrey.

The saddle sores are starting again.  I had a well worn seat pad, which I replaced just before this trip segment.  I’m not sure if that has changed anything, but I’m getting quite sore a lot sooner than I think I should be.  A long shower in the hotel helped a little, but unfortunately not enough.

Stuttgart is a nice little town, but there are no dinner places open in the evening.  Everything seems to close at 17:00 or so, and I walked probably 5 miles to figure that out.  I had 6 wings from a nearby Valero gas station.