Comfort and Grapefruit

IMG_20180512_210624.jpgThere are airbeds everywhere.

I’m in the throws of packing for a particularly ambitious three-week camping trip out West, a whirlwind tour of National Parks and wayward children.

It is May. The camping gear emerges slowly from its slumber, and with each unearthing, there is fear and trepidation. For you never know what you’ll find…

  • A few years ago we brought out our Boundary Waters gear to find that a colony of ten thousand ants had immigrated into the warmth of our bins with their booty of ten thousand eggs.
  • Once or twice we’ve opened the gear trailer to find fortunately placed dishpans catching a sinister deluge through the leaking roof.
  • Often there will be found some rueful item, whose batteries were not removed before overwintering, now simmering in a toxic sludge of battery acid.
  • One fateful year, we learned the hard way that our brand new BW pillows are actually giant sponges, eager to soak up every ounce of humidity in a springtime shed, and then utilize that humidity as the ultimate medium for mold growth trials.
  • Every now and again we are faced with even more of our own neglect, setting up tents that are still missing poles from last year’s run-ins with the wind.
A loser.

You never know what the first springtime packing might bring you. But every year there is one constant. There will be at least one miserable, failed airbed. Sometimes three.


As previously mentioned, we are not lightweight campers. With the exception of two or three years’ tax returns worth of lightweight gear that shuttles us into and out of the Boundary Waters each year, we are car campers. We travel like nomads with gear fetishes.

And even IN the Boundary Waters, there is one area that we patently refuse to scrimp on:

A winner.

Enter the Coleman Queen-Sized Airbed. For no matter how rugged we wish to be, we will never be without the Coleman Queen-Sized Airbed.


Into the wilderness, you ask? Questions abound. Allow me to head them off.

Indeed, this does mean that we pack a large piston-pump with us into the wilderness. Also Coleman. The Dual Action Quickpump, if you must know. Indeed, this does mean that we churn out just as much sweat preparing our sleeping quarters each night as we did paddling and portaging across miles of heaven. It is arguably more sweat than it is worth to pump that bad boy up, but we lug it and chug it anyway. Because what is the alternative? I say again, we will never be without the Coleman Queen-Sized Airbed. * In a pinch, we could paddle that beast of a bed right out of the wilds, any busted-up canoe shamefully in tow.

Normally the discovery of the bad airbed is left for the first night of camping on any given year. The Boundary Waters trip comes later in the summer, and by then we’ve got a few nights under the stars to prove which of our fleet of mattresses is still holding its own. Besides, there is always another candidate in the trailer ready to be tagged in, in the event of vinyl failure. **

But this year, there will be no trailer. There will be no extra gear or backup plan. The minivan will be loaded down far beyond its safe carrying capacity, the rear air shocks will be inflated to their furthest extent (‘100psi should be safe,’ says Nate the Great, our beloved mechanic), and we will be flying as lightly as possible, safety nets be damned. We’ll fit far-too-many miles and far-too-many nights on the road into that van, and there is no room for an arsenal of airbeds.

Which is why the the fourth air mattress of the year is now gracing our living room, strutting it’s stuff. Fourth because:

Number one leaked like a sieve. In an effort to shame Coleman into better workmanship and customer service practices, I will tell you here and now that this bed came out of the box just last year. There is not even a hint of mosquito blood tainting its flocked service. As a home-grown professional on the subject, I regret to inform you that Coleman is going downhill. Every year the vinyl is thinner, the seam glue weaker, the very mattress thickness shrinking like a bad budget. But still, here we are. Because what is the alternative? We will never be without the Coleman Queen-Sized Airbed.

Number two, it was quickly recognized, was the latest victim of baffle blowout, a tragic herniation of the internal tensioning architecture, resulting in what may be akin to sleeping on a grapefruit. We’ve played this game before. It will not be revisited.

Number three. Well, that’s not fair. Number three has been leaking for years. It’s the official beach bed, whereon the cool kids play King of the Mattress out past the bouys. But it still made it’s way in for inspection, despite it’s sharpied warnings.

And number four, the final candidate before hitting the big box store: Well, number four appears to be a winner. I think she’s circa 2013, apparently a good vintage for Coleman. She’s got an extra inch of clearance against any ground irregularities, she appears to hold air, which is more than I can say for last year’s model, and she’s almost structurally intact. There is one small area of baffle blowout, but it is near the center, and my loving husband holds that he is no princess that this pea will get in his way. We’ll take this antique on the road.

If you need me I’ll be looking for an Oregon Walmart at midnight,

* Yes, there is a powered pump that is employed whenever we have an apt power source, like a car. But when your only power source is your fierce set of six-pack abs, you use what you’ve got. In the Boundary Waters we bring to bear the full force of our combined two-pack.

** It should be noted that this plan is not always successful. Not-so-distant memory holds a particularly miserable BW trip in which there was, like clockwork, a furious 1am pumping session in tent number one. The neighboring children on their thin roll-up mats drew sick satisfaction from the sounds of their grunting parents each evening, cursing the plastic gods. 

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