Camping, Then and Now

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The afternoon temperature increased along with my frustration. “Didn’t the service technician say the tongue needed to be raised all the way up before we attach the chains?”

My husband, Herb, turned the crank a few more times. “Yeah, check the list again. I think the sway bars go on next.”

Our dog, Buddy offered no advice as he lay in his crate in the back of the SUV.

Almost an hour later we rolled out of the storage facility lot.  The trailer creaked along behind us.  We constantly checked our side view mirrors to make sure it was still connected to the car. After ten minutes we merged into I-4 traffic, but continued to stay in the right lane. I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, we were on our way to Lake Kissimmee State Park. Our first trip with the Viking trailer, and our first trip with our dog.

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Located fifteen miles east of Lake Wales, the park is nestled between three lakes. We drove into the campground in the late afternoon. Each campsite was walled on three sides by dark green palmettos. Good, I thought, our neighbors won’t see the circus act that is about to begin as we try to park and unhitch the trailer.

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We followed our checklist step by step. The sun was going down by the time the trailer was leveled and ready for habitation. Buddy needed to be walked and fed of course. We put him in his pen by the door of the trailer and transferred our gear from the car. I waited outside with Buddy while Herb drove to the camp store for firewood. Buddy was nervous. He whined when Herb left. I’m sure he was confused and wondered, Why are we here?

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Herb returned and got out of the car. “The camp store closed at five. No fire tonight.”

My initial let down was surpassed by my fatigue. “It’s getting dark, let’s make dinner and relax in the trailer.”

Buddy sniffed out the tiny trailer in ten seconds. He wagged his tail a lot and seemed pleased. We placed his bed under the table for two. He crawled in. What a great location for a beagle.

Relieved that the gas stove worked, I cooked hamburgers for our first meal. We gave thanks for food, safety, and togetherness.

After dinner, we opened the trailer door and looked up. The dark sky revealed the brightest stars we had ever seen.  We took Buddy out for his evening walk and our small flashlight lit the area in front of our feet, but not much further. We took a lap around the campground and chuckled at  folks watching a big screen TV outside. This is camping, circa 2017. As we rounded the bend, ghostly shapes appeared in the middle of the road. People making desperate attempts to receive cell phone signals.

Although the trip primarily focused on “making friends” with our RV, we did some hiking.  Buddy was in his “element” as we hiked four miles on the Gobbler Ridge Trail. Nose to the ground, he loved to track whatever animals may have been in the area.

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We walked through tall grass prairie and shady hammocks to an observation tower. Looking across the prairie we saw some cattle grazing in the distance. I thought about one of my favorite books, A Land Remembered.

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In the book author Patrick D. Smith describes the Florida cracker (cowboy) lifestyle around 1870. The main character, Tobias Maclvey, believed there weren’t enough people or cows in the whole world to fill up the Florida prairie. During this time, wild cattle roamed free until they were rounded up by cowboys and herded to market.  Eventually the crackers bought sections of the prairie and erected fences. They became ranchers and locomotives moved the cattle to market by rail. The cattle industry is still important to Florida today.

Lake Kissimmee State Park brings Florida’s cracker heritage to life with living history demonstrations. An 1870’s “cow camp” is open every weekend from October first to May first.

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The crackers lived a rugged life of survival during a time without air conditioning, refrigeration, and running water. In 2017 are we really camping or just kidding ourselves?

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On Facing Reality

We could have been camping today. If I lean into my imagination I can see the flickering flames of the campfire and taste the toasted marshmallows. Why didn’t it happen?

Reality struck. Have you ever been so blinded by your wants that you lose sight of your needs?  I was absolutely giddy about purchasing the Coachmen Clipper until….

Let me back up a bit.  The Saturday after the RV show my husband and I cleaned the garage to make space to park  our new tent trailer. We live in a townhouse with no yard or driveway. We believed the camper would just fit on one side of the garage with six inches to spare. How clever we are! One of us, can park on the street (probably him.) Now we won’t need to pay for storage. We were all set to pick up the camper later in the week.

Fast forward to Sunday night. A terrible rain storm hit Orlando. Tornados and hail were predicted. My husband realized he better put his car back in the garage. Then he decided he really didn’t want to park on the street permanently.  On Monday, he started to scout around for storage facilities.  He contracted to store the camper nearby.

Friday morning arrived. We dropped our dog off at my mom’s, and drove seventy-five miles to pick up our dream camper.  Only we realized our dream  camper was more of a nightmare.  We endured a three-hour training session of  raising and lowering the canvas top. Both of us were shocked to discover there are twenty steps in that process which must be performed in sequential order. No wonder the technician’s first words were, “Do you guys have any idea how much work goes into owning a tent trailer?”

The canvas top needs regular maintenance. It must be washed every time you use it and completely dry before storing to avoid mildew. That seemed impossible considering our storage situation.  My husband pulled me off to the side. “Do you still want to do this?” he asked.

My stomach started churning.  I felt like a deflated balloon. “I still want to get it, but if you are extremely opposed, I’ll relent.”

“I’m not extremely opposed, but I’m opposed,” He responded.

I need to also mention that while all of this turmoil was going on, his car was being equipped with a hitch and brake controlling device. My stomach was still churning.

Sometimes you have to face facts. How could I continue to insist that we go through with this plan knowing he wasn’t on board?  “Okay,” I said. “Let’s see if they have another vehicle we can buy instead.”

A sales representative showed us a few lightweight hard top trailers.  He tried to cheer us up with a bag of popcorn and some jokes. We came home empty-handed, except for a hitch and a braking device that continually flashes numbers under the dash.

In closing, sometimes the road to adventure includes detours. Take them.

 

 

 

Living with No Regrets

Last week I visited an RV show near Tampa, Florida. The show featured a variety of recreation vehicles, from tent trailers to behemoth fifth wheels.  One of the smallest trailers was the Little Guy pictured above.  It is so tiny an adult would not be able to stand up inside. This trailer is basically a bed on wheels with air conditioning and a TV.

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Every Little Guy camper includes an outdoor cooking area complete with stove, sink, and pull out cooler. An additional screen room can be attached to the bedroom to provide more living space.

My husband and I have never owned a trailer. Although we love to visit national parks, we’ve usually stayed in hotels or lodges. I am the one interested in camping. (A throwback to my childhood in Ohio.) Now that we are both retired, we want to take more trips for longer periods of time.  However, we own a sweet little beagle with special needs. We don’t like to board him for more than two weeks.  My solution is to take the dog with us. So…that’s how we came to be at the RV show.

At the show, we attended a seminar on extended travel in an RV.  The leader of the seminar owns a home in the mid-west, and winters in Florida in his RV. He shared that many retirees actually sell their homes and travel in their motor home permanently. That would explain why someone might want a motor home with more than one bathroom, a washer, dryer, and big screen TV.  The speaker gave tips on managing mail, prescriptions, and banking while on the road. He closed his presentation with a quote from Malcolm Forbes Jr., “Go as soon as you can, as far as you can, for as long as you can.”

Immediately I recalled my word from God for 2017, “Go.” The words of Mr. Forbes resonated with me.  (For details read my blog from post of January ninth.)

Over dinner that night, my husband and I discussed our options. At the show we saw a Coachmen Clipper tent trailer which suited our needs. We wanted something easy to pull, with enough room inside to accommodate our dog.  I especially liked the idea that the canvas top had plenty of windows. Even when I was inside, I felt like I was outside. The Clipper was also very affordable.

Then the what ifs began. What if we don’t like it? What if it doesn’t work out to travel with our dog? How will we store it? Maybe we should limit our trips to no more than two weeks at a time and continue to stay in hotels.

Wait a minute! Isn’t that what we did before we retired? Didn’t we work all year and eagerly anticipate the two weeks out of the year that were truly ours? Enough of that!

I don’t want to regret that I never tried to travel in a camper.

So the next morning we sealed the deal. In two days we pick up our new camper. I can’t wait until we will take off for our first destination. Our little beagle doesn’t have a clue what adventures await him.  Tune in during February for more posts about our experiences in the great outdoors.

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Being

 

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Have you ever visited a place you could never forget? For me that place is Long Key State Park.  Located in the Florida Keys,  Long Key is a great place for being. When I say being, I mean a time to live in the moment. It’s an experience marked by feeling more closely connected to the natural world.  When our activities slow from a sprint to a crawl, we can better appreciate all of creation.

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Last October we rented a small RV from Cruise America and spent a few days in Long Key State Park. There, every campsite is oceanfront property. The rhythm of the waves is a constant soundtrack. Gentle sea breezes keep mosquitos away.  Most of the sites are lined with trees to afford privacy from neighbors.  Something amazing happens when you park an RV, get out comfortable camp chairs, and sit down facing the ocean. You don’t want to leave.

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When asked,  “What did you do while you were there?” I responded, “Nothing, and it was the best nothing of my life.” I loved to sit and watch the birds at low tide while they pecked among natural debris to find food. When they flew  away I watched a lone ant marching in the sand. Maybe he was a scout for the rest of the colony.  In the evening I saw the soft glow of moonlight reflect upon the surface of the water. The next morning the sky was ablaze of color as the sun rose above the horizon.   I realized that all of this nothing really was something. The world was full of life but I was always  too busy to notice.  I grew to appreciate the little things.

 

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So why did I need to go all the way to the Florida Keys to be?  That’s definitely food for thought.  For me, being requires several days of low activity and uninterrupted time in the outdoors.  If those conditions are met in a different location so be it. Camping in one place for several days definitely lends itself to being.  As I write this I am saddened to realize my one experience of living in the moment happened almost a year ago.  How ironic to make doing nothing my new goal.

Being is a state of rest that we rarely experience. According to the book of Genesis, after God created the earth, he rested on the seventh day.  I like to imagine God in a state of being. On His day of rest, God saw everything He had made, and said, “It is good.”

When have you experienced being? Leave a comment and tell me about it. Let’s support each other in being more and doing less.

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Chasing Memories

 

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Mohican State Forest in Ohio

Camping holds fond childhood memories for me. Our family spent many weekends tent camping in Ohio’s Mohican State Forest. Mom worked most of the day on Friday packing everything we needed. She planned the menu and packed the food, cooking utensils, and camp stove. Dad came home from work at five and we took off.

Once we arrived at our campsite, everybody had a job to do. My little brothers gathered kindling. Dad set up the tent and built the campfire. I carried water and helped wash the dishes. We used tin plates, bowls, and metal silverware, no paper plates or plastic ware for us! Looking back, Mom had the most work to do. Mom was always getting things in and out of the car to prepare meals.

At night we sat near the campfire, roasted marshmallows and told stories. When the fire died down, my brothers and I  crawled into the tent.  We told jokes and giggled until Dad demanded quiet.  Our parents lingered by the glowing embers, and the soft sound of their voices lulled us to sleep. The next morning the tantalizing smell of bacon and eggs prompted me to get out of my sleeping bag and hurry to breakfast.

We took a lot of walks through the campground by the river. Dad  loved to check out other people’s campsites to see what kind of tents or trailers they were using. He dreamed about an upgrade. Eventually he bought a small thirteen foot trailer that we took to the Smoky Mountains.

I’ve tried to get my husband and our children to share my love of camping. Our experiences have been memorable too, but only because they were disasters permanently etched into our minds. We live in Florida, and tent camping in the summer has its challenges. Last August my adult daughter and I spent a weekend camping at Sebastian Inlet State Park.

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Our humble tent in the shadow of an RV at Sebastian Inlet.

The first night was great. We wrapped tilapia and vegetables in foil and roasted our meal in the coals of the fire. A cool breeze kept us comfortable. On Saturday afternoon a horrendous storm forced us to take shelter in the car. Water flooded the floor of the tent.  When the rain slowed to a drizzle, we grabbed our bedding and stuffed it in the back of the car. About an hour later, we laid our felt covered air mattress out to dry in the late afternoon sun. The breeze disappeared and the temperature rose. Wiping the sweat from my forehead,  I discovered our firewood was wet. How would we cook our bean burritos? One of our neighbors came to the rescue  by giving us some special fire starters which ignited the wood.  After dinner I read the warning label on the fire starters, “Do not use for cooking.” Maybe that’s why the burritos tasted weird.  Exhausted from battling the heat and storms, we retreated to our tent after sunset, only to be attacked by sand fleas! My daughter was nursing flea bites for a week afterwards.

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Wandering bison,            Yellowstone

 

When our children were younger, my husband and I took them camping out of state. During a trip to Yellowstone we were apprehensive about our decision to camp after a park ranger told us a herd of bison stampeded through the campground the night before. Contrary to the safety and warmth I experienced as a child, our night in Yellowstone was a night of terror when we heard a bison snort just outside our tent. To our surprise it snowed that night. My husband got up early and built a campfire, but the kids and I refused to shed what little warmth was afforded by our sleeping bags. Maybe our situation would have improved if we had brought bacon for breakfast.

This year my husband and I planned a trip to Canada. We reserved an oTENTik in Fundy National Park, New Brunswick. The park website displayed a photo of a structure with cabin-like walls and a canvas roof. The website suggested we bring sleeping bags, food, cooking utensils, and a cooler. Although there was no cooking permitted in the oTENTik, we could cook in a community kitchen nearby. Since we were flying, we packed our sleeping bags in a suitcase, along with packets of dehydrated lasagna, and a small pan to boil water.

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Our oTENTik

 

When we arrived at Fundy, the oTENTik was clean, equipped with bunk beds, a gas heater, table, and chairs. We walked over to the community kitchen and discovered we needed to build a fire in a wood burning stove to cook.  During the previous week we slept in hotels and dined on delicious Canadian seafood. We had no firewood and forgot to bring matches.  Did we really want to go buy those things to cook freeze-dried lasagna? The town of Alma was only a five minute drive away. So we drove into town, picked up a pizza, and brought it back to our campsite. We really lived off the land. Modern conveniences have weakened my  pioneer spirit. I want to enjoy living in the great outdoors without doing all the work. My experiences with camping as an adult gave me a new sense of appreciation for my parents.

Did I already mention Dad eventually bought a trailer?