Part I The Westie Chariot
What’s a girl to do? I had already proven a dismal failure on the golf course, so when Beloved Husband suggested we take up camping, I put on my game face and off we went on a new adventure.
We set off on our maiden voyage in Rocinante, named after John Steinbeck’s camper in “Travels With Charley,” one of my favorite books. If it’s good enough for Steinbeck, it’s good enough for us.
Let’s just say I wasn’t a happy camper. Our big mistake was to go to a very large and extremely popular “resort” campground down in Virginia’s river region. Oy vey.
Uniformed parking attendants met us at the entrance and led us to our campsite which was in a row of other sites in an open field. We were packed in like metallic white sardines with one ironically-named camper (Prowler, Wilderness, Adventurer, Conquest, Nomad) on top of the next. All you could hear was the roar of your neighbors’ air conditioners, their dogs, their kids, their radios…..and when I stepped outside, I could reach out and touch the two campers nearest us. I struggled to keep a stiff upper lip, but there was just no way I was leaving the comforts of home again to spend a weekend like this.
The idea of getting out and hiking? Fuhgeddabout it, this campground provided golf carts for transportation. Heaven forbid one should actually experience nature while camping. We did walk – on searing asphalt streets – with golf carts whirring past at top speed loaded down with people returning from the camp store.
Thank the heavens above for two things: BH hated it as much as I did AND we discovered the Virginia State Park system. Talk about a chasm in camping experiences. We breathed a huge sigh of relief that Rocinante was not going to be sold before the new-camper smell wore off.
State parks are where we should have started to begin with. There are miles of hiking trails which is our big love. Parks have lakes, boating, kayaking, ranger talks, museums, nature exhibits not to mention the incredible scenic beauty of Virginia. And best of all, private wooded campsites!
Turnabout being fair play, in the state parks you meet the real campers – the tenters – who look at us as disdainfully in our comfortable campers as we look at the resort campers. “Huh! You call THAT camping?”
On our most recent trip we went to Stone Mountain State Park in western North Carolina to meet up with Beloved Husband’s brother and his wife who are also avid campers.
Something troubling us this year was what to do with old man Berkley, our fourteen-year-old Westie. He just can’t do the hikes anymore, try as he may. BH to the rescue. He retrofitted one of those baby joggers, we piled old Berkley into it and off we went to hit the trails.
We were in no danger of encountering golf carts on the trails up to the great stone dome, but we did get a few looks from other hikers when they saw the Westie Chariot. Hey, people, we take care of the geriatric around here!
Part II The Cosmic Firehose
In the evenings we devour a well-deserved dinner. What is it about food eaten outside that it tastes so much better? On this trip we had just settled in for a huddle around the campfire when we heard some people in the distance racing back to their camper. And all of a sudden the heavens just opened.
During the torrent I texted this photo to a friend with a one-word message: “Rain.” She replied in seconds: “No. Cosmic Firehose.” Yup.
Part III Mayberry
The state parks are often nestled in remote locations near reservoirs or in mountain valleys. Neighboring small towns are fascinating and vaguely sad in their economic decline. We love to patronize the authentic little hamlets still clinging to life in this homogenized world of franchise restaurants and big box stores. Elkin, North Carolina is one of those small southern towns with a Mayberry, RFD feel to it and a faded charm.
Main Street feels like a relic as too many do nowadays. So many storefronts are closed and the businesses that are there seem almost incidental - two or three antiques stores, a hardware store, and a few others. This charming little place caught our eye with its “Fountain Service” sign. In we went and what a step back in time!
Built in 1923, this structure held a pharmacy on the first floor and the town hospital on the second. Can you imagine? In 1924 they added the booths and the soda fountain service. The booths are still there in all their Art Deco glory and are tiny little things….reminding us that people were smaller then. And the best part? The booths have almost 100 years of initials carved into them.
We felt it our civic duty to order chocolate malts. Aaaah, now I’m a happy camper. And I know all this because of the abundant Southern hospitality and friendliness of the establishment’s owner. I could have sat all day just listening to her soft North Carolina accent, y’all.
Next we headed to the neighboring hardware store to see what treasures might be waiting for us. We were not disappointed.
We have yet to head out for more than a 3-day trip in Rocinante, but someday we plan to be real road warriors and do a week or two. Stay tuned.
And we really do have such a beautiful country.
And thanks for reading,
The Happy Camper