Adventures in Rocinante (or How I Learned to Love Camping)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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!

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Voted “Best in the Nation”, Virginia’s State Park system

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?” 

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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. 

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“Now what are they up to?”

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Chariot can either be pushed or towed on a bike.

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!

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Now THIS is getting away from it all. Can you imagine this view in fall?

 

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As usual I am the laggard huffing and puffing behind the menfolk.

 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.

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Little do these two know that in five minutes, they’ll be hightailing it under the awning in a torrential downpour. And don’t they look excited to have their picture taken?

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This is what Southerners call a “frog choker.”

During the torrent I texted this photo to a friend with a one-word message: “Rain.” She replied in seconds: “No. Cosmic Firehose.” Yup.

 

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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.

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For Lease. I mourn the loss of our downtowns.

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Mural of Stone Mountain

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!

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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.

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Floors and booths circa 1924

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How many high school sweethearts sat in these booths, I wonder.

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.

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Everything AND the kitchen sink.

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Ken even has a phaser gun. See what you discover when you get off the beaten track?

 

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I need these like a hole in the head but I’m kicking myself for not buying these circa 1950 iced tea glasses. Dash it.

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.

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 And thanks for reading,

The Happy Camper

 

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About Silver in the Barn

Life in a 1915 farmhouse in Central Virginia. Blogging about whatever happens to catch my fancy - sometimes nonsense, occasionally not.
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60 Responses to Adventures in Rocinante (or How I Learned to Love Camping)

  1. I love this!! Your westie chariot had me laughing out loud (literally – my cat thinks I’m nuts! But then, she didn’t see the picture. She would have laughed too! Ha!) And I hear you about the deaths of the downtowns. It is such a shame. Over here the little places stay in use because we have so little land we can’t afford to send properties to the trash heap. It is a sad fact that we tend to waste what we have in abundance, and America is abundant with little empty main streets, more’s the pity. And as for the picture of BH and his bro, I could have cut and paste those expressions from my own hubby’s face every time he sees the camera. Men. Such spoilsports. I keep teling mine that I’m taking pictures to remind him (in a couple years when he is a grumpy old fart) of what fun he had in his life. He seems unconvinced.

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    • Yes, every time I pick up the camera (phone) I know BH is thinking “that damn blog of hers!”

      It is the waste that bothers me so much in the decline of our small towns and the loss of the personal touch. I love walking into a store where the owner knows me and greets me. Hopelessly old-fashioned, I know.

      Somehow I think your cat must hear laughing out loud quite regularly!!

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      • She does, poor thing… haha! I never did learn to laugh quietly. 😀 And I have to say – nothing wrong with old fashioned in my books! I’m getting more antique by the day and I kind of like it this way.

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  2. Mary Ellen says:

    Very cool! Love the Mayberry RFD town with the booths and hardware store!

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    • Well, of course you loved the Mayberry part of this because you live in one – Michigan-style. I love that Alma is still thriving – although without the college, I wonder if it would be like Elkin.

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  3. Sue Mayo says:

    A/C and indoor plumbing is the only way to go.

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  4. You’re a gutsy traveller! And I love that your Hubby rigged a ride up for your pup. He must be a great guy! (And I’m a fan of hardware stores too. You find the greatest things.)

    Caroline

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    • Hello Caroline! Hubby is a great guy and I’ll tell you another reason which you, of all people, will appreciate. He now brings along on our camping trips something to use for digging out plants because of how often I’ve found things I want to bring home (iris growing in an abandoned cemetery, for instance.)

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  5. nrhatch says:

    When we lived in North Carolina, we did lots of camping in WOODED campgrounds in the mountains, enjoying day hikes to waterfalls and mountain tops. We never enjoyed camping in large fields where we could see and hear our neighbors.

    Hope you’ll have a chance to head back to Stone Mountain in the fall ~ and to go back and buy those iced tea glasses.

    Glad you figured out a way to take your 14-year-old with you.

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  6. kristieinbc says:

    Your Westie chariot is wonderful! And I’m so glad you discovered there is something other than those horrid RV parks to camp in. The pictures from the stone dome are beautiful. What a view!

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    • I’m happy you like the Westie Chariot. What do they say about necessity and the mother of invention? Oh yes, if we had not gone the way of state parks, our career in camping would have come to an abrupt end! Thanks for reading and commenting, Kristie.

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  7. Diane Ahlberg says:

    I love this post !
    Isn’t it amazing what you find when you are not looking. We do have a beautiful country that few get to see, we in Virginia are lucky we can go from the sunny beaches to the mountains in a day. How sad you have seen so many downtowns be left to ruin- brings me to the posts in FB Abandoned in Virginia that just make me wonder of all the laughter that once those old walls heard.
    Thanks Barb

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    • Thanks so much, Di. When you get off the highways and drive the back roads, it really is depressing. So much left to abandonment and decay and then you drive past the big boxes and can’t find a parking space. It worries me a lot!

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  8. dorothy says:

    1. I want to be your dog and ride in a chariot. 2. You need to have those tea glasses shipped to u right away. 3. Drug store was such a walk back in time as I grew up sitting in one of those having milk shakes , homemade pimento cheese sandwiches or grilled cheese sandwiches with great conversations about the next move in our lives.This was a great blog my friend..so refreshing to see that country roads are stillbeing travelled and people experiencing the wonders of what used to be…4. You could be my picker for my antique booth.

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    • Ha! So glad you approve, Dorothy Jane. You know I thought of you when I was picking through stuff in that sweet old southern town for two reasons: obviously your antiques booth but also Kenbridge. You would have loved the proprietress of the soda shop – she was an excellent story teller as most of you Southern belles are.

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  9. ritaroberts says:

    Fantastic post here Barbara ! I LOVE THE WESTIE CHARIOT. As a matter of fact we used to do a lot of camping when we were involved with the Re enactors Societies so we didn’t really have to suffer those crowded sites where dogs barked and radio’s blared away constantly. The countryside drives around the whole of Britain was always a pleasure and I must say we miss the camping life and the Re enactors whom we met up with every year. Thanks for sharing your journey and superb photo’s especially of the antique booths and shops. Did you treat yourself ?

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    • Hi Rita, I did NOT buy a thing except the chocolate malt. Still looking over my shoulder, though, at those tea glasses. I had a feeling you would like the Westie Chariot!!! What did you Reenact? We have them all over this area doing Civil War battles….can’t quite guess what yours were doing?

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      • ritaroberts says:

        Hi Barbara, Well ! I used to produce sauces from Original Roman and Medieval recipes. There is usually an historical traders market at these venues where we sold our product and got to dress as either Romans or if a Medieval period we were in Medieval costume . Other than that our sauces sold at all museums and historical houses in England. The fun began when the daily business was closed and we all got together chatting about the days re enactment. We were at some of the Civil War venues and if you check out my blog you will see some photos from re enactor days. Re-Color photo’s from my book.
        Thanks for your lovely posts I really enjoy reading them. Forgot to say Love the photo of your Westie in the back of your car.

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      • Rita, you are one surprise after another. I read somewhere that Worcestershire sauce is somehow related to an ancient Roman recipe? True? What a life you lead!!! And thanks for your many kind comments about my blog. The feeling is reciprocated.

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  10. Dianna says:

    Love this post! And I love the Westie Chariot; perfect!

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  11. I am not allowing the dogs to see the Westie Chariot…they would all want one – including the Alsatian.

    You found some beautiful country…but it was the town that took my eye and heart…I miss the little towns of my childhood and youth, with individual shops where you were known….and I covet those glasses! We had something like them – in orange and green if i remember, bought at Woolworth!

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    • Let me make the shrewd observation that you say nothing of Monty. Am I to believe that a Sheep Chariot is in the offing?

      Yes, small towns and their gradual demise make me very sad. We lose so much when we abandon them but on the bright side there are signs, here and there, of the younger generation coming back into town and trying to starting new ventures. I’m all for it. Good old Woolworth’s!!

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  12. dorannrule says:

    What a fabulous camping trip! I especially love the Westie Chariot! And the rain. And the old downtowns. And your treks and beautiful scenery. Well, you get the idea. I thoroughly enjoyed your post. It brought back memories of our own adventures in a pup tent! 🙂

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  13. M-R says:

    Absolutely brilliant ! – from the total horror of the organized camp to the carry-your-dawg appliance. I’m gobsmacked ! Total enjoyment, from start to finish. 🙂

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  14. If you don’t get back to Elkins to get those iced tea glasses, I’m going to get them for myself. So glad you didn’t sell Rocinante before discovering how to make it a partner in your adventures. Looking forward to reading more about them.

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  15. Ha, the audacity to name a camper “Rocinante!” That’s like trying to sell a “Nova” in a Spanish speaking country (No va – means it doesn’t run!). Rocinante or Rosinante was Don Quixote’s horse and now is the synonym for a broken down horse. But I see that despite its infamous name, the camper was not the focus of your disappointment 🙂
    Do you know about Lake Moomaw in Bath County? Gorgeous place, clean green swimming lake (also miles of kayaking or canoing) and private camp grounds with a decent distance to your next neighbor’s site. Oh, and if you are ever going there, you may be passing my house along the way.

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    • Hello Annette. Oh yes, Steinbeck explained the link to Don Quixote. My Rocinante is an homage to “Travels With Charley” and I’m choosing to disregard all else.

      No, I don’t know about Lake Moomaw. I will check it out immediately. And if we go, expect a visit!!

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  16. Audrey says:

    Love that “Westie Chariot”…and your sweetie (the dog, not Roger) looks so philosophical as he stares out into the “frog choker.” Beautiful, beautiful pics…very enjoyable travelogue! Gorgeous country.

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    • Hello, G., so good to hear from you. I owe you a reply to that email this morning. Glad you enjoyed this post and can you just imagine Diego and DaVinci in a contraption like that? Cyndy will be able to devise something for you when your boys get old, I’m sure.

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  17. Nice to discover your wonderful blog. You had me at “Westie Chariot.” We have a Westie named Cooper. And yes, you should have bought those amazing glasses! Shopping regret is the worst, isn’t it?! All the best. ~Karen~

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    • Hello Karen and nice to meet you. Shopping regret is indeed the worst and those glasses are calling to me now, darn it. And it’s great to meet another Westie Mom. Aren’t they just the best breed??? Thank you for reading and commenting, Karen.

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  18. dorannrule says:

    I don’t know why but I am receiving everybody’s comments to this post in my emails. Any idea?

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    • I had this happen to me once on a post and it about drove me crazy. Sorry. The problem resided in something I had checked at the bottom of the post (notify me of all follow-up comments) or something like that. Has this happened on others of mine?

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      • dorannrule says:

        No – so far it hasn’t happened on other posts of yours, but I will let you know if it does. I never check the “notify me” option at the bottom anymore since I too got in trouble once. I do want you to become wildly popular Barbara but that is already happening way too fast! 🙂 🙂 🙂

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      • I’m checking with a few others and we will sleuth this out! I knew you were too smart to check that “notify me” button. Once bitten….

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  19. Mary says:

    What a fun post! The pictures really tie the story together! Todd and I are car campers which means we are too cheap to buy a rig so we throw a decent tent in our car and hit the road. It does allow us to go to amazing places where no hook ups are needed and no tin boxes with adventure names are stenciled on. But I love that you love camping. It is a lot of work but once you hit the road it always feel like it is worth it. My favorite thing is laying in a tent as soon as the last smore is consumed and making room for the kids and the dogs and deciding whom is laying next to whom and then listening to the night take over. Usually I think of something funny and start cackling under my breath and bother everyone but that is to be expected. Good times any way you look at it!

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    • You tent campers are an earthy bunch!! I can’t wait to hear of Josie’s first camping trip. And I do know what you mean about hearing the night take over. So lovely even if there is an occasional cackle. XXX

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  20. Eliza Waters says:

    Great post, I thoroughly enjoyed it – esp. Berkeley’s Westie Chariot – what a lucky guy to get a ride to the top. Good thing you discovered the state parks, that first place sounded like camper-h–l! I would have run for the hills. Looking forward to more posts of forgotten towns and quiet camper parks. 🙂

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  21. Phil Taylor says:

    Wow! What an awesome trip. I’m glad you found “real” good camping. I love old towns like the one you found. Love those pictures!

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  22. Sandra says:

    I enjoyed this, and loved the Westie photos. You’ve no idea how many dogs we see sitting proudly in bike-baskets/trailers as their owners cycle along the veloroutes by the side of the canals here in France. 🙂

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  23. I think I’d be one of those snooty tent campers looking down my nose at you for not being a Real camper. In fact, we stopped backpacking and wild camping so we could take the dogs with us in the car. I had a friend who bought a very similar chariot for her ageing dog, they are a great idea. In fact I could probably do with one.

    Love the Art Deco buildings. Looks very much like some towns in New Zealand I’ve visited.

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    • Ha! I knew one or two tenters would emerge in these comments (my sister is the other!) I’m just glad no enthusiasts for the sardine-style camping venues have chimed in! Isn’t it funny how we adapt for the beloved canine members of our families? As it should be.

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  24. cindy knoke says:

    Our state parks are treasures and this is a delightful post!

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  25. I love the Westie Chariot and I’m bettin’ that Berkley did, too. Years ago, we did tenting. Then, moved on to a pop up. Like you, I prefer camp sites that are not jam-packed with people. We just returned from a vacation in Central New York and one of our joys was hiking – 3 miles – around a lake loop at a county park. It was lovely. We never knew what we might see next. 😉

    Barbara, your views are to die for. Just beautiful! Did you buy that Barbie and Ken Star Trek set? I’ll bet that’s a collectors’ item by now. 😉

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    • You are the ONLY person to have commented on the Barbie and Ken Star Trek set which endears you to me big-time. How could one not be enamored of Ken with a phaser, I ask you? Yet the iced tea glasses seem to have eclipsed him! No, I didn’t buy it. If I had a grandchildren, though, you bet I would have.

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  26. suzicate says:

    Love the photo of the waterfalls…looks very much like the falls and formations at Saint Mary’s Wilderness (George Washington National Forest) in Vesuvius, Virginia.

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