Friday, May 15, 2009

Solitude: NOT

Emmy and I travel often in our truck-camper; we do a lot of ‘boon-docking’. Loosely defined, this is free camping with no electric, water, or sewer hookups.
We have stayed places from the sublime to the ridiculous. Sublime places include the little-developed North Rim of the Grand Canyon. With not another human or vehicle in site and possibly the most spectacular scenery in the world, we camped a few feet from the canyon’s edge. We picked a comfortable rock on which to sit and toasted a stunning sunset. Early next morning, I sat on the same rock before dawn, savoring the sunrise with my coffee.
We’ve spent lopsided nights here and there. A rainstorm-turned blizzard drove us off a mountaintop not too far from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Facing the prospect of an extended, snowed-in stay, we carefully picked our way down the winding dirt/rut road to reach a snow free altitude. Around 2 AM, we found a wide spot in the road but the camper slanted at a stiff angle. Emmy could not hang onto the high side of the mattress so we both occupied my side of the bed in the morning.
Recently we were traveling near the George Washington National Forest. On the way, we stayed in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Warrenton, VA. The store closed at 11PM and the little town seemed to close up. It was as quite a spot as could be.
The next day, Thursday, we found a National Forest campground near the Virginia/West Virginia state line. It seemed our kind of place; it had water and a sanitary dump but nothing else, no phone, no electric, and at ten dollars a night, it was cheap by today’s standards. The only other campers were occupying one large campsite with four tents. The tents housed thirteen teenagers. We took a spot on the far side of the campground.
I thought the kids looked to have escaped from the homicidal-maniac-teen group home. Emmy thought they looked like your standard teenagers. As it turned out, I had pessimistically pre-judged as usual. They played a noisy game of hide-and-seek; it took place throughout the campground in the afternoon. Thursday night, they were quiet after ten PM or so, proving to be a well behaved group of homicidal teenagers.
Friday was a different matter. A family with four children, ages three to nine settled in near our camper. After dinnertime, people began to arrive at a trailhead, across the road from the campground. They had tents and small campers and were setting up illegally in the day-use parking area. Unknown to us, it was a party spot. The later it got, the louder the assemblage became, and not in a good way. Around midnight a group of young men began arguing, which escalated into a fight. There were screaming threats of violence and lots of foul language.
When our own kids were young, we tent camped a lot. Taxpayer funded campgrounds, similar to the one we were in, provided us with a cheap and safe form of recreation for our young family. Sadly, as funding for National and State Parks slows to a drizzle, the personnel who used to be around to enforce campground rules and keep a semblance of order have also disappeared.
In our camper, with solid walls that dampen noise and provide some security, the “party” across the street was very loud and intimidating. I felt sorry for the family next to us with only nylon tent fabric between them and all the raging turmoil not far away. The raucous noise must have kept the soundest sleepers wide-awake.
It is a shame to look back and realize that a Wal-Mart parking lot was a better place to stay than a National Forest Campground.
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