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 What I Didn't Do on My Summer Camping Vacation: Camp
 

Day 1

The first night of our “camping” trip ends at a Holiday Inn in Valdosta, Georgia, not at the beautiful and scenic Stone Mountain campground under the watchful eyes of rebel soldiers etched in stone as according to our original plan.

Why this horrendous detour?

Well, it seems in all of my meticulous planning of clothing, equipment, meals, campgrounds and mosquito repellent for this two week, 3000 mile road trip for 6, I failed to factor in a broken fuel pump and 2 flat tires 250 miles in.

We rented this recreational vehicle--which so far has proven to be more miscreational than anything else--and so I left certain maintenance issues up to that particular firm which collected the fee. I did not expect to do much else than fill the tank up with gas, and empty other tanks of, well, gas, of which we have already done several times. So first day tune-ups were not on our travel agenda.

Our mechanic, “Hollywood,” lives here in Valdosta, but is originally from Portland, Oregon. Ironically, his illogical nickname is quite appropriate since I feel as though we are stuck in some 2000 and late version of a Michael J. Fox movie and the only way we are escaping this fresh hell is to perform medical feats on the residents of this southern town before they fix our motorhome and allow us to continue on our journey.

But our first medical miracle may be reserved for one of our own, as my son just ordered a blackened grouper sandwich from a Holiday Inn in Valdosta, Georgia.


Day 2 of our “vacation”

I can’t describe Day 2 to you for the following reasons:

1.) You wouldn’t be able to understand a single word. I would have to write nonsensical phrases like, “This car has fleas,” “Watch the baby while she plays in the junkyard,” and who can forget the classic, “I hope the D.O.T. don’t [sic] have a roadblock set up or your son might have to spend the night in a rural Georgia jail.”

2.) It would be an illogical ordering of random words that would frustrate and confound you and leave you wondering just what in the hell happened on that desolate South Georgia interstate that caused this once semi-normal family to die a little inside.

3.) It would be littered with cursing. Really bad words you shouldn’t repeat without an air horn censor nearby.

4.) There were many, many laws broken--not only a myriad of state, Federal and local, but also physical. And while we escaped “dem smokies,” I don’t know the statute of limitations for any of those violations, or whether pleading “Guilty by reason of R.V.ing” is a legal defense recognized in a court of law. (Although no jury would convict us under the circumstances.)

5.) You would have to spit at least 6 or seven times. Why? I have no idea, but all day everyone expectorated liberally around me, and frankly, it was disgusting and I’d rather not go through that again.

No, it is best if we put Day 2 to bed in that same Valdosta Holiday Inn where we started after a nice steak dinner and a trip to Wal-Mart in a 1981 Buick LaSabre with no interior upholstery, a gnat infestation, no working headlights and that vaguely smells of a cocktail of motor oil, feet, and broken dreams.


It keeps getting better

For Days 3 and 4, please re-read Day 2, only replace “Corbin, Kentucky” with all Valdosta references, add a second tow truck, a harrowing all-night wait for said tow truck off the side of the road, and another couple of hundred bucks in lost campground deposits.

And please allow me to re-introduce a new recurring character on our show: the Valdosta Holiday Inn Grouper. He will now play the part of the bane of my existence--a role previously played by a cantankerous Ford fuel pump.

Day 5

On the fifth day of our camping vacation, we camp.

After five days on the road, we have finally made it to our first campground in central Ohio, and I am pretty overjoyed at this accomplishment. I am so ecstatic not to be spending another night in an unscheduled roadside motel that I will overlook the rather subpar accommodations.

In fact, I will refrain from pointing out that this particular park looks nothing like their scenic website--I will instead assume that they were just overly-generous or completely blind.

Because right at this very moment, it doesn’t matter. There is a campfire burning, and the kids are chasing fireflies. We have feasted on grilled chicken and hot dogs. The air is cool and faintly smoky--and not from the hood of the R.V. I am surrounded by family and not mechanics with nicknames that refer not to their mechanical prowess, but their acting abilities.

Pass me a marshmallow.
Day 6ish


We have meandered our way across Ohio and New York by way of Cooperstown--or as I like to refer to it, YouCan’tParkThatBigPooperstowninCooperstown. And now that our home is actually mobile, I have to say that traveling this way with four kids has its advantages.

A road trip of this magnitude in a mere sedan wouldn’t be nearly as comfortable nor as much fun. While the miles fly by outside, we can eat, play games, watch movies and even change diapers without several stops and ecoli exposure in gas station restrooms. Naps need not be vertical, and meals can come from a kitchen rather than a grease-stained paper bag. It’s kind of nice to make a peanut butter sandwich and a plate of fruit for lunch rather than trying to clear a McDonald’s drive thru.

In fact, dining on this trip has been one of the highlights. We have eaten like kings (monarchs with a penchant for marshmallows) and it’s been delicious. We’ve grilled outside most nights, and whenever possible we’ve stopped at local farm stands so everything is fresh and tasty. I found some interesting recipes on camprecipes.com which for the most part worked out well. The refrigerator and freezer are surprisingly generous, so we were able to plan and shop for a lot of meals in advance.

so with the exceptions of a particularly charred pot roast in the maiden voyage of a cast iron dutch oven and the Aldosta-vay Ouper-gray, meals on the road have been relatively happy.


Days 7-11

After spending several nights visiting family at a beautiful campsite on Long Island’s north shore, we find ourselves in Hershey, Pennsylvania. This was not on our original itinerary, but not much of this trip has so we’re even. But after telling the kids we were going to spend the day at a chocolate-themed amusement park and not staring at stale vending machine candy bars in a mechanic’s waiting room, the look of sheer joy that returned to their faces was well worth the detour. (Although I still think the greatest thrill rides of the trip were in various tow trucks across the southern United States.)

That is not to say that Hershey doesn’t come with its own set of quirky happenstances that are contributing to my exhaustive camping education.

For instance, I can probably trace back the origin of the Reese’s cup right from this very campground. The campsites are so painfully close together that I bet someone’s chocolate got into a neighbor’s peanut butter during just a stiff wind. (Look for a toasted marshmallow/grilled hot dog confection from Hershey’s very soon.)

I also can assure you first-hand that the cocoa beans in Hershey products are of the freshest variety. I know this because the freight train that carries them passes within 50 feet of our camper several times a night between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. It sounds like a freight train coming within 50 feet of our camper several times night between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.


Day 314 or something

I’m not exactly sure what day this is, but I’m pretty sure it’s the one that I have stopped making sense and have lost all perspective. In the “I shiz you not” category, we have broken down once again.

This time, we are outside Charlotte, North Carolina and I’ve grown weary of this particular routine. This mechanic’s name is Hal, and he has had many past experiences with RV’s. In fact, he told my husband that he doesn’t go into the actual camper anymore because so many of them “are just rolling brothels.”

Really?

Actually, that makes a lot of sense because I feel like I’m getting screwed every time I get into this one.

Day 17


There wasn’t supposed to be a Day 17, but we’re still 600 miles from home so there may just be 18, 19, and 20.

But at least I have time to reflect.

If I had an anti-bucket list--those things in my life I’ve done but wouldn’t repeat on a dare--several items would be from this trip. For instance, I don’t think you could pay me to take a 31’ camper on the Cross Bronx Expressway again. Some of my sense of humor flew off from a massive pothole and was hit by oncoming traffic and then unceremoniously flipped off while other angry drivers urinated on it from the Throgs Neck Bridge.

I also will never believe that “clean, modern shower facilities” are defined universally. After one “shower” upon a 50 year old peeling linoleum basin with a faucet pulled on by a rotting tow rope that trickled cold run-off from the dumping station, I told my husband not only not to bother bathing there, but please don’t even go near the bathrooms because if he saw what I had just done he’d think less of me as a person.

And while I know you’re expecting the next item on the list to read “Never step foot into an R.V. again,” well, it’s not. Despite all of our mechanical foibles, I still would love to take this trip again someday. When things were working properly, we really had a great time.

Sure, I’d do some things differently--probably pack more clothes, extra road flares and brush up on the inner workings of fuel pumps--but it wasn’t a total loss. The food poisoning went away after 18 hours and the rental company reimbursed us for all the lost days and hotel rooms without too much protest.

But camping along the Long Island Sound and star-gazing with my kids was something not to be missed. The playing with fireflies and nightly campfire talks were precious. And even watching my kids remain calm and flexible during adversity was surprisingly meaningful. It turns out, they are pretty wonderful people who never complain and can make me laugh even in the most unfunny moments. And while I’m sorry that more of those funny moments didn’t occur at scenic campsites in the wilderness instead of various Fairfield Inns across the south, well, there are many worse things.

And so while it certainly won’t be in this particular make and model (one that I think should be put out of its misery and ours) I will bet that our family will opt for the Holiday Rambler over the Holiday Inn next time.

How wonderful, a trip you will cherish forever !!
Posted by Winnie jacabacci, 08/14/09, 08:30am
Glad you got your refund.

You know I wouldn't be me if I didn't comment that the only thing that scares me about traveling in campers is the complete lack of amenities such as seat belts and air bags. Nonetheless, you're back, and I'm glad you had both wonderful times and an adventure. Hmpf. Snort.
Posted by Bill, 08/14/09, 12:01pm
We absolutely are in awe of your optimism and so glad to hear you did enjoy your vacation when things were going well. We loved seeing all of you.
Posted by Rumplestilskin, 08/14/09, 12:21pm
I too was frightened to see the bucket o bolts in Rosie's driveway...fearful that they would have to remove it piece by peice to get it out of the hood....but glad it all worked out...if you are lookin' for some compensation you should have your brother in law...Paulie D. get out his poision pen letter and he could get you a lifetime admission to all KOA campgrounds....be careful of what you wish for!!!!
Posted by dee, 08/15/09, 04:13pm
Loved having not one, but two RVs parked in my driveway for the weekend. The clothesline strung up between the two RVs was a nice touch! Great seeing you guys ...
Posted by Paul, 08/15/09, 10:35pm
Day 2 -- OMG!! HAHAHA!! That was a fun article, Tracey.
Posted by Jill, 08/16/09, 09:33am
Tracey, I'm laughing out loud up here in MI reading your article. Thanks for the smiles this afternoon. You still crack me up.
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