Camping trip from Hell
By Frances Stebbins
The recent hurricane-generated rain brought vividly to my mind an event that took place 58 years to the day that I received the yellowed clipping of a column sent me by a cousin of my late husband. The column appeared on September 1, 1967, in “The Roanoke World-News,” the daily newspaper for which my late husband and I both worked. Our three children were 11, 9 and 6 years old. Let it speak for itself:
It was a great adventure, camping in the rain.
We can say this now a week after drying out from four days of what seemed to be the deluge of our lives. In many respects it was a nightmare come true; in other ways, it taught us valuable lessons.
We learned among other things:
- Always to pack two pairs of shoes on a camping trip but not be surprised if both get soaked and you find that bare feet are the best way of navigating in ankle-deep ooze.
- Equip your lantern with such spare parts as generators. We didn’t, and ended up buying an oversize flashlight to pierce the gloom of both day and night. Besides, we learned after we got home, a gasoline lantern is excellent for drying out wet clothes in a damp tent.
- Be prepared for the door to the only bath house in the campground to stick shut at 8 a.m.in a downpour.
- Take along every piece of waterproof material you can wedge into your packing. You’ll need it to put on the river running across the tent floor.
- Do not expect the children to entertain themselves with the books and toys you carefully provided for rainy days. They’d rather fight with each other or complain about why we can’t go sightseeing in nearby Washington.
- Remember the hot day you are packing clothes to include at least one complete outfit for every family member which will keep them warm and partially dry. Raincoats should be made to shed water, not as a fashion statement.
- Above all, plan your trip to a place where there will be a public dryer within a short drive and enough places where you can at least get out of the rain for a few hours in the day.
- Perhaps, better yet, argue down your family on the morning the vacation trip is to start and spend a week at home with disappointed children and a husband who insists the weather shouldn’t affect anyone.
We didn’t make that decision and departed for the Fredericksburg area on the second day of memorable rains. It was pouring when we left; it was pouring when we returned at 1 a.m. four days later. In between, we never saw the sun.
It was the first time in 11 tent camping trips in five summers that such a natural disaster rained us out. We returned home two days early replete with good and bad memories and a tent which probably will never be the same.
In memory, I will cherish the one of standing on the famed porch at Mount Vernon gazing over George Washington’s view of the Potomac on that day swirling and gurgling at near-flood stage. Even in a drizzle, Mount Vernon is a thrill , and even in a dripping poncho which I had donned after my raincoat had soaked through.
We will remember, too , ducking into historic St. George’s Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg to escape a shower, of eating lunch in our camping truck because all the beautiful picnic tables were impossibly wet , of tacking up tarpaulins with clothes pins to keep from getting soaked while eating breakfast.
There was the excitement, ever present for me, of standing on the spot on Marye’s Hill in Fredericksburg where men fought and died in the Confederate 1862 winter victory. Daughter Julia cared less for such sights. (Today, living long in the Deep South, she values her Confederate heritage but long since put battlefields behind her.)
Our lively sons, Frank and Harvey, to whom Civil War battlefields mean only a chance to climb on the cannon, were disappointed. There was only one gun in the National Cemetery which crowns the hill, and they had to take turns sliding down the barrel.
For husband Charlie, the trip meant endless driving up or down I-95 or U.S. I with the windshield constantly running water. Nor did he enjoy the Washington traffic, which, despite the six-lane highways, streams into the suburbs in a solid jam each evening..
On reflection, we accomplished three objectives of the trip proving that stubborn campers can triumph—at least to a point. We saw some new and old sights and learned a few lessons, especially to appreciate a dry home.