Sunday, July 1, 2012

Oh, Shenandoah, I’ve Been to See You (and made it out ALIVE!)

My younger boys have never been tent camping.  They have asked multiple times over the years. Greg has been talking about doing ‘things’ with the boys before they are too old. (College is just a couple of years away – yikes!)  We did rustic car camping.  We were mostly electronics free. We had cameras, I had an e-reader, but that was it.  No cell phones. No electronic games. No watches.  Not knowing what time it was proved to be the most challenging part for me.

The first leg of the trip was to North Carolina to visit Grandma, Aunt, Uncles, and cousins.  After we survived DC traffic (a 6 hour trip took 9 hours – grrrr), we had 2 jam-packed days.  First, there was cousin jousting  and chicken dancing.
(The Chicken will not be shown due to a promise made to a teenager, but trust me,  it was hysterical.)  The next day was spent at the rifle range firing big scary weapons.  The final day was spent at a most amazing swim club and was topped off with an after-dinner trip to the local ice cream parlor. Apparently vegan ice cream exists, and is really good.

Camping Day 1
Arrival and Set-Up
The following morning we left for Shenandoah National Park. I had made campsite reservations at Big Meadows Campground, which is at the top of the mountains and the biggest campground in the park.  Big Meadows is a beautiful place.  There are RV sites and tent sites, none of which have electric or water - rustic.  You have to walk for water.  There are showers up across from the Ranger station. One dollar gets you 5 minutes of hot water.  I learned on Thursday that I am in fact able to shower in 5 minutes.

We were greeted by a park volunteer named Paul.  He reminded us of our Uncle Walter, so we spent the rest of the time calling him Uncle Paul.  (He says he’s a grinner – not a picker.)  He gave us a short lesson on how to avoid being eaten by bears.  We were advised to either put food items, or anything that a bear might think of as food (including toothpaste) in the bear box, or leave it in the car.  When we asked Uncle Paul what we should do if a bear wandered into camp, he told us we should get out a camera and take pictures.  He also told us that just 2 weeks before our arrival a bear was happily munching on a fawn in the campsite right next to ours. Great.
Bear food?

We cooked our chicken dinner on the grill, and enjoyed a nice open sky fairly free from light pollution. It was so nice to be able to see stars. (My world travelers informed me that it was nothing like the stars in Kruger Park in South Africa.) We survived the night without any visits from Yogi or Boo-Boo.  

The little field right in front of the boys is where the bear ate the fawn.

On alert for various critters.

Get to work, boys.

No firewood- no fire. No fire - no food.

Camping Day 2
Hike #1, Pepé Le Pew and broken toes, too.
We cooked our breakfast of bacon and eggs over the camp fire. While the boys were getting antsy for adventure, the other mom and I walked up to the Ranger station and got information about various hikes from a very knowledgeable Ranger.  We told him the type of hiking we were interested in. He gave us a map, highlighted the hikes, and told us the difficulty level of each of them.  

Armed with information, we set off on the first hike to Dark Hollow Falls.  This hike is a short 1.5 mile round trip, good for a late-day start. Although the distance is short, it is very steep.  Quite the challenge on the return trip.  The waterfall was definitely worth the hike. 

Is this my favorite activity?

Perhaps not.

Hi, Mom!

You have to take your own picture when you're the one operating the camera.

Andrea and Nandor

The boys.

Greg had to walk back to the campsite with Cheerio because we didn’t pay close enough attention to the trail information on the map. After we arrived at the beginning point of the trail, we discovered that dogs were not allowed on this particular section.  

After dinner, there was entertainment.

Don't ask.

There is no explanation.

Alcohol was NOT involved. Truly.

After the entertainment...and the setting of the sun we were all enjoying the campfire and the stars, when Cheerio began barking like a wild, crazy-dog. Intruder alert! He was on a long leash secured to a tree and was straining at the end of it. What if it’s a bear? We had mostly cleaned up after dinner. The camp site was surrounded by bushes and trees, and it was dark. Thomas switched Cheerio to the shorter hand-held leash and was promptly dragged across the campsite, in the direction of the woods. He mightily held on. Everyone charged after them.

During this bit of ‘charging after’ I slammed my toe on the leg of the picnic table. In the short couple of seconds between contact and pain, I managed to see that my toe was now at a right angle to my foot. I quickly snapped it back to the proper direction.  Then the pain hit.  Turns out I broke my toe. As I write this, the right side of my foot is a lovely purple and green color.

The dog was not going nuts over a bear.  It was a skunk.  Good thing for us, he was unable to reach it.  Instead of getting skunked, he scared it away. This skunk spent a good portion of the rest of the evening wandering around in the campsite right next to where we were.

Up next... 
Camping Day 3  
Hike #2, Mom stays in campground, Fire on the Mountain