Frank and I arrived at Georgia Veterans State Park around 1pm on Monday afternoon. The drive itself was pretty easy … I’ve never been one to be drained by spending a lot of time behind the wheel. I think it was everything leading up to getting on the road that sapped most of my physical and mental capacities.
I had one box at the front of the trunk that had everything I needed to pitch camp: the ground cloth, a mallet, some stakes, and Frank’s gear … his own stake and the 10ft cable I was going to use to give him a bit of a run without having to hold a leash. Pretty funny … after getting the ground cloth laid out and staked down, I was exhausted! I sat at the picnic table for about 20 minutes or so and just took everything in. (Frank “managing” the whole process, with his nose 6 inches from the mallet at each stop along the ground cloth, was SUCH a help!)
I finally was able to work myself up to pulling the tent out of the roofbag to complete the setup. It’s an “instant” tent – the material is pre-attached to the poles, which extend out from the top and then down from the ends. The only thing that’s not attached is the tent fly, the piece of material that you extend over the top of the tent to act as a shield during rain. For those of you not familiar with camping, the tent fly makes it so that water never hits the top of the tent, ensuring you don’t have seepage into the cabin itself.
Putting on the tent fly is pretty much a two-man job. I managed to get it on in my dry run at the apartment by setting the tent up half-way: I extended the top of the tent so that it reached the entire 10′ x 14′ footprint, snapping those poles into place, and then extending the tent so that it stood at half height. It was tough, but doable in the apartment … but then, I didn’t have the a/c turned up high enough to simulate the breeze I was now having to deal with. That’s when I was the beneficiary of another act of kindness.
A guy from the neighboring campsite came over and introduced himself. Mike was there with his wife … they had bought some property on the lake but further west. They were in the process of having a home built, but completion was off in the distant future. “I told her, ‘I want to do some fishing!’ so we packed up the trailer and here we are!” He then offered to help me finish the setup. We extended the side poles to full height and then walked the tent fly up over the top from the back to the front. I thanked him and he went back to his campsite.
Before I could stake everything down though, a stiff breeze came up and took the tent fly clear off the tent! Mike came running back – he saw what happened. We pulled it back over and then helped me tie everything down.
I got everything in from the car. Took me about another 3 hours, between visits to the picnic table to catch my breath! By the end of the whole process, I was too pooped to do anything except lay out a couple of bedspreads on the floor (with the eggshell mattress cover layered in between). I think it was about 8:30pm. All I knew was that Frank had been fed, he was in the tent and that was all I could manage. Except I had forgotten to run the 12 gauge 100′ extension cord from the utility pole to the tent! After lying there for 10-15 minutes, contemplating just going to sleep with the C-pap, I mustered up enough strength to unzip the door, carry the cord out to the pole, hook it up, run it back to the tent, zip the door back up and hit the makeshift bed. It was 8:50 when I looked at the clock on my phone. My eyes didn’t see 8:55!
Frank woke me up at about midnight – we hadn’t taken care of his evening constitutional. I found his leash and then took him outside to do his business. I sat at the picnic table for about 15 minutes … it was a full moon and I couldn’t get over how beautiful everything was in the glow of moonlight!
The next thing I knew, it was 9:00am. Frank was head-butting the front of my mask, and when I finally got it off (which couldn’t have happened soon enough as far as Frank was concerned), he wanted to make sure I was fully awake by giving my face a tongue bath!
We got outside and I assumed my post at the picnic table (we’ve become good friends by now). I sat for a while, just taking everything in again. I have to say, it was a pretty weird feeling. No deadlines. No clients. No planning that needed to be done. This was IT.
The one thing I realized from the day before was that there were things I needed right away that I had to look for. It wasn’t enough to have set aside the gear needed to pitch the tent. I didn’t have the lantern. The cables for the SiriusXM box (I wanted to listen to music while I was working). The cooling scarf (the kind you soak in water so the beads expand and provide some relief to the heat). The TOILET PAPER!
As an aside, the sites here at Georgia Veterans State Park are “first come, first serve” … when you show up, you have the pick of whatever sites aren’t occupied. The Ranger showed me a map of the camp area. I said, “I’d just like to be close to the bathroom and shower facilities.” She showed me the buildings and I found a nice site that was directly across a small road from one of the buildings, about 100 feet away. Great planning again … with one minor problem. It wasn’t one of the three facilities. It was a meeting facility. The closest bathroom is about a football field away. Not ideal. But as they say, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and I’ve found a new use for the 1 gallon sealable baggies in the middle of the night when nature says it’s time to pee! ;o)
Anyhow, I had packed all my stuff so “logically”. But not with “practicality”. I decided I needed to take care of that and the best time to do it was then and NOW.
I also realized that it simply wasn’t necessary to completely unload the car. What were the odds I was going to need my tool set, or the extra cannisters of water repellant? I decided to put everything that I would only use on unique occassions into one box and then put that box in the back of the trunk.
What happened after that? I completely tore everything apart and repacked stuff according to need. I made a list of everything in the “I don’t need this all the time” box, taped it to the lid, and put it back in the trunk. Didn’t take too long … except for the two hour nap I wound up taking. I think my body was just reacting to the “release” of weeks of sleepless nights, all the worrying during the last six months of planning, the physical exertion of moving out of the apartment, packing the car, setting up camp, etc. And IT decided, “Hey Jeff – we’re taking a nap!!”
I woke up about 1:30pm (Frank was still asleep – but then, he has always taken his naptime quite seriously). Reorganizing everything took another 2 hours or so. By 4pm, I was back at the picnic table, again taking everything in. Everything in the tent was re-organized. I only had what I needed in there and the tent was set up with kitchen stuff in one corner; supplies in another; a pile of spacebags with clothing and other “inflatables” in a big pile along the center of the tent’s west wall; and all my “play” stuff in the center of the east wall. The bed is at the back of the tent. We have a huge open space – plenty of room to create a sitting area with the camp chair when it rains, and a huge place for Frank to play around, if he’s so inclined.
It was after 6pm on Tuesday and I hadn’t even THOUGHT about cooking! I had eaten about a half dozen of the peaches I had picked up at a roadside stand outside of Pooler on Monday morning. And even though I had stopped to fill up my mini-propane tank, I still didn’t have the mental capacity to hook it up to the Coleman stove!
About that time, Mike came over with his wife and daughter, who was visiting her parents for the day. He said, “I notice you unloaded a canopy, but you don’t have it set up yet. We’re here to help you out with that. You can’t sit at that table in the sun like you’ve been doing – you need some shade!” They had the whole thing set up in 5 minutes and for the most part, I just watched! I thanked him again and he just said, “Hey! That’s what neighbors are for, right?”
I gotta say .. this whole “re-establishing my faith in humanity” thing? So far, the people I’ve met have been nothing BUT helpful. And not just that – many have gone out of their way to take care of me, from the vendors I was dealing with in getting my supplies together; to Dr. King going the extra mile for Frank’s treatments; and now to perfect strangers going out of their way to lend me a hand. It’s hard to put into words how grateful I am for the way this aspect of my trip has gone.
I’m going to cut off here and leave the rest of the week’s story to another post. Wednesday … actually Wednesday night … turned out to be an unbelievable experience. For a while there, I had considered changing Frank’s and my names to Toto and Dorothy! The storm we went through had me wondering if we were going to be surrounded by Munchkins when we left the tent!
Before I sign off, here are a couple of photos of some neighbors that have stopped by to check Frank and me out. The cardinal reminds me of my days growing up in Pompton Lakes, where the high school football team was “The Cardinals”.
The other feathered family spent about 45 minutes wandering around the campsite, less than 15 feet from the table (Frank was perfectly content to watch them from underneath my feet … I have a feeling he might have run into the wrath of a Momma goose before). I think the father was a war vet. He had a really bad limp and was content to let Momma
watch over the kids while he sat watching in the background. But once they hit the water, he took lead. (And I loved how one of the goslings looked back from the water, checking Frank out one last time. I think he was asking his brother, “What IS that thing under the table? Have you seen anything like that before?”)