Our first campsite was at the very back of a loop at Tugaloo State Park – campsite 22. We were the furthest possible site from the popular lake-front sites which afforded us a little privacy that the other sites lacked. This meant we could let the dog roam a little more and be less fearful of nighttime campsite noise waking the baby.
Tugaloo State Park is located off the very last exit on i85 before you reach the South Carolina line. It’s downstream from the beautiful Tallulah Falls, on the Tugaloo River, where Lake Hartwell forms. The park itself is on a peninsula which is almost an island. There are 3 main loops of campsites which consist of roughly a 30-40 foot by 20 foot gravel pad, a picnic table, a fire ring, and electrical, water, and cable TV hookups. Each site varies depending on its location; the waterfront sites have gorgeous lake views and are located about 15-20 feet from the water, but unfortunately are also only a few feet from their neighboring sites. Then there are the “standard” sites, these are a little 2 or 3 minute walk through the loop to get to the water, but tend to have a little more privacy. Each loop also has a bathhouse with a few toilets and showers, and a washer and drier that’ll set you back $3.25 for a wash and dry.
Also at the park is a Yurt loop where there are 6 yurts and a bathhouse. Then there are a couple of roads with cottages, my favorite being number 11 which is situated on a private peninsula with breathtaking views over the lake.
When we arrived on the Tuesday night there was no one else on our loop which meant we had even more privacy than we bargained for; we couldn’t even see any other campers from our site. We woke in the morning just before dawn and sat in our chairs basking in the peace and cool morning air. It was so quiet compared to the city, it was almost eerie. The air was thick with the scent of pines and a fresh breeze tickled at my cheek. As I walked to the bathroom with the flashlight my every careful step seemed to crash through the silence despite my best efforts to move stealthily. On the way back to the camp I saw the lights from our camper and figured I didn’t need the flashlight so I clicked it off. The darkness was almost suffocating like a thick blanket and I couldn’t see my feet, much less the uneven ground I was walking on, so I quickly turned the light back on.
The first day was largely dedicated to reorganizing, figuring out what we still needed, and getting everything put away. Chris took Junior to the store for food and supplies while I happily sorted through everything and tidied up.
That evening we cooked a basic meal and just enjoyed our achievement of making it to the campsite and finally fulfilling our dream that had taken months to realize. Junior loved being outside and would play in his playpen so calmly, just looking around at the trees and the squirrels, occasionally lying down as if he were going to sleep.
It took a couple of days to figure out how everything worked and to adapt our approaches to everyday tasks to life in a camper – but we were happy to do it and had expected it to be much more difficult.
By Friday we were getting the hang of it all. I went to Athens for the day with Junior and returned home late in the afternoon to find that a large Indian family had taken over every other campsite on our loop. There was a small city of tents spread across the sites with an army of excited children running around at the far end. Their parents worked tirelessly to set up camp and the drone of air mattress pumps filled the air along with opening and closing of car doors, and the sound of bickering parents as they struggled to erect their shelters. The children, apparently oblivious to the race against darkness to get camp setup, shrieked and laughed as they ran through the campsite playing. It reminded me of the happy memories I have of camping with my father. He would approach setup as a military operation and bark orders at us while my brothers and I ran around like drunken lunatics intoxicated by the fresh piney air and the sound of the lake gently lapping the shore.
It was certainly a stark change from our previously private slice of paradise, but it was a known certainty that the weekend would be busier and there would be a temporary disturbance, we were just a little surprised by the scale of the newcomers’ camp.
Junior didn’t sleep overly well that night for some reason and woke a couple of times during the night. Around 4am I gave in and just laid on the cushion beside him to calm him and I promptly fell asleep there. Chris woke shortly after to the unexpected sound of rain. RAIN! He jumped up and rushed outside to gather the various things we had haphazardly strewn around the campsite because we hadn’t anticipated any rain that night. He wasn’t the only one. The Indian family had apparently also not been prepared for rain and scrambled out of their tents like ants rushing the lamps, fans, food, and other supplies they had left outside into their shelters. Luckily it was a brief passing shower so nothing was soaked, but it was a lesson in not underestimating the weather when camping.
Walking through the campsite on Saturday after Chris went to work I had a moment of realization. I had always considered camping to be an activity which only appealed to a very specific group of people. I had previously judged that the type of people which we would encounter would all be the typical weekend warriors, active retirees, and maybe a few young families. I was wrong.
The Indian family weren’t the only newcomers to the park on Friday. Nearly every site was now filled with an array of people; some with brand new 40ft $100,000 motorhomes with several slides and flat screen TVs and full outdoor kitchens on the outside; some with vintage 1960s 18ft scotty campers with just the basics; some huge 10 man tents complete with neat creases from being freshly removed from their careful packaging; some tents that were clearly older than me.
There were retirees with a cute little hand-painted sign with their names, “Jen and Gregg, Summer nights camping” and little wind chimes and hummingbird feeders hanging outside. There were young boys, about 12-13 years old covered in mud rough-housing in the woods near their camp. There was a group of 3 or 4 twenty somethings, all men, with drills and hammers working on their rig that appeared to be about the same age as ours, cussing loudly as one missed the nail with the hammer and another hit his head on the cabinet as he stood up. There was a couple with a small tent and a large cooking fire burning sitting peacefully in their chairs and admiring their lake view as they chatted quietly with each other. There was a large older couple who had set up with a tent that were sitting on their loungers. The man wore nothing but some little shorts that looked to have somehow survived since the 80s and were barely peeking out from under his large gut which hung low and there was a buffet fit for a small country spread across their picnic table. There was a young family with an older rig circa 1985 that was playing a board game and bickering over whose turn it was. There was a young couple with a modest camp unloading bikes and expensive camera equipment from their brand new SUV with brand new kayaks strapped to the top. There was a single man in a raggedy old tent camping with his dog in his minimalist camp. Hygiene and self-care seemed to be of little concern to him and he grunted his greeting as we strolled past. There were two couples with motorcycles each with small utility trailers hooked up to the back, presumably to transport their camping gear. I imagined that maybe they were in the midst of some long cross-country tour and that they had some great stories of the places they’d been and the things they’d done.
As I considered each camp I imagined who the campers might be in their everyday lives; how far they had come, how long they were staying, whether they were on a weekend vacation or traveling long-term, whether this was their first time or their hundredth time, what jobs they had, and why they liked camping. It’s not as easy as you might think, but there were definitely a broad range of stories lurking there.
It occurred to me that camping has many appeals and many styles. Some campers like to bring every single convenience of home and see it as a cheap and cozy alternative to staying in hotels, some prefer to see it as an expedition into wilderness and enjoy the challenge of living with as few modern conveniences as possible. Some are just looking for a place to get the whole family together, some are looking to get away from their family. Some are filthy rich, and some are obviously not. But even with such stark differences, it is sure that everyone at least shares the commonality of enjoying the beauty and serenity that this place has to offer.
That evening Chris and I were sitting by the campfire musing about our new life and how great it was. He was asking about the campsite and the things we filled our day with. I told him we didn’t get up to much because it was too dang hot.
I told Chris about what was on my mind as I walked through the campsite that day. I told him how it got me thinking about the diverse range of people and their many reasons for being here, in this campsite, on this day. Our attention focussed on the raucous coming from the large Indian family that had moved in overnight. Upon talking about it we noted that they had set up their “campfire/hangout” area on the far site on our loop, despite them having a whole stretch. It seemed clear that this was a thoughtful and intentional move on their part so as to cause as little disturbance as possible to us; the only other people on the loop. Just then we could hear the whole group singing together. The lyrics or song was indistinguishable because of the distance between us but it was wonderful to hear them enjoying each others company unfettered by the distraction of screens and technology. When the singing ceased they erupted in cheers and applause. Then they began chanting a name as if to nominate the next singer. It’s difficult to describe the warmth that comes from hearing people just be together in this way. We remarked how lucky we were to have such courteous and fun first neighbors and acknowledged that we likely won’t be so lucky all the time.
“Yeah, well that’s the beauty of camping, right? If you get shitty neighbors, then at least you don’t have to deal with it long – ‘cus either they’ll be leaving soon or we will.” I said cheerily.
And it is. So far, at the beginning of our journey my current prediction for the future of our adventure is that we’ll spend more time being glad that people are leaving than being sad. But it is still my hope that we will meet people that we are sad to see leave. It is my hope that maybe we will meet some lifelong friends who we want to host with again, or that we hope come and stay at another park we’re hosting at.
My mind turned to how we speak of this journey we’re embarking on. It’s hard to find another word to describe it. ‘Adventure’ works but lacks something that’s hard to define. Sure, this is an adventure, but in what sense? I wonder if we’ll still call it an adventure in 2 weeks, or 2 months, or two years? Will it be something that we look back on and say “remember when we started doing this and how we looked at it then compared to how we look at it now?” And then laugh. Or will it be something that we look back on and say “remember that time we tried to live in that camper?” And then laugh.
Because let’s face it; however this turns out, we are going to laugh. That’s just who we are. Life is funny, it should be laughed at. Whether you fail or succeed at something it’s important to be able to laugh at it. This adventure is intended to give ourselves better lives and our son a better start to his; one that involves togetherness in the outdoors, exploration, self-discovery and financial stability. Whether this chapter of our life turns out to be the beginning of a new wonderful life, or a short-lived calamity-filled disaster, I am at least certain that it will bring life lessons and the comfort in knowing that we were brave enough and strong enough together to take the risk and, of course, that we will laugh about it along the way, or at least eventually.