Tent camping is not for wimps or whiners. The phrase improvise, adapt and overcome comes into play. And having a partner who can manage a tarp when rain is predicted, build a fire when temps drop certainly matters. With a long Memorial Day weekend, we made reservations months ago for a return to Hungry Mother State Park in Marion Virginia. July 2020 was our first experience in Royal Oak Campground – tent camping for the first time on a platform. Hungry Mother offers much; hiking and bike trails around the lake, beach area, kayak rentals, the small town of Marion and is close to Grayson Highlands State Park . Another park that offers beautiful hikes, wild ponies and great picnic spots.
With several tent camping experiences under our belt, we premade much of the food. Pancakes, bacon, sausage and hard boiled eggs – all for a quick breakfast. Leftover squash spaghetti, salad stuff .. plus frozen hamburgers, hotdogs and beans, snacks .. a menu that works for the two of us. Ah.. and of course apples, celery and peanut butter.. the staple of life on the road. Packed and headed out by mid morning Thursday – we stopped to fill our gas tank, grab a bag of ice and jumped on I-840 .. only to come to a complete halt less than five miles from our house. And there we sat for over an hour, watching the Life Flight Helicopter come and go .. knowing up ahead someone was in trouble, and their weekend wasn’t off to a great start. Engage Audio book .. a fantastic travel companion .. this trip was a C.J. Box book Out of Range, part five of the Joe Pickett series. My, how the time flies traveling listening to some serious suspense with a little humor.
Stopping a few times for bathroom breaks, a gas fill up and dinner off the age 55 plus menu at Perkins Family Restaurant, we arrived at campsite number 5 around 8:30 pm. We constructed the tent, filled the air mattress, carefully placed our pillows and called it a night. Sometime around midnight, a shower of rain came. Just the first water of this adventure.
Friday morning started like every morning .. Mark made coffee. Except at a campground with no electricity and water, it looks a little different. He uses trusty Coleman stove and his new silver coffee percolator along with one of the seven gallons of water we brought .. between coffee and hydration backpacks we use a lot of water. He is a master of many trades .. and coffee making definitely makes the top ten. Driving to the Visitor Center, we officially registered for our campsite, then ate breakfast by the lake on a picnic table. Beautiful yellow and black Eastern Tiger Swallowtails entertained us. It was a pleasant morning, we took a stroll around part of the lake and decided to rent kayaks for the afternoon. Neither of us are really expert at kayaking .. we know the basics and had four hours to meander around the lake. About an hour and a half in, when we were nearly a mile away from the boat rental place.. it started to rain. Can I rephrase that? It came a downpour .. straight down with thankfully no thunder and lightning or wind.. So what do two adults do after being caught in the rain? Paddle.. and giggle .. and make a few jokes .. all the way back to the boat rental place. Seriously .. when was the last time you played in the rain? Completely soaked to the bone .. it is laugh out loud worthy.
An invaluable lesson for tent camping .. you can NEVER have too many towels! We keep large towels on our car seats .. and returning off the lake to drive back to our campsite .. those towels were golden. We dried off a bit and drove straight to the bathhouse for a hot shower. But wait — more excitement was waiting. As we drove into the campground, Mark let me off at the bathhouse. A large tree fell right across the campground road .. just behind us near the entrance. And yes — if a tree falls in the campground, it makes a lot of noise! While we showered, some diligent campground employees arrived. With their trusty chain saws, the road in and out of the campground was cleared quickly. So much excitement in just half a day.
With a forecast of more rain – we decided to put our famous blue tarp over the tent. This blue tarp has saved more than one camping trip! Valuable lesson number 2: if you tent camp you need a tarp or two. Camping on a platform is different, we were a little unsure. Not wanting to create puddles under the tent was most important. Mark left a ‘front porch type’ awning near the front. We ate dinner then headed out for Music in the park, our Friday evening entertainment. The group Supper Club played under a pavilion by the lake. We enjoyed their sound, met some super nice folks and stayed dry under the tin roof. Went to sleep that evening with raincoats in the tent; for those necessary nighttime bathroom strolls. It seemed the smart thing to do.
Saturday morning we slept in super late, made coffee and ate breakfast. A cool morning with rain chances, we hiked the Clyburne Hollow and Clyburne Ridge trail; where beautiful mountain laurel along with pink rhododendrons dotted the woods. Not a lot of other hikers, a quiet trail and great way to spend the morning together. By mid afternoon, we were back at our campsite dodging raindrops, attempting to dry our towels and clothes from the previous day. Clothes line and paracord worked great, even if it did look like a miniature homeless camp.. We cooked hotdogs and warmed beans over a campfire. With low 40 degree temperatures predicted, we bundled up for a cool night in the tent.
Sunday morning .. fresh coffee and the end of the premade pancakes topped with applesauce, peanut butter and granola. With super cool temps plus wind, we chose to drive into Marion and explore their downtown area. A visit to the Memorial Day flag display at their courthouse was sobering. Quite an impressive display of patriotism and support for those who gave all. We then drove to Grayson Highlands State Park, about 45 minutes away. Sunshine was a welcome find and we ate a picnic lunch at the Homestead Place then drove to the Massie Gap trail area. A familiar place for us, we hiked the Rhododendron trail and then a less known Cabin Creek Trail. A lollipop trail that included a beautiful waterfall, soft surface, and several creek crossings. We witnessed an amazing 81 year old lady scramble up a steep tree root area by the waterfall. She was surrounded by family, supporting – cheering – videoing her. It was inspiring. “She is very determined.” her daughter told us. I wanna be her when I grow up.
The evening temps were super cool, Mark made a fire where we sat for hours captured by the warmth and beauty. Conversation, food, companionship just hits better by a fire. As the day ends – and the darkness introduces the insect noises, nothing soothes and relaxes my mind like a good fire. And a good man to share it with. Dinner was burgers cooked in a cast iron skillet over the fire on top of a homegrown spinach salad. Another 40 degree cool snuggle into the sleeping bag night, the last night. Forty degree nights in June? Invaluable lesson #3 .. always travel with a warm sweatshirt.
Monday morning; the campground started to empty, folks headed back to life and work. We deflated the air mattress, rolled up the sleeping bags, then gathered and carefully placed everything back into the car and headed for home. Thankful for the sweet memories and inexpensive getaway. Leaving somewhere you long to return .. to the beauty, the freedom, and simplicity. Let’s come back when we can.
Until next time.