Sunday, June 27, 2010

Cloudland Canyon Campout: Day 1 (The Trouble with Tents)

Our 5th annual Family Campout was a success! This year we met at Cloudland Canyon State Park in Northwest Georgia. I'd heard wonderful things about the hiking there, and the campground was very well-reviewed.

I arrived Monday afternoon, meeting some of our party who'd already arrived. Billy would be arriving Tuesday. The West Rim campground was great, with lots of shady trees, friendly camp hosts, tidy sites and very clean bathrooms/showers. I chose a pretty site near my sister-in-law and her husband, and started pitching the tents. The site (#16) had an uneven but adequate gravel driveway with a picnic table, grill and campfire ring at the end. The campground rules state that tents must be pitched on the "gravel tent pads", but since this site had no tent pad and the gravel was rough driveway-grade stones, I looked under the trees off to the side for suitable tent locations.

I found only two small spots that were level and clear, but two spots was all I needed. The ground was sandy dirt with fine gravel mixed in, so I figured that was the place tents were usually pitched. It was a bit of trouble to pitch the tents myself, since that's usually Billy's responsibility, but with some family help to watch the kids I finally managed to have a credible camp set up. We settled in for a relaxing first evening in camp.

Before long the campground manager came around in his truck. He stopped at my site, and thus began the first of several unintentional confrontations with the park staff on this trip.
"You have to move those tents", he said.

I was surprised. "I do? Why?"

"The rules state that all tents must be on the gravel tent pads."

"Right, but this site doesn't have a tent pad", I pointed out.

He looked. "Doesn't matter," he said, "you have to pitch your tent on the gravel."

I was incredulous. "On this?", I asked, indicating the driveway. "Really? I can't pitch my tent on this!" I looked around to see if I'd missed the spot for tents. I couldn't see any place that would work. "There is gravel under the tents now", I added, "it's just fine gravel and it's mixed with sand." He looked incredulous.

"Here, I'll show you", I offered hopefully. We walked over and I pointed out the fine gravel that was visible at the edge of the tent. "It's all the same underneath. That's why I thought the tents should go here."

He made a face. "Noooo, I think that's pushing it", he said. "Tents must be pitched on the gravel."

"That's not gravel?" I asked.

"That doesn't count. It has to be on the gravel tent pad. Here." He indicated the driveway. "You have to move your tents."

I couldn't believe it. "But where?" I asked.

"Anywhere here." He indicated the driveway again.

"But we park there! And the only level spot is smack dab next to the fire ring! The rest is washed out. Surely you don't expect me to pitch the tents next to the fire. And besides, this is rough gravel- this isn't fine gravel like parks put on tent pads. It might even damage the tents, not to mention being very uncomfortable."

He was looking impatient and belligerent at this point. I don't like causing trouble, especially for staff at state parks. They are underfunded stewards of some of our few remaining natural recreation areas, and (theoretically) they share many of my own core values about nature. However I was honestly flabbergasted that this was even an issue. I wondered what could possibly be the reason for the rule. Threatened species of plants or insects? (I was pretty sure that wasn't it.) Erosion control? (Possible, but not likely a problem with my tents in those specific spots.) Maybe there was a good reason I'd not considered. "WHY?", I asked again. "Why can't I leave them there?"

"If I let you do it, then other people will want to, too." he said, as if that settled the matter. His body posture suggested clearly that he was absolutely not backing down and no logic would ever scale the walls of his certitude. I couldn't believe I was having this conversation. I decided to switch tactics.

"PLEEEEASE don't make me move the tents", I pleaded pitifully. I really liked the spots there under the tree branches, and the thought of trying to redo the whole camp without Billy's help and with the three boys running around was daunting to say the least.

He sighed. "I get that a lot." (I wondered if, just maybe, this might indicate to him that rough chunky gravel driveways are not very good for tents, but if such a thought had occurred to him he apparently didn't care.) "Nope, you have to move them."

I sighed. I was getting nowhere. "My husband is arriving tomorrow. Can't I wait until I have his help to move them?"

The campground manager nodded reluctantly. "OK. You can move them tomorrow. But I'll be back to check." With that, he climbed back into his truck and went looking for more lawbreakers.

The rest of the evening passed pleasantly enough, though I was still simmering over the tent troubles. (People who apply rules for the sake of rules, without the leavening influence of logic, tend to piss me off.) The kids were having a blast though, and a nice cold beer (also against the rules, which I have an easier time understanding), enjoyed discreetly, helped bring the day to a pleasant conclusion. The fireflies were out in magical profusion, making the woods sparkle. My brother, sister-in-law and her husband were good company. The boys had trouble going to sleep in their excitement- giggles and rustles (and plenty of fart jokes) spilled from their tent well after dark. Finally, everyone was sleeping comfortably and I was able to drift to dreamland while looking up through my tent's screened roof into the moonlit pines.

(Sorry for the lack of pictures- I was busy!)


Michelle Roebuck said...

What the heck good is camping without fart jokes anyway?!? Thank you for letting me enjoy your camping trip (woes and all) vicariously from my air-conditioned, bug-free desk.

Kit said...

Sample conversation overheard from the boys' tent:
~rustle, rustle~
"I'm trapped! I can't find the way out of my sleeping bag!"
"Ow, ow!"
~giggle, giggle, rustle~
~big giggles~
"Smell my butt"
"No really, smell my butt!"
~giggling, pause~
"WHAT?" ~laughing~ "I didn't mean REALLY smell my butt! Eww!"
~uncontrollable laughter~
~more uncontrollable laughter~