Years ago, my family used to go “up the country” to go camping. Since we lived in suburbia, this was a treat, especially during the summer. We’d pack up, get into our vehicle and head out to the Shenandoah Valley.
We stayed off the highway for the most part and used two-lane roads. These roads wind through various small towns so there was a lot to see — older homes with wraparound porches, farms with cows and horses, and the occasional creek or river. You could see the name of each town as you came through, so arriving in each town was an event. You knew when you were getting closer to the Valley because through the windshield, you’d see that first, far-off hint of blue that was the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Sometimes we’d stop on the way. One of the favorite stopping places was a convenience store. It was similar to a general store and sold a bit of everything — gas for people who needed to tank up, maps, cold drinks (very welcome on a hot, humid summer day), and snacks. You could even do your entire grocery shopping there if you chose. A favorite treat was a bag of peanut brittle, cut into one-inch squares.
We camped on a piece of land — I think one of my relatives owned it — and this piece of land was high above a creek called Cedar Creek.
To get to the creek, you would climb down a small hill. There were tree roots there that formed a series of natural steps down to the water. On the other side of the creek, there was a large meadow where you could see birds or other wildlife.
We had good times there — tailgate picnics in the evening for dinner, campfires and music in the evening, and breakfast (often pancakes — yum!) cooked on a portable stove. Cleanup was easy enough — boil some water on the stove, add some cold water and dishwashing liquid, and get going.
What I remember most are three particular trips. On one trip, some of us decided to go swimming in one area of the creek that was deeper, so it formed a natural swimming hole. A snake saw that we were having fun and decided to join us. Amid shrieks and yelps from various assorted swimmers, everybody hastily exited the water and ran back to the campsite.
(Who knew snakes could swim? Yikes! This was something my teachers FORGOT TO MENTION in biology class.)
On another trip, it decided to rain. I wasn’t on that trip but my dad was. He was sleeping on the picnic table at the campsite and there was a big tarp over the table to keep it dry. During the night, the tarp filled with water and the weight caused the tarp to sink further and further down.
When my dad woke up, the tarp was about one inch from his nose, it was so heavy. He managed to get out from under it and move the water out without getting wet, thank goodness.
The third trip was before my freshman year of high school. We went up to visit some people who were camping there and we younger ones got to stay for an impromptu overnight visit. There was another place that we went swimming, near a small bridge on a backwoods road. I didn’t quite have the nerve to jump off the bridge (no, thank you — I’m guessing the bridge was at least 12 to 20 feet over the water) but swimming there was fun anyway. I didn’t have anything to swim in, so I went into the water wearing my shorts and T-shirt. Sometimes you just have to improvise.