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Oconee State Park

Given that it’s now high season here in the foothills with a major summer holiday quickly approaching, Pat, Chelsea and I took a quick run out to the State Park to find and secure a campsite. After several rounds around the campsite loops and several conversations with the rangers in the office, we picked our perfect site and reserved it.

Arrival day was a bit frantic. Chelsea was working quickly and single-mindedly to post the journals and photos I’d completed. I was fighting down physical nausea at the mere thought of sitting in the chair even one more hour, but I managed to finish a few last minute things.

The goal had been to finish the prologue and epilogue for our book series, but my body went into rebellion mode, screaming, “Enough! Enough!”

Pat is in the middle of integrating all his Daytona furniture into the house, so he was busy moving. Jim and Jimmy are putting in a new set of outside stairs to Pat’s workshop, a big project begun long ago without much progress to date. Jim had decided to make progress on the stairs that week, so Pat had that distraction as well.

He’d also volunteered to look for some camping items for us, like an electronic ignition one-burner gas stove, a French press for coffee, a cooler, and a ten-by-ten white canopied pavilion tent. He had to find them and dig them out of the chaos.

As if this weren’t all entertaining enough, two women stopped by a few minutes before we left with a fifty-pound brindle Boxer named Peaches, hoping Pat would adopt the dog.

Our Grapes of Wrath expedition to Oconee State Campground

By the time we were packed and on our way, we had Pat’s car with the back seat half full and he had his small pickup truck with our gear, bikes, his gear contributions, and Peaches. It was a scene out of Grapes of Wrath.

We unloaded everything on the picnic table in an ungraceful heap. Pat helped us set up the tent canopy and showed us how to work the one-burner stove before he left with Peaches. While I set off to find ice for the cooler, Chelsea set up the tent. Within an hour or so we’d wrestled things into submission.

We hadn’t camped since Port Lavaca in July of 2009. Our tent hadn’t been out of its bag. We hadn’t the used the stove. We now have an entirely new system, the not-love-at-first-sight panniers. Like muscles have memory, though, our camping-memory kicked into gear.

The panniers, as you know by now, have been an ongoing challenge for us. Remember our nine-hour packing disaster in February before our house closed? It hasn’t been solved yet.

We chose our panniers after much thought and much research. Spoiled by the ease of the trailers and the waterproof portage bags we’d been using, it’s been a traveler’s nightmare having eight identical bright-yellow-and-black panniers, four small and four “large”.

Ortlieb has a great reputation and these panniers get great reviews. The locking system is wonderful. We love the waterproof aspect. We are just being driven nuts by not being able to figure out the weight and balance thing, and worst of all, what is where in that sea of yellow and black. Our huge bright-yellow-and-black portage bags add to the confusion.

With a low-key roll of her eyes and a funny twist to her mouth, Chelsea related a story to me when I returned with the ice. Two eight or ten year old boys were riding their bikes around on the campground loops. One of them looked over at our pile and exclaimed loudly, “Look at all that luggage! Cool! It all matches!” Yes. It sure does.

Panniers aside, we still had a number of basic systems to refresh our memories on – shower and teeth-brushing; cooking on the gas stove; dealing with clothes and laundry on a daily basis; tent and rain fly; waterproofing in the current situation (we had rain or threatened rain every day); eating; keeping our electronics out of harm’s way with their high exposure to weather and dirt; charging our electronics.

Systems had to be figured out for everything we did all day, from the simplest tasks to the most sublime.

Our campsite and Pat's pavilion tent

Thursday afternoon I itemized with great amusement the astonishing pile of boxes, crates, bags and panniers stacked up next to us.

Over and above our own ten bright-yellow-and-black “luggage” pieces, we had: a large red and white cooler; a huge and heavy navy-blue industrial-strength movers blanket; a woven cotton blanket; a ten by ten white pavilion tent; a five-day supply of food in assorted bags and boxes; a five-ounce Sobieski Vodka stainless steel flask filled with Wild Turkey 101 (a last minute ‘gift’ from Pat); a blue plastic industrial-strength recycling bucket loaded with seventeen cans of gas, at least half of them partly used, and the accompanying gas stove with automatic ignition; folding wood deck chairs; our two bicycles; a French press; a small round igloo drinks cooler; a fifty-foot extension cord; plastic storage dishes borrowed from Pat for the cooler; extra ziploks for sorting and packaging our food; and a portable electric fan.

I have never in my life brought that much gear out camping.

Friday was a blessing in getting organized and downsized. We spent the day hunched under the pavilion in our low-slung deck chairs, making frequent trips up to the picnic table, tackling our kitchen packing cubes and bear canister.

Ever since the memorable squirrel and Snickers Bar incident in St. Augustine in August of 2007, we’d been babying our squirrel-torn kitchen packing cube, repairing it as best we could, but the broken zipper finally became more hassle than benefit. All kitchen supplies were now downsized to one bag. Out with the old and squirrel-torn!

Though I doubt it’ll work on the road, we did get closer to setting our panniers up to find things quickly and reliably, and we came up with some clever ways to identify the contents. We’re now on a hunt for stickers and luggage tags.

All our work came in handy by that night. We’d left our aluminum cooking pot on the cooler and leaned one of our portage bags against it. We put everything in the bear canisters to protect against squirrels and raccoons overnight. What didn’t fit got wrapped in a box and rolled tightly into the portage bag.

Deep in dreamland that night we heard the pan clanging as if it fell off the cooler, followed by a rustling sound. Chelsea leaped out with the flashlight I handed her. A raccoon had leaned against the portage bag trying to figure out how to get to the bread tucked happily out of sight and out of reach.

The bag fell against the cooler, dislodging the pot. Presto, we had an early warning system! The raccoon, startled by the pot clanging and by the flashlight-wielding intruder, fled up the nearest tree, not to return the rest of our visit. We did get photos of the sandy paw prints left behind on the portage bag.

I truly wish I had glorious tales to tell of the remaining three days, but I don’t. We worked. I wrote the remaining pages for our new e-book series. We caught up on emails. We got the e-books converted to .mobi and e-Pub to get them downloadable-ready.

We had no cell phone signal, even up at the camp office. Wireless signal required a few-steps-process to connect to a very weak signal, only available on the porch of the camp office. The steps had to be redone every time we left and came back.

Getting to the camp office required us to untarp and unlock our bikes and ride a steep gravelly half-mile road over to the office, lock the bikes at the office, then relock and re-tarp the bikes on our return.

Since neither of our laptops is currently wi-fi enabled, we had to do our website work from the Galaxy Tab. It was not a raging success.

Monday night was the low point. We’d expected to have our e-books uploaded and our shopping cart set with all our books lined up to be bought. We’d hardly eaten all day in the interest of getting things finished. The process was not working on the Galaxy with the low signal and hardware challenges.

We left the office at nine-thirty in the pitch dark. The light from my bike headlight was sucked up in the total darkness, so we crawled slowly back over the gravel road, guessing at our turns. At ten-thirty we crawled into the tent with our rice cakes and energy nut butter.

Our teeny, tiny slice of lake view

We read our Kindles in silence, eating our rice cakes, finally rising up after midnight to hike over to the bathrooms and brush our teeth.

We are happy to report that we had a terrific campsite. Our choice was a wise one. Set down below the level of the road, we had a surprising amount of privacy and we missed a great deal of the dust flushed up by the non-stop traffic over the busy weekend.

We set our chairs up facing our teeny-tiny slice of lake view and had our own private view of the forest with nary a vehicle or person in sight in front of us the entire five days. The raccoons and squirrels behaved themselves. Chelsea got really confident with our gas camp stove.

The camp personnel were friendly and all the campers were quiet and mannerly. We had no rowdy parties, no middle-of-the-night raucous drive-through-honking episodes. No one took the sites around us throughout the five days.

By the time Pat picked us up on Tuesday noon we were tired, hot and in need of showers, but we’d accomplished a terrific amount and we’d had the privilege to work in a beautiful place, outside, no less.

Pat came without Peaches – he’d decided against the adoption – and we’d gotten so organized that everything, including the three of us, fit quickly and easily into Pat’s small pickup truck.

Now that’s progress.

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