Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The Road Goes On Forever, and the Moving Never Ends

Ok, so I've been 'home' for a week now, and I've spent a grand total of ONE night in my new place.

It's been a busy week...

Last week, after I concluded that epic road trip and unloaded the U-haul into Mamasan's storage shed, I took the trailer back to the local drop-off garage down the road in the teeming metropolis of White House, TN, happy that my truck was finally unencumbered by more than a ton of dead weight dragging behind it.

Once it got to be quittin' time in the real world that day, I headed south to Nashville proper to spend the evening with my sister Amy and her hub Scottie. I think they live about 40 miles from Mamasan, almost an hour away. But we had an enjoyable evening together. Amy made some killer chicken burritos, and we had that and some good beer for dinner while catching up on the latest. After dinner, we goofed off for a bit in their music room, where I took a turn on the fretless bass. Oh dear god do I ever suck as a musician! On the other hand, the good news is that I'm one of the few unemployed people in this town not looking for a record deal...

After our fruitless jam session, we set about preparing for the camping trip, going over shopping lists and who's-bringing-what. We also rooted around in their garage for awhile, and I loaded up my truck with more gear. Then we spent the balance of the evening playing with the pugs and drinking a bottle of wine, laughing our asses off while watching some Tivo'd episodes of Wipeout. Damn, that's some funny shiat right there!

After a few of those, we hit the sack. Amy and Scottie had to get up early to go to work, and I needed to head on down the road to Spring Hill. Now that I'm out here in Tennessee, I'm staying with Cyndi and Tim at their place--they've got a pretty big house with just the two of them, and Cyndi travels quite a bit for work, so now Tim's got somebody to hang out with during the week. I see a lot of cigar-smoking on the deck in my near future.

Anyhow, I finally showed up there and unloaded all of my clothes and such, then spent the day catching up with them. Later that afternoon, I took off for Alabama to see Reverend Dave, while they took off for the airport and a long weekend in Colorado.

I rolled into Sweet Home Florence Alabama around 6:00 o'clock last Thursday night, and joined the good Reverend at the pool with a cooler full of beer. We hung out with all his rowdy buddies for several hours, finally throwing some meat on the grill once the sun went down. Around 10 pm, we finally motivated ourselves away from the pool, the grill, and the beers, and headed down to the local Super Walmart with our extensive shopping list in hand.

$200 later, we were back at the apartment, packing up all of the food and the rest of the gear, dividing stuff to go early with me, and the stuff that could follow later in the day with Dave. After one last beer on the back deck, we called it a night around one o'clock in the morning.

Just a few hours of sleep later, we were both up and scurrying around, trying to get everything loaded in the trucks and get Dave off to work. We finally hit the road around 7:15, Dave heading to the office, and me heading off to Joe Wheeler State Park, about thirty-odd miles away.

I stopped and got another cheap styrofoam cooler and six more bags of ice to top everything off, and then showed up at the ranger station about ten minutes after they opened for business at 8:00 am. Since it was Labor Day weekend, the park was completely booked, except for the 'primitive camping' area, which was first-come, first-served, so I wanted to get there first thing in the morning on Friday and stake our claim to a primo spot.

I paid the fees, then motored out to the primitive end of the park. I drove around the loop a couple of times (it's much smaller than I thought), but finally found a nice area with lots of trees that was still relatively flat. The camping area was almost completely empty when I got there, save for a couple of other tents in the best spots, and also a couple right down on the water, but I still got a good spot--we had no complaints at all about our location.

And even after the week from hell that I had, packing, loading, driving, and unloading all my stuff, it was my responsibility, as the member of the party with no job, to haul all the big stuff down early and get the camp set up before everyone else got there. I had several hours to do it, but I got right after it.

The first priority was to set up the pop-up shelters--one for the kitchen area and another for Amy and Scottie to be used as a frame for their hanging tent. Then I had to set up Dave's tent for him and I to use. Well, easier said than done. Those 'Easy-Up' shelters are fine when you have two people, but one person fighting it was a cast-iron bitch. They'd been in storage for awhile and the moving parts didn't want to. Eventually, after much sweating and swearing, I got them set up.

There were also a few camp kitchen things to take care of, but once the shelters were up, the hard part was done. Unfortunately, Mother Nature decided to pay a visit with a quick late-summer thunderstorm.

My truck gets rained on for what seems like the first time in years! But notice all the trees and woods--You don't see that in Vegas.

If you look closely, you can see the rain. And that's the lake down there at the bottom of the hill, too. And oh by the way, 'primitive' means no electricity or a 'driveway'. Each campsite still had a concrete picnic table. The fire went wherever you wanted to put it--no forest fire restrictions here!

Of course, the rain sent everyone else in the campground scrambling for cover, but I just chilled under the pop-up shelter in my camp chair, reading my 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Nashville book until the storm passed.

I also met some of my neighbors--I made friends with what I thought were a couple of college girls when they first wandered into my campsite, and then after about the first thirty seconds, I realized that they were 14- and 16-year old sisters. I felt like a dirty old man, briefly, but they kept coming over to visit and talk that afternoon. Friendly folks down there in Alabama, yes indeed...

After reading a bit and being distracted by the underage crowd, I decided to wander on down to the lake and look around. The campground, unfortunately, was in a backwater cove of the lake that didn't get much outflow, so the water down there was kind of scummy and pond-looking. Lots of moss and still water, more suitable for frogs and snakes and such, and not good for swimming at all. Well, not right next to shore--about fifty feet out, it looked really nice and inviting.

There was a small boat ramp there where the water was clear of obstructions and moss, but that was it. If you wanted to swim, it was better to drive down to the day-use area a couple of miles away. But lots of folks were fishing down in there by the camping area.

I got my toes in the water, my ass in the sand, not a worry in the world, a cold beer in my hand... Life is good today

Further away from the campground, the water was fine, as evidenced by this gal on a raft.

Looking out to the main part of the lake. If you look closely in the foreground, you can see all the stuff growing in the water. Ick.

That's one of the swimming beaches. It's about a half mile across the water, but a couple of miles by road to get there.

Anyhow, Reverend Dave sent his people home from the office at 2:00 that afternoon, and his plan was to leave straight from work, stop and fill up a cooler with beer and ice, and then roll up into camp about an hour later. That was the plan. But at 3:30 he called me and said he had to drive back into Florence proper to get beer--apparently, it's all dry counties up there in northern Alabama, and there was no beer to be had anywhere along his route. He was a little pissed about that. But he eventually made it to the campground, where the first thing we did was crack open a cold one and toast my first free holiday weekend in over five years.

We unloaded his truck too--he had more gear--and then we tightened up the tent a little better than I initially had it. He had a cot to set up, but all I had was a foam pad and some old quilts and a sleeping bag for my bed. Oh well--I've slept on the ground before, so it didn't bother me at all.

Once we got all the rest of the gear unloaded and our camp set up as best we could, we drove down to the ranger station and picked up a few spare lantern mantles (we both tore one in our lanterns) and several more bundles of firewood to get us through the weekend. Normally, we'd just buy firewood from some redneck on the side of the road, but nobody was selling that weekend. Still too early in the year, I suppose.

After we got back, Dave built the fire while I put new mantles in the lanterns and fired them up, and also lit up the camp stoves to make sure they still worked after being in storage--Dave had gotten his for Christmas and never used it, and mine had been in storage for eight years, having not been used since Derek, Ed W, Wade, and I went camping up on The Rim back in 2002. Everything worked fine, though, and we had ourselves a proper campsite working just as dusk settled in.

For dinner, we had a nicely marinated pork tenderloin wrapped in foil that we threw on the fire, and I believe we opened a can of baked beans and a package of potato salad to go with it. Of course, just as we were sitting down to eat, Amy and Scottie arrived from their two-hour drive down from Nashville, so we scarfed it down in a hurry (it was damn good) and set to helping them unload their car and get the rest of their tent set up. They also had some really nice cots, too, so yeah, I was the only one sleeping on the ground that weekend.

After they got their work done and we cleaned up the dinner dishes, we just sat around the campfire cracking a few beers and enjoying the wonderful weather (all weekend it was mid-80's during the day, and mid-50's at night. Absolutely perfect camping weather!) I believe we also made some smores as the night wore on. (One of my specialties, as Falcon Rob can attest, is that I have mad skillz in turning plain old wire coat hangers into kick-ass marshmallow roasting devices, complete with stay-cool handles and everything--that was another project I did earlier in the day while waiting for people to show up).

Since it was a holiday weekend, the campground filled up to capacity that first afternoon, and well into the evening people kept showing up. One of the most interesting WTF? moments happened when a friggin' full-on diesel truck came rolling through the camp. We all sat there wondering what the hell he was doing, and Reverend Dave, having lived down in the area for several years now, calmly said Welcome to Alabama, y'all. Eventually, our friends in the diesel truck found a spot to set up camp, and I *had* to get a picture the next day.

Yep, Uncle Jesse loaded up the family in the rig and brought 'em all out camping for the weekend. Welcome to Alabama!

I don't think I made it past 10:30 that first night--I was plum tuckered out. After a week of sweating my ass off moving and driving cross country, plus another full day of hard work at the campsite, I collapsed in a heap in the tent, snoring like Yogi Bear after raiding a pick-a-nick basket. I was done!

I woke around 7:30 the next morning to the pleasing smell of campfire and bacon, and the not-so-pleasing sounds of Scottie and Dave trying to cook bacon directly on the grill over an open fire. There were a few casualties that we weren't too happy about, but the end product made up for it. It was a perfect 'appetizer' for breakfast. Once we nibbled on those, I showed the guys how to make camp coffee in a percolator (neither had ever done it before), and then we really enjoyed our morning around the campfire. Damn that coffee was good--I had some freshly ground Millstone that I used, and everyone raved about it. It sure beats the hell out of the automatic-drip version, and it provided further evidence that any food cooked outdoors is automatically superior to food cooked indoors.

After two or three pots of coffee, we eventually got around to making breakfast of French toast and bacon (this time, we used my huge cast-iron skillet for the bacon). It turned out fantastic, as you can imagine, but we didn't finish till almost 11:00 in the morning. That's the kind of slackers we are...

David took off to go get his motorcycle and spend the day riding since the weather was absolutely gorgeous, and Amy, Scottie, and I just hung around the camp playing cards, goofing off, and coming up with other gear we absolutely 'needed' for our further camping excursions. Now that I'm here in town, it looks like we're all going to be doing a whole helluva lot more camping trips.

We also loaded up all the dirty dishes and such and made a trek to the bathhouse over in the 'trailer park' area of the the campground--you know, where the RVers gather. Holy shiat--them people are crazy. And I don't quite know how they call it 'camping'--we saw some truly unbelievable rigs out there. Besides the usual toys, damn near every one of them had a satellite dish set up (couldn't miss the Alabama season opener!).

But that's not what we were there for--we had dirty dishes to take care of. Since it was so crowded down in the primitive camping area, you couldn't just wander off and pee by a tree during the day--too many people around. So we headed for the bathhouse with their luxurious flushing toilets, running water, and hot showers. And outside of the bathrooms there was a big counter with two huge sinks with water so hot you couldn't put your hand in it. So instead of using our propane to heat up small buckets of water to wash with at the campsite, we just loaded up our dirty dishes in a big metal tub and brought some soap, sponges, and towels to the bathhouse. (Also, it was much better to take care of biz there instead of the spider-infested outhouses they had over in the primitive area, if you know what I mean, so it was always a two-fold mission to do the dishes...)

Dinner on Saturday night was some of Amy's fine dry-ranch bacon burgers on the fire. I think we also had like chips and macaroni salad, and a beer or two. Oh hell yeah, we ate good this past weekend! But the highlight of the meal was her dutch-oven cherry cobbler. Damn, that was some good stuff, and as full as we were from dinner, we still killed the entire pot of it.

After dinner, we sat around the campfire singing songs while Scottie played the guitar (he's very talented musically, and can play just about anything but the banjo) and smoking our pipes. It was a good time, but again, we were done by 11:00, and called it a night. I slept pretty well, although about the time I was pulling a pine cone out from under my sleeping bag, I was thinking to myself Damn, I turned down a weekend in St. Louis with one of my favorite gals for THIS??? But even so, we were having a great time, and it was just what I needed. And like I mentioned before--the weather was absolutely perfect. I never even got in my sleeping bag the entire time. I was on top of it wearing boxers and a t-shirt at night, and only used a fleece blanket to sleep under. I never got the least bit cold, even when it was 55 degrees out.

We got punked at 7:00 in the morning though--there was a church group camped behind us, and they got up and were singing hymns and shiat bright and early, payback for us getting a little loud with Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and Amy's famous version of 'Me & Bobby McGee' the night before. So we decided that next weekend we're gonna learn this song in three-part harmony and bust it out when the need arises (WARNING: that link is *extremely* NSFW).

Anyhow, Sunday started out a lot like Saturday did--we sat around the fire drinking some damn good coffee for about an hour and then went to work in our camp kitchen.

Everyone's favorite piece of camping gear: My cowboy coffee percolator. I swear it was almost as popular as the beer cooler. Well, ok, let's not get carried away... But the camp coffee was a hit!

Morning coffee with coconut creamer--gotta love that! If you look closely (clicky for full-size), you can see the steam rising up from the cup.

David cooked up the rest of the bacon, and then we reused most of the drippings to cook up some hash browns. While those were cooking, we crumbled up bacon and sausage, added it to the mix, and then poured on the scrambled eggs. At the end we added cheese and salsa, and then had tortillas to make breakfast burritos. Add a cup of orange juice, and we had a damn good, and hearty, meal.

After the dishes were done, I remember taking a nap, enjoying the cool weather and fresh air. David took off to meet his on-again, off-again girlfriend for a picnic, and Amy and Scottie headed over to the swimming beach. They were back a lot sooner than expected, as nobody, for some odd reason, wanted to share the swimming hole with a water moccasin. Yeah, I'm less put off by sharks at the beach than I am by snakes in the lake. Fark that. So as far as swimming went, I never got more than ankle deep all weekend...

They went hiking instead, while I puttered around camp, straightening things up and enjoying the morning air while I relaxed by the fire.

Gotta love morning in camp--sunlight filtering through the mist and the trees--what a beautiful day!

This was our living room. Both of those coolers were full of beer. Well, maybe half-full by the time this picture was taken.

When Amy and Scottie got back to camp, we spent the rest of the afternoon playing 'golf' and Quiddler, and hitting the snack stash for beef jerky, chips, and the occasional fun-sized candy bar. Not a bad way to spend the day since the swimmin' hole had been taken over by reptiles.

David rolled back into camp later that afternoon, and once he got back, we set about preparing for the evening. We built the fire back up, and he and Amy drove up to the ranger station to get more wood while Scottie and I got started on dinner. While they were doing that little chore, Amy dropped a huge log on her big toe, likely breaking it, but certainly smashing the nail in and causing her much distress. We tried to dress it and bandage it when she got back to camp, but instead, there were a group of fellow hippies a few campsites over, and they had some suitable pharmaceuticals on hand to help dull the pain. That, and a 12-pack of Fat Tire seemed to do the trick.

As far as dinner went, we poured six beers into a big stock pot, sliced up a couple of onions, and then added a bunch of beer brats and let them soak for a bit. For sides, we had baked beans and the rest of the potato and macaroni salads, plus whatever chips we still had on hand. After we brought the beer mixture to a boil, we let it simmer for about a half hour, and then transferred to brats to the grill to finish off over the coals. Oh, and I almost forgot--we also had corn on the cob, slathered in butter, seasoned with salt and pepper, and wrapped in foil that we cooked in the coals, too.

Dinner was amazingly good. So good that all conversation stopped and all you could hear was the sound of four people on a full-blown munchin' spree. Seriously, those brats were incredible--we had some good buns for them, and piled high with the beer-infused onions and topped with spicy mustard, oh man, it was a meal fit for a king.

After dinner, Amy was in no shape to do too much, so we just sat around the fire, emptying cans and singing songs. Eventually, I made it back to the kitchen area to prepare our dessert cobbler--apple was on the menu on Sunday night.

I swear, it's the easiest thing in the world to make, but everyone just goes nuts for it. Amy came up with it, and it's a huge favorite. Basically, all you do is line a Dutch oven with foil, spray a little Pam in it, and then pour in two cans of fruit pie filling (Scottie and Amy prefer cherry, but Reverend Dave and I prefer apple. But blackberry and peach are still on the agenda!). On top of the pie filling, just add one box of dry yellow cake mix. Don't stir or anything. Then take a stick of butter, and cut up a bunch of pats and place it all over the top like you're putting pepperoni on a pizza. After all that, you just sprinkle the top with cinnamon and nutmeg and put the lid on.

That's it!

We put some charcoal in the fire, then fished them out with tongs when they were glowing red. We put down a base of about twelve coals, then set the Dutch oven on top of them. Then we added another ten or so coals on top and let it sit and cook for about 25 minutes. The fruit bubbles up through the cake mix, cooking it, and the butter melts down from the top, infusing the whole mess with the spices. Oh dear god it's tasty! It was truly the highlight of the trip--absolutely fantastic.

Our campfire, and our dessert cooking in the Dutch oven. There was some serious magic happening inside of that thing!

I think the only thing that would've made it better would've been some vanilla bean ice cream on the side, or at least some whipped cream, but ice cream wasn't possible, unless you pack it in dry ice or something. Still, it was damn good all by itself. Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of the finished product. It didn't last very long once we took the lid off.

After the dessert was all gone, we spent a mellow night by the fire listening to Scottie play the guitar. We almost called it a night, but around 11:00 or so, the rest of the hippies in the campground showed up with drinks and smokeables, and we sat up for a couple more hours singing Grateful Dead tunes and such. It was a great time, but by 1:30 or so, I was done. The party wrapped up and everyone staggered off to bed for the last time.

Of course, there was some great comedy on tap. Just as everyone was settling down for the evening and all the campfires had burned down to embers, when all you could hear were the sounds of the night time forest, a shrill southern-accented female voice broke the silence across the entire campground--Don't you blame that nastiness on me, I did NOT do that!


Married couples are all the same--somebody farts and somebody else gets blamed...

Anyhow, once we finally got to sleep, I think we didn't get up till almost 8:30 in the morning on Monday. We were all pretty lethargic after the partying of the previous night, and knowing that we had to tear down and go home kinda put a damper on the festive mood of the weekend. Breakfast was cereal, coffee, and leftover cobbler.

Eventually we got everything packed up, got the trash thrown out, and everything cleaned up. We gave the rest of our beer to the very appreciative good-ol'-boys in the next campsite, and we said our goodbyes and were on the road by noon. David went back to his place in Florence, I drove up to Spring Hill, and Amy and Scottie headed up to their house in west Nashville. It took me not-quite two hours to get home, almost exactly 100 miles from campsite to driveway.

I dragged in a duffel bag and the cooler, put the food in the fridge and the cooler in the back yard to air out. Then I let the dogs in and took a shower, washing another day's worth of campground funk off of me. I dozed on the couch for a few hours before Tim got home (Cyndi continued on to her week's business trip while Tim came home). We stayed up and watched the Boise State-VA Tech game, ordered a pizza, and just chilled there at the house.

I slept like a rock that night, happy to be in a nice bed instead of on the ground. But my work was not done. The next morning (yesterday), I had to get up and drive back up to Mamasan's house all the way up in White House/Cottontown to store all the camping gear in her shed. Yep--more driving and unloading stuff. I swear, it never ends. But since it's 60 miles from Cyndi & Tim's house in Spring Hill to Mamasan's place, I figured I'd just stay the night up there. So that's where I am right now.

After I got all the gear unloaded, we just hung out for the afternoon playing cards and visiting a bit, then did a little shopping (I picked up a new heavy-duty camp grill that won't allow the bacon to fall through), after which we had a nice home-cooked dinner of pork chops, baked potatoes, and salad.

I crashed hard after dinner, the constant driving and loading/unloading my truck having taken its toll. I think I slept for like two hours, but then I got up to do this post, knowing that folks have been waiting patiently for an update.

I hope I didn't disappoint.

On Wednesday, I'm heading back down to Spring Hill with the rest of my clothes and will try to get myself settled a bit more permanently. But the chores aren't done. Tim and I have to go over to my niece Diana's place and pick up a dining room table and chairs and move it back over to our place. But that's the price you pay when you have a pickup truck and there is lots of family around. The moving never ends.

Peace out, y'all. I'll have more later.


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