Sitting within sight of George Washington National Forest, we still didn't know where we were going. We were done with our burgers and nibbling on the last of the fries. One campsite was north of us; the other was south. We had to pick.
I wish I could say that our decision was scientific. We considered reasonable measures, like access to clean water and toilets, but in the end Hone Quarry, the southerly site, won because...
A) Quarries sound dangerous. Doesn't it seem like people are always busting their heads on hidden rocks or finding bodies in them?
B) You can call it Hon Quarry, which I did all weekend in my best Baltimore accent, irritating Ryan and confusing our dog.
We may have been indecisive with the location, but we made up for it with preparation. The day before we left I spent several hours perfecting my camping list. It accounted for every contingency. If it was a cool night, I had jackets. If the campsite was buggy, I had Off. If we got splinters, I had a first aid kit. If I dropped the eggs, they were in a hard-sided carrier that cushions each one with little plastic tips.
We were driving down I-81 confident in our readiness and bolting out bluegrass when the first rain drops hit. The singing stopped, and I turned to Ryan, raising an eyebrow.
[caption id="attachment_1670" align="alignright" width="200"] Rain Gear[/caption]
He is a professional meteorologist. All week he'd been checking fancy radar Websites. In their projections, little colored rain blobs formed over the Blue Ridge Mountains on Sunday afternoon, but the sky was supposed to be clear until then.
The first splish-splash didn't alarm me. The first thirty minutes of showers didn't alarm me. The first sight of our muddy campsite didn't alarm me. I maintained faith in the radar maps, and said, "C'mon, lets give it a try."
There are only ten sites at Hone Quarry. They are nestled in a thick stand of pines, and most are far enough apart to feel private. Ours was quiet and well equipped with a tent pad, a picnic table, a fire ring, and a handy swing-arm grill that adjusts to the height of your fire.
It was a good campsite. As I was setting up the tent, I kept saying, "Imagine this without the rain." We had even recently bought a Budget Trail Camera just for our trips as we wanted to capture every moment of our outing.
Ryan grunted. The dog paced uncomfortably, reluctant to sit in the mud. To keep my brood dry, I backed the Jeep next to the campfire and used its flip-up rear window for shelter. I poured two bourbon and Cokes and began cooking brats.
I figured that we weren't doing so badly and settled into a folding chair under the Jeep's window. As I sat watching the sausages sizzle, the dog spotted a comparatively dry spot for his rump. Jumping from inch-thick mud, he landed right on the middle of my thighs.
I tried to push him off, but his legs went wild. Like a spastic painter, he covered me with muddy streaks. I looked like abstract art, a study in brown. When I wiped at it, the mud just smeared. It left an indelible film across my shirt, shorts, arms and legs, and it coated my optimism.
I couldn't delude myself. There was rain, lots of rain. In fact, I suddenly couldn't imagine any place without rain. Standing there, dabbing at the mud with baby wipes, I began to wonder whether those slow rolling clouds stopped. Maybe they extended into West Virginia and beyond, coating state after state in the same grimy paste that I was trying to get off my body.
The rest of the night was nearly silent. We talked little and went to bed early after holding the dog aloft to wipe each paw, his belly and backside before placing him inside the tent.
As soon as we woke the next morning, we began packing our wet belongings. We would forego my homemade campfire scramble and instead settle for McMuffins.
This was not what I had planned. I'd envisioned myself reclining at the picnic table, gulping my morning tea, the sizzle of bacon a few feet away, dew glimmering on fresh pine needles overhead.
Instead, I was shaking enough water from my tent to irrigate a field. The tent, the towels, the sleeping bag, the dog, us, everything would need to be washed when we got home.
I was silent and scowling as the first sun rays broke through. I didn't even look up. I thought it was a fluke.
Ryan walked to the road to see the sky. He came back smiling and said, "It's ending."
I kept packing until he stepped up behind me and removed two bags of groceries from the car. "Let's eat."
I turned to face the campsite. It was already drying. Standing water had seeped into the ground. Ryan sat a paper bag on the picnic table, and it hadn't soaked through. Even the mud was thickening; it looked like fresh chocolate candy, hardening in giant sheets.
I crossed to the table and lifted a potato from the bag. With the dog laying by my feet and the sound of firewood igniting behind me, I began chopping vegetables. Light dappled through the trees. It covered the campground in an amber wash. Warm and dry, I hummed, grateful for the morning.
A muddy night is bad, but I'm sure that someone has had it worse. Tell us all about your bad camping experiences. Also, check out The Photo Album for additional pictures from the trip.