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Roughing It

Source: Personal experience

Read this and other stories in the book, Noticing Nature, by Chuck Bonner. Also available in e-book format for Amazon Kindle.

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One of our first family camping trips established a timeless tag-line for all camping trips to come.

Late in the summer of 1972, my father brought my two brothers and me on a long-weekend camping trip to Shenandoah National Park.

Although my brothers and I loved the outdoors, and I had gone camping quite a few times - never far from home - and one or both of my brothers had sometimes come along, it was not really a family tradition. My father had had his fill of "camping" in the formative years of the Army Air Corps. My mother and my sisters had not the slightest interest in it. So this was a new adventure for all of us.

We rented a pop-up camper from the Dover Air Force Base "Special Services" facility, hitched it behind my ancient pick-up truck, and loaded more stuff than we needed into the camper, the truck, and my father's car. Our little convoy set out from Dover bound for the wilderness of western Virginia's Shenandoah National Park.

This was just a few days after my 16th birthday, and the lamination on my driver's license was still warm. I had had a little experience pulling my father's boat trailer. Still, pulling that little camper on a six-hour trek, and driving in the mountains for the first time in my life, would be a new adventure.

Jim was about three months shy of his 14th birthday, and Joe was 12.

In retrospect, I marvel at what my father must have been thinking to head out on a camping trip with three teen-aged boys and a dog. He had not shown any other recognizable symptoms of insanity before.

We managed to arrive at Big Meadows Campground early enough to set up the camper and to make most of the important discoveries in daylight. There was no electricity in the campsites, so the 30-foot heavy-duty extension cord we had brought was useless. Dogs had to be kept tied up in the campground at all times, and we had only brought a 3-foot leash for our dog, Peppin.

Oh, the extension cord wasn't useless after all! For the remainder of the camping trip, upon our every return to the campsite, Joe was reminding us to "plug Peppin in."

Night came, and we settled in to our unfamiliar quarters. There was some squirming and readjusting to be done, and a little bit of pushing and kicking.

At some point, Joe awoke to discover that he didn't have a pillow and that Jim had two. He tried to take his pillow back from Jim, who was only half awakened by the struggle. Jim said he couldn't sleep with only one pillow, and he continued drowsing. Joe, fully incensed and fully awake, insisted, "C'mon, we're supposed to be roughing it!"

Jim's reply has become immortal in our family lore: "You rough it your way, and I'll rough it mine."

Epilogue: Three and a half decades later, my brothers and my sons and I continue to keep a strong tradition of the family camping trip. And hardly a day passes in the campsite without someone, usually Jim, being teased, "You rough it your way, and I'll rough it mine."

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