Camping alone

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The lighthouse at Elk Neck State Park, MD.

I only camped four nights during this month-long trip: once in the Arkansas Hot Springs National Park, once along the Blue Ridge Parkway outside of Asheville, and two nights in Elk Neck State Park in Maryland. By and large these were uneventful, peaceful sojourns.

Camping in Maryland was the exception.

First of all, it was $27 a night for off-season camping. $27. A night. Yep. Secondly, you were required to camp on their tent pads, but the tent pads had such hard-packed dirt/gravel that I spent twenty minutes and bent four stakes when I tried to stake down with a hammer in preparation for the oncoming storm.

Then there was the storm. The afternoon of my first day in the park, the weather prediction was 30% chance of rain in the early evening. I thought, okay, no big deal. A little rain never hurt anyone. I staked down my tent as best I could and went to sleep.

At 2 a.m. I woke up thinking I was about to take a ride on Noah’s arc. In one corner of the tent, the vinyl bottom was floating up from the ground – I couldn’t tell whether from wind or water. I pushed it down several times with my hand like you might test a waterbed and got similar results. I stuck my hand outside the tent. It was just wind.

It was a noisy night. OnceI realized sleep was out of the question, I made excellent progress on the sock I was knitting.

By morning it was still gusting and blowing. I figured that packing up camp at 7 a.m. in the rain wasn’t any different from packing up camp at 1 p.m., so I spent an hour wrestling my tent, pad, sleeping bag and various items into my car. A ranger drove by three separate times, windows warmly sealed up against the now-horizontal rain. I could have thrown a bent tent stake at them. You’re enjoying watching this, aren’t you, you dry person you?

Gear in trunk, I drove to the camp exit and took advantage of the overhang at the registration center to rearrange some of my gear out of the driving rain. A ranger came up to the window. I thought, oh, that’s nice, she wants to see how I did in the storm. I rolled down my window.

“Hi there, I was just using your overhang to repack some of my gear out of the rain. I stayed over the past two nights.”

“I know. I saw you staying at site 165. It wasn’t paid for.”

I stared at her. There were two occupied sites in the whole place. And she was telling me I stole her $27 camping?

“No ma’am, I was in site 168. See, I have both nights’ receipts right here.” I held out the two large, manila hangers with the numbers “168” written right below today and yesterday’s dates.

“I saw you there.”

“I’m sorry, I paid already.”

She pursed her lips at me. I wished I had a tent stake again.

“I’m pretty sure I saw you in 165.”

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Drying myself out at a diner after a wet night in Elk Neck State Park, MD.

One of us got our numbers mixed up. I’ll go ahead and say it was probably me. But I was so mad that the rangers had offered zero help during the storm, zero interest in saying hello to one of the three campers they had in the whole park, and now, sitting in my car absolutely soaked to the bone, with my two receipts for some equivalent but one-digit-off camp site – I lost all patience. And I drove away.

So, ladies, beware – the dangers of camping alone lie not in aggressive strangers but in bored and vindictive park rangers. Let it be known.

For the record, sites 165 and 168 are both the same $27 dollars a night.

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