Monthly Archives: July 2017

Hillbilly Bivouac

We could hear the truck coming up the camp road long before it arrived.  An ancient pickup with three men squeezed in on the front bench seat, rumbled past our campsite in the mountains of Tennessee. Through an open window, one of the men gave us a nod and a subtle two-finger wave.  The truck pulled a rusty trailer, hand-made from an old pickup bed, with “FORD” barely discernible on the dented tailgate. The bed of the truck and trailer were piled high with boxes, bags, chairs, tables, tarp, and a kitchen stove.  They pulled into the campsite next to ours.

From the comfort of our folding camp chairs underneath our trailer’s retractable awning, we had a good view of our new neighbors.  The men looked to be a father and two grown sons.  They wasted no time to empty the truck and trailer and set up camp.  First, they unrolled a large trucker’s tarp, threw ropes over surrounding tree limbs, and hoisted it up to cover the entire campsite.  They pitched several small tents under the tarp, creating a little camping village.  All three men were needed to unload the heavy white kitchen stove which they placed in the center of the camp.

A dated Chevy Impala, with missing hub caps, arrived at their campsite about an hour later.  Out hopped a handful of excited barefoot kids, who buzzed around the campground looking for adventure.  A Lazyboy recliner was retrieved by the men from the open trunk and placed near the stove.  From a third car came “grandma,” who was gingerly guided with her walker to the Lazyboy, where she sat.

The kids grabbed their fishing poles and headed out to the nearby stream. The men found a variety of chairs and stools to drink a beer or two; the women busied themselves around the stove.  And then it started to rain.

The summer monsoon season in Southern Appalachia had begun. The skies turned dark. Sheets of rain drove other campers to find shelter in their trailers and tents. Thunder claps echoed across the hollow.  Trees swayed in the wind and campfires were quickly extinguished.

Then I caught the scent of frying trout and apple pie.  Looking through the downpour I could see all manner of activity underneath the house-size tarp next door. The women were setting dinner tables, the kids danced around the kitchen stove, and the men had moved on to stronger drink and cigars. “Grandma”, still seated in her Lazyboy, picked up a fiddle and began to play; and then it rained for a week.


Cupcakes and Birthdays

I remember vividly the first time we made cupcakes in the trailer.  Little tins with paper shells, filled with sweet cake dough, were popped into our pint-sized oven.  It was our oldest daughter’s birthday, or close enough, and we were camped at the Alabama beach.  The thought of baking a whole cake in our little galley seemed too much, especially on a warm summer day. So, we settled on birthday cupcakes.  The bite-sized cakes steamed as they cooled on the counter, and filled the cabin with sweet aroma which seemed to attract all manner of insects and children.

Laughing Gulls and ground squirrels appeared outside – waiting for a dropped morsel – as a dozen cupcakes with half melted icing were devoured without difficulty by our small tribe.  Thus, a tradition was born.  Since that day we have celebrated many birthdays with trailer-made cupcakes. I just had a birthday so I hope I am next.

On the Road of Discovery

I sat at my desk to plan a road trip for Marcia and me to the Pacific Northwest.  Cool air-conditioning dropped from the ceiling vents in my upstairs office.  A big leather chair had me perched in front of a 22-inch monitor with a keyboard at my fingertips.  Google, MapQuest, and the Airstream Forum were right there for my perusal.  I had travel books on Montana, Oregon, and Washington scattered about the floor with highlights and plastic tabs marking places I wanted to see.  As my route started to take shape, I had us passing through St. Louis and generally following the Missouri River up through North Dakota and Montana.  After crossing the Northern Rockies, we would eventually end up in Oregon, where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean.  Inadvertently, I had chosen a route that mimicked the one of the Corps of Discovery.

August 1802, Meriwether Lewis sat in Thomas Jefferson’s library at Monticello, pouring over a newly published book by Alexander Mackenzie about explorations in the western half of Canada.  Hot summer air circulated the room with the aid of mechanical fans powered by slaves.  The smell of freshly tilled soil from an open window and burnt candlewax filled the richly paneled study full of books.  Lewis and Jefferson were planning an exploration across the American continent to find a water route for trade and to lay claim to the Pacific Northwest before Britain, Spain, or France could do so. The world’s largest collection of books on American geology was at Lewis’ fingertips, yet it contained no information about a two thousand mile stretch of uncharted territory between Illinois and the Oregon Coast.

I clicked on Google Maps and entered my home address.  Satellite images of my house appeared on the screen.  The camera had captured my truck parked in my driveway.  I entered my first destination and hit “route.”  Detailed driving, walking and public transportation instructions popped up.  Street-side camera views along the way dispelled any notion that I was about to “discover” anything new.

Captain Lewis and I were planning to go to the same place.  He took a sextant, chronometer, compass, keel boat and provisions for two dozen men; he set out on a two-year journey from which there was a good chance he would not return.  Marcia and I will take our iPhones, tablets, credit cards and Airstream trailer; I promised her we would be back in five weeks.  The exploration of Lewis and Clark beginning in 1804, was the single most important event that lead to the establishment of the United States’ borders from coast-to-coast, all at a cost of $2500.  I hope to make ours for less.