The father of one of my son’s friends recently called and suggested that we take the boys camping at one of Virginia’s state parks. I thought this was a wonderful idea and a good opportunity to spend time with my son, a couple of his friends and their fathers.
It had been a while since I had been camping, so I volunteered to drive if the other two dads would bring the camping equipment and drinks. They agreed. It is sometimes good to have a gas guzzler that will carry a lot of folks and stuff.
My son and I picked up his friends and their dads early Saturday morning and we set out for Westmoreland State Park on the Potomac River’s Northern Neck. It was only about a two hour drive. Westmoreland is known for its beautiful scenery, fishing, fossil hunting and wildlife that include a significant number of American bald eagles.
Close by you can find the birthplaces of Robert E. Lee and George Washington, along with the city of Montross which is not a metropolis, but well worth visiting. Montross, population less than 400, has a Food Lion grocery store, some antique shops and a couple of restaurants.
We pitched our tents headed into town to eat lunch and buy food for the evening cook out. After picking up hamburger meat and hot dogs to cook for dinner, we had to make up our minds on where to eat lunch. The “Dairy Freeze” looked good and had chicken and shrimp, but we opted for Angelo’s on the suggestion of one of the girls working at the state park.
Angelo’s had pizza, sub sandwiches, chicken, seafood and a wonderful looking plate of stuff with gravy covering it. However, our tall, cute server suggested the steak and cheese sub sandwich with potato chips on the side. When she noted that it was “superb,” she held her forefinger and thumb together and did this swishing motion with her hand. Being men, all six of us were sold on the steak and cheese sandwich after we watched her do the swishing motion – although the gravy covered stuff looked fantastic.
We headed back to the state park and explored some, getting to see some beautiful bald eagles in flight. The boys went swimming and we headed back to the campsite to prepare for a night of hamburgers, hot dogs and killing time.
It was a blast…
The other two dads broke out their cooking stuff and I kind of sat and watched. The pea gravel tent site was clean and there were quite a few other folks there camping to talk to and watch. We all agreed the community camaraderie of folks camping is second to none.
One of the fathers is a colonel in the army, and the other is a headhunter that helps folks find jobs. These are the kind of folks you want to go camping with – I felt safe even though I had forgotten to bring my pocket knife.
While cooking the hamburgers, the colonel broke out his cast iron Dutch Oven which I made sure was made in South Pittsburg, Tennessee. I’m a “cast iron snob” and if it wasn’t made by Lodge in South Pittsburg, the food cooked in it, just isn’t as good.
While managing the burgers and hot dogs, the colonel started pouring blueberry pie filling into the Dutch Oven. He then mixed up a batch of white cake mix and Sprite and poured over the blueberry pie filling. This was his first time to attempt this blueberry cobblerish thing on a camping trip, but it looked like it was going to work to me.
Being a math guy, I contributed by counting the number of charcoal briquettes put on top of the Dutch Oven. This is necessary of course to make sure you are getting heat from the top and bottom of the cast iron Dutch Oven. We discussed this while the colonel cooked.
The meal was wonderful, the blueberry concoction was delicious and the conversation was priceless. Three 15 year-old boys and their dads were living the good life, camping at a state park.
The boys were worn out and went to bed in their smaller tent. It didn’t take long for them to be sound asleep.
The colonel and the headhunter then began discussing the pea gravel campsite being nice given that we had to sleep in sleeping bags and all. The headhunter noted that he had thought about bringing his air mattress, but he thought it would be too big. The colonel agreed that an air mattress would be the way to go.
I didn’t say a word.
At the same time, they looked at me and said, “You brought your air mattress didn’t you?”
I could only manage a “Yeah, I did.”
The other dads and I talked for a while until the headhunter decided he needed to go to bed in our larger tent. I inflated my D-cell powered air mattress and pushed it to the far side of the tent so I wouldn’t wake the headhunter up later when I went to bed.
They also gave me grief about bringing my pillow.
Finally the colonel and I decided we would try to get to sleep, he hung the plastic bag of trash on a pole very close to the side of the tent that I had pushed my air mattress up against. In the back of my mind, I knew this was not a good idea.
My air mattress and I were positioned up under the inside of the tent such that the tent material was on my back and a window flap was in my face. I kind of liked it. I wanted to be the last one to fall asleep in the event the night air made me snore like a freight train.
The trash bag was hanging on a pole that was about two feet from my head through the paper-thin tent wall. I thought about getting up and taking the trash bag to the nearest dumpster, but it was well past midnight.
As I was enjoying my air mattress, I thought I heard the sound of someone walking in pea gravel. At first, I thought it was from another campsite, but then remembered we were pretty far from any other folks. The rustling of pea gravel continued and I was wide awake. I checked the other fellows to see if they were moving around in their sleeping bags. They were not.
I was trying to rationalize who was outside strolling through the pea gravel not worrying about me inside the tent with my eyes wide open.
Then I could hear tearing and ripping sounds…
It was the trash bag and more than likely a bear. Being up against the inside of the tent, I started feeling something brush up against me. I thought to myself, “I do not want to be mauled by a bear while camping in a state park.”
I thought about all of the folks I wanted to see again, the places I wanted to go and then I thought about being torn apart by a hungry bear.
The tearing got louder, there were heavy breathing sounds. I was mumbling some of Daddy’s “sailor words” because I was scared.
Just when I thought the other two fellows were going to sleep through this, the colonel popped up and said, “Something’s in the trash.”
I had worked myself into a frenzy; our conversation got louder and the ripping and tearing got louder. The headhunter continued to sleep.
At this time, I could only think to myself, “The colonel has had three tours of duty in war zones and places folks don’t want to think about, HE should go deal with the bear.” I, of course, did not say this because we were kind of in a state of attack.
I shined my flashlight through the window of the tent and could only see a furry paw about the size of a human hand on the trash bag.
More sailor words and laughter filled the tent. The headhunter continued to sleep.
In lieu of my Patton speech, I told the colonel something really stupid like, “I don’t have any shoes on, you need to go out there and wrestle the bear and take the trash to the dumpster.”
He agreed to do it.
After the colonel got back from the dumpster, it wasn’t two minutes until a terrible fight broke out. It was a wild animal fight with screeching, hissing and teeth biting into fur. It didn’t last but a few seconds, but it was serious. The colonel and I decided it was two bears fighting over who got to eat us.
The headhunter still slept.
Well, then we heard it - the sound of something opening the lid of the Lodge cast iron Dutch Oven. I asked the colonel, “Was there blueberry stuff left in the Dutch Oven?” He said, “Yeah.”
By this time we were shining lights out the tent windows, I was flashing pictures with my phone.
It was a raccoon that seemed to be about the size of a 12 year-old boy out there feasting on the wonderful blueberry concoction that tasted a lot like a blueberry muffin.
The raccoon didn’t seem too concerned about us shining lights, taking pictures and yelling at him.
About this time, the boys and the headhunter woke up; wanting to know what was going on.
After the coon finished the blueberry stuff, we peered from an unzipped part of the tent door and watched him waddle away from the campsite. None of us, even the battle-hardened colonel were going out there to mess with a coon that seemed to be between 4 and 5 feet tall standing up and probably weighing 80 pounds.
I might be exaggerating a little.
I think we laughed ourselves to sleep talking about Jerry Clower and his “coon story.”
The colonel, like Jerry Clower, the comedian we both grew up listening to, is from Mississippi.
Read more stories and see my picture of the giant raccoon at www.CranksMyTractor.com.