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Here at LIB, Nervous Nellie gets the front seat and Chicken Licken is what’s for dinner.
The wilderness is no place for swagger.
More than once, we survived flash floods in the desert …
In Kansas, we broke camp and outran a tornado … in Arizona, we remained hitched during a phenomenal wind storm unlike anything the park ranger had ever seen. I saw it once before in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Last Autumn – stuck in gridlocked Gatlinburg traffic watching tourists pitch cigarette butts onto the dry grass, I told Jim we needed to get out of there. Jim managed to make an illegal U-turn and took a “closed to the public” fire road. By the time we were home, Gatlinburg was in flames.
Jim doesn’t say, “You worry too much” anymore. He’s slowly appreciating my philosophy that naming the beast and acknowledging the things that could happen, unless we take measures, may be the best way to proceed.
This morning, we’re blessed to still have our rig. We could be in a hospital right now if Jim didn’t respect our Golden LIB Rule: If one of us doesn’t feel happy and safe (even for no apparent reason) we move on ASAP.
Yesterday, Sunday, at about 9 am we left Jackson Center, Ohio where we spent a fascinating week watching our wonderful Airstream technicians nip and tuck our Beauty to make her look sixteen years younger.
We arrived to our destination, Hocking Hill State Park before noontime (early-Sunday is best to secure a site without reservations) to hike the old coal trails. The ranger gave us numbers for a few “first-come-first-served” spaces and we drove up the hill to have a look and check for a cell signal.
Only two sites passed the cell signal test – #1 and #14.
#1, located at the busy entrance corner, is on a rise without a green screen for privacy – and has a big ol’ mud hole right where our trailer door opens. It would be a great place for harvesting solar, but electrical hook-ups are provided here. Site #14, larger, more private, off the road and nestled back against the forest edge under a canopy of shade trees was clearly – as some park officials said – “our best choice.” I looked at it nervously, maybe because a tree recently fell on my sister’s house.
“Yeah,” I mumbled to Jim as I texted Dad about our safe arrival, “pretty. But I won’t be able to sleep with that heavy low branch hanging over our heads. We’d better take #1.” Jim conceded without argument.
As we set up camp in #1, a friendly host stopped by to tell us where the best restaurants were and, by the way, asked why we hadn’t taken #14. “It’s one of the best sites because #15, next to it, is for emergency use and never occupied.” I told him the leaning tree scared me.
Later, as we set out for a hike, a mom and dad with five children worked together to pitch their new tent in site #14. From the street, I examined the tree again – tempted to step in with my Nervous Nellie routine. Sure wish I had …
But, thank God, no one was killed or seriously injured. If it had turned out any other way, I may not forgive myself for being so timid.
At about 9 pm last night an isolated rain storm came through. After 10 pm, the storm passed and the family began to build a fire. Shortly thereafter, the father heard a tremendous ‘popping sound’ and hollered for his family to run. Other campers, hurried over to help the family.
Everyone escaped injury except for the little girl who was scratched and bruised by twigs as she scrambled for escape. Needless to say, the entire family is traumatized.
Their truck damaged and equipment under the tree, probably beyond salvage – the camp authorities gave them refuge in a cabin for the remainder of the night.
The wilderness isn’t safe. Camping is a worthwhile but scary business, involving risks of all kinds. But while some events cannot be avoided, evidence of imminent danger is all around.
When I enter a State or National park I am responding to an invitation to participate in the experimental process of wilderness conservation. Floods, fires, avalanches, varmints eating my electrical wiring while I take a hike, trees falling on me, on my car, truck, child, or teenager or, being stalked on the trail by a bear, or mountain lion or attacked by bison or anything else is all part of the agreement I made upon entry, namely, to have a wilderness experience. Park officials use reasonable care to keep the premises in a “reasonably” safe condition for all concerned – including themselves – but given the effects of climate change and budget cuts the definition of reasonable is under dispute. Given the alternatives, I’m okay with that.
So, I look up, look down, look all around … how does that tree look? that slope? those clouds …? I watch for reasonable signs of danger everywhere. For those threats I can’t possibly know about, I ask the rangers. If no rangers are around, I check the internet for up-to-date alerts or my trusty Pocket Ranger – but only if I have a friggin’ cell signal!!!