Reentry after an extended​ RV trip: Do turtles get homesick?

At 22 I was finishing up my undergraduate degree and itching to see the world. I needed to get off the Canadian Prairies, away from Saskatoon where I was going to school, and escape any and all things related to farming. So, I bought a good pair of shoes, a backpack, and a plane ticket and was off to eat my way across Europe.

chocolate-croissant-illyI devoured curry and toured the Tower of London, nibbled Pain au Chocolat after climbing the Eiffel Tower, picnicked with a grey-eyed man on the Piazza San Marco and then we strolled arm in arm along Venice’s canals. I gorged on goulash and spaetzle before retiring to Budapest’s Roman Baths, snacked on Sachertorte after seeing The Magic Flute at the Vienna Volksoper, and drank beer under Munich’s Glockenspiel. And, I wallowed in homesickness as powerful as it was unexpected. I would never have predicted that the best part of that trip would be returning home.

Johannes Hofer combined the Greek words for homeward journey, ‘nostos,’ and ache, ‘algos,’ to give us ‘nostalgia,’ which originally meant, quite literally, ‘homesickness.’ He coined the term to describe an illness rampant among Swiss mercenary soldiers in France who were incapacitated by a melancholic yearning for their mountain homes.

My travels always ended with nostalgia, until now.

If it weren’t for the brutal facts that winter is coming, and that I need to, eventually, show up at work to get money for gas, beer, groceries, and campground fees, I would have happily kept on trucking. Not for a single second did I ache for home.

Milo and I in our travel trailer—like turtles, our home was always with us. And I realized that, for me, home is where the puppy is.

Black and tan german shepherd laying at an open door

Dump Station Diaries

I understand the urge to squeeze every possible moment out of a weekend camping. Lots of families roll into a campground on Friday night and check out at the last possible minute on Sunday.

That’s a lot of people leaving at the same time. The last stop for most RVers before heading home is the park dump station, which means that around checkout time on Sunday there is always, always, a line. If there are ten RV’s in front of you, you’ll be hanging out, at the sewer, for an hour waiting your turn.

There’s a difference between knowing something and really knowing something. You really know about the campground sewer bottleneck once you’ve been stuck in it. The last time I was in a bathroom line this long was when I went to see The Who.

a curved driveway in a field of green grass and pine trees, with three white travel trailers hooked up to family trucks.

You can’t see the whole line because it is curved, it is longer than it looks here, my truck is the blue one pulling the Sportsmen.


For me it wasn’t actually that bad –I just gave Milo a chew toy, pulled out a book, and put on some music. There weren’t any fires I needed to put out.

But, some of those vehicles were full of tired families. That had to be a long, long wait for those parents of colicky babies and sunburned kids who wouldn’t stay on their side of the bench seat and whose bladders were filling up as the minutes ticked by.

So, here’s a piece of advice. If check out time is 11 AM, don’t show up at the dump station between 10 and noon on a Sunday. While you have to be out of your campsite by 11, you can stay in the park all day. Why not leave the site and have a picnic lunch before hitting the dump station?

I don’t really care about the line, this is just some friendly advice for families. I could see the will to live gradually seep out of parents as they waited to deal with their kids’ sewage, for the second time, and that is no way to end a camping trip.

 

 

MacGregor Point Provincial Park: Yurts and how to say “Hi” to Milo

The two women were striding through the campground, their walking sticks swinging. When Milo caught their eye they swung around to say hello. “Here we go,” I thought as I prepared myself to politely keep them at bay. So many, too many, people feel entitled to walk right up and pet Milo, and he is not cool with that sort of direct approach. But to my pleasant surprise, these women knew exactly how to charm my boy: ignore him entirely and chat with me.

The short one said, “I’m Teresa. You can remember that because everyone knows Mother Teresa. Although,” she chuckled, “I am no mother.”

And the tall one swept a hand out to the side, “I’m Helen,” and sweeping it back to her chest continued, “Helen of Troy.”

I guess they’d been tent camping together every summer for forever but being in their 70’s tents were not as comfortable as they once were. So, Teresa and Helen were spending the week in one of MacGregor Point Provincial Park’s yurts.

They invited Milo and me to check out the wonders of yurt living. Their yurt was clean and spacious with comfortable beds, electricity, and a heater. It also had a covered deck and a propane barbeque, a good one. The place was nice enough to keep even a picky neatnik happy.

good lightI had Milo in a sit-stay while we chatted and they told me they would be happy to meet him if they could. So, I invited Milo to say hello. By this time he was feeling left out, and he immediately walked up and sniffed their pant legs while they continued to ignore him. When he started poking at their hands with his gigantic nose they gave him a nice chin rub and thanked him for being such a good dog. Well, that got him prancing around with smiles and doggy wiggles, and after that, they were all good friends. For the rest of the week, whenever Milo caught sight or scent of Teresa or Helen, his ears perked up, and he insisted that we go over and say hello.

Milo gets to choose who he greets. If you want him to choose you, you have to play it cool and let him make the first move. If you play your cards right, you just might end up with a first-rate doggy friend!

 

MacGregor Point Provincial Park: Beautiful sunsets​ over Lake Huron

Milo and I spent a week at MacGregor Point Provincial Park. It was the last stop of our trip.

setting sun over lake huron

Some quick facts:

  • The campgrounds are about as close to perfect as I’ve seen on this trip with sites carved into shady little nooks and crannies in the forest.
  • The park store is well stocked and sells ice cream—I can report that mint chocolate chip, black cherry, and vanilla praline are all tasty.
  • MacGregor has excellent hiking paths through the forest and along the shore of Lake Huron.
  • The evening views at Sunset Point are spectacular. Milo and I walked there every night.

sunset silouette

 

Balsam Lake Provincial Park: A good place for human contact (no ghosts)

The TripAdvisor reviews of RV’ing at Balsam Lake Provincial Park were right on target. But before we get into that, does it seem weird to anyone else that there even are online reviews for parks and campgrounds? In my mind, online reviews are for hotels and car dealerships and restaurants. You get reviews of campgrounds from your aunties, not the internet.

I should note that it hasn’t seemed weird to be camping with a computer, iPad, iPhone, Kindle, and camera with a Bluetooth connection to those other devices and posting to this blog every second day. It just feels odd to me when other people do this kind of thing. Afterall it is human nature to make and use technology, and so it shouldn’t feel that weird for humans to use technology in nature, but sometimes it does.

Back to the park. Its RV campsites were parking places in a big field. Big parking spaces, but I sipped my morning coffee while looking at my neighbour’s Winnebago, not at a lake or a forest or a bird. Although I did have a neighbor with a bird flag on their Winnebago…

Oddly enough, I didn’t hate this. I spent most of the last three months enjoying, loving, a relatively solitary existence but I was feeling ready to start including humans in my day to day life. And just as this urge for companionship bubbled up in my psyche I landed at Balsam Lake’s campground full of friendly people. By the time I started my second cup of morning coffee someone walking by usually stopped to chat: the weather was good, the lake was pretty, the hiking trails were interesting, their grandkids were starting school this year…

 

colour 1

Lookout Trail offers lovely views of early fall colour at Balsam Lake Provincial Park.

 

These other campers were right, the hiking trails were interesting. My favourite was Lookout Trail with its early fall colour and its excellent interpretative signs. I love science content. I learned that an esker is a gravel ridge deposited by a river running through a glacier and that the esker underlying Lookout Trail was the work of the Wisconsin Glacier, which retreated 10 000 years ago. I learned that cedar leaves are a great source of vitamin C. And I learned that even though some forests look haunted, most of them probably aren’t. OK, that last one isn’t science content and wasn’t on an interpretative sign. However, it has a solid basis in logic and observation:

  1. If there were ghosts in forests, then surely I would have seen ghosts in this incredibly dark and spooky cedar grove.
  2. I did not see ghosts in the cedar grove.
  3. Therefore, there are not ghosts in forests.
no evidence of haunting

I saw zero ghosts in this cedar grove. BTW, these trees aren’t actually dead, if you look up you will see a bit of green.

 

I had a great time at Balsam Lake, but a good portion of that happiness was due to my luck at having kind and interesting neighbours in the campground.

White Lake Provincial Park, Ontario: Home away from home

White Lake Provincial Park felt so much like home, or at least how I’d like my home to be, that I extended my stay.

First of all, it smelled good. You have no idea how important this is when you’ve spent three months sharing 144 square feet of living space with a 90-pound dog. The campground, like the rest of the park, was full of pine trees, and smelled nice and piney—not Pine-Sol piney, it just had the sort of fresh crispness that invites a person to take a big stretch and a deep breath.

view from the beach

Here is the view from the beach.

Second, although the campsites were all very private, the campground felt like a little community. There’s a big gold mine near the park and a lot of people who work in the mine set up a seasonal campsite at White Lake—it gives them a shorter commute and they can go fishing every night if they like.

I enjoyed the fact that folks knew each other and chatted on the paths and in the laundry room. And because they had to get up in the morning to go to work, the place was quiet and calm at night. These are my kind of neighbours. I got a lot of writing done at White Lake.

white lake beach

That is some good sand!

Third, the lake is sandy, clean and clear, and is an outstanding place to take your dog swimming. Dogs are allowed off-leash at the boat launch. When I let Milo the AwesomeDog out of the truck, and he saw that in addition to the lake, there was a dock, he spun in circles and jumped for joy. Let’s just say that he is fond of dock diving.

And finally, Milo wasn’t the only mischievous critter in the park. There were signs on all the bulletin boards warning of a meddlesome fox, who was sneaking around stealing shoes. I was a bit was sorry not to get a chance to see Ms Fox and wish I had some old shoes along that I could’ve given her for keeps.

meddlesome fox sign

I am NOT the rogue copy editor.

I was sad to leave this park. It felt like home.

 

“Camping etiquette,” by The Fun Police

I want to find the person who made this sign and bake them a pie.

etiquette

It’s posted in the laundry room at MacGregor Point Provincial Park, it’s unsigned, and best of all, it’s laminated.

I love that in addition to instructing you to keep your music down and your dog quiet, it reminds you that the sound of laughing really carries. No laughing. No laughing I said!

Here are some of my other favourite bits:

  • “Keep your children under control” and don’t let them “run wild.” Noisy games are for the “appropriate” playground, not the campground. What is it with kids these days playing soccer on the baseball diamond?
  • “Nobody wants to hear your music, radio, or Kumbaya campfire songs.” Enough said.
  • Keep your lights low. “Lighting up your campsite to rival Las Vegas will certainly annoy your neighbours.” Note that it doesn’t say anything about gambling or sex workers, just keep the lights low, like the inside of a casino.

Remember, life is suffering.