Hello my friends.  Welcome back.

Have you ever had one of those weekends where you knew you should have just stayed in bed?  Such was my weekend. *insert strong emotion, followed by a heavy sigh*

For starters, my friend and neighbor, Manny, wanted to camp this weekend.  He and his wife, Graciela, and their four young children don’t get the opportunity to get away for the weekend very often and we all thought this weekend would be a great weekend for it.  The weather folks called for a weekend in the 70’s with nighttime lows in the high forties.  Perfect, right?

Wrong!

I’m presently scouring the internet in search of a correspondence course on omen interpretation.  Either that, or a way to boost some of my waning IQ points so I can see the signs when they’re plastered right in front of my face.  It is only now, a day later, with a cold, dark lager and a rather nice double maduro cigar and some good tunes on the stereo that I can relay the details of this weekend without weeping uncontrollably.

For starters, wishing to get a head start on the preparations, I decided to pull Das Nook out of the Big Top on Thursday morning to start loading it up for our Friday departure.  We were planning on going to a nearby campground I had never been to, (or even heard of for that matter.  I found out why I’d never heard of it once we arrived).  Manny and family had rented a cabin at this campground, along with a pontoon boat, earlier this year and had a good time and wanted to try it again, sans the cabin.    While pulling Das Nook out of the Big Top, a crackling pop filled the hallowed enclosure; a dreaded, yet not totally unfamiliar, sound, usually followed by loud screams and my crying like a woman and walking like Groucho Marx.  I zigged when I should have zagged and an old hockey injury to my sacroiliac, (the result of a minor disagreement between myself and a rather large gorilla from the opposing ship’s team), revisited me with a vengeance.

I spent the remainder of Thursday and part of Friday alternating between the heating pad and ice, partaking of some much appreciated muscle relaxers.  There was a lot of whimpering, (not unlike that of a whiny Chihuahua pup), and very little movement on my part.

Friday morning, I hobbled over to Manny’s to explain my current bout of paralysis and the need to postpone our trip.

Manny can make this face that makes you think you had just stolen the food from his plate and, in unison with the equally saddened expressions on his two oldest boys faces, (he’s trained them well), he had me convinced that he’d handle any of the heavy stuff and I could just relax and enjoy the weekend.

Or so we thought.

I left a little earlier than they did on Friday afternoon due to my not having to pack for a pair of, not-quite-two, twins, a four year old and an eight year old, (not to mention Manny who I call Graciela’s fifth, and biggest,  child.  You’re amazing, Graciela. *laughing*)  Manny, I love ya, Man!

Let me state here that I never bash a campground.  I have never been to one where I couldn’t find something good to say about it and, believe me, in my many years I have been to hundreds of different campgrounds.  They say there’s a first time for everything and such was the case with Lake Hartwell Camping and Cabins.

For starters, checking in was like pulling teeth.  The person behind the counter didn’t have a clue.  Granted, we didn’t make reservations ahead of time, but this time of year, at any of the other campgrounds in the area, open sites are as common as the pollen covering all of our vehicles here in SC.  I checked my, almost non-existent, temper on numerous occasions, attributing my ire to my aching back, but the process of finding two sites together reminded me of Abbott and Costello’s, Who’s on First? routine.

An hour later, (I swear!), I had two sites beside each other, both of which the clerk assured me were perfect for our needs.  One was an “RV” site and the other a tent site.  The rate for these sites was $27.50 per night, each, plus tax, off season, with water and electric.  That’s about five dollars more, per night, than any of the Corps of Engineer’s sites all over Lake Hartwell which are, by far, far superior to what we got this weekend. 

When I got to the sites, I was appalled.  The “tent” site was in a gully that, had it rained, the deluge would have washed my dear friends out into the lake; and without a level spot on it.  Had they pitched their tent on that site, the six of them would have rolled right out the back side of the tent and into the lake.

The “RV” site was equally unimpressive.  One of those huge sissy wagons with the automatic levelers may have stood a chance of sleeping on a level plane, but Das Nook, lacking such amenities, was going to take a lot of maneuvering and “shimming” to get it “almost” level.

I immediately went back to the office to complain and ask for different sites, preparing myself mentally for a replay of the shtick,  bouncing wildly over the unpaved roads, only to find the office closed.

I was not a happy camper.

Manny and crew still hadn’t arrived so I went back to our assigned sites and brainstormed a little.  I angled Das Nook in between a couple of precarious looking dead trees that were swaying like the Sword of Damocles in the unusually brisk wind.  That left a semi-level patch for a tent on the same site.  I lit a cigar and surveyed our surroundings and our situation, (the smell of a good cigar helps me think, calms my nerves and, at a distance, in just the right sunlight, standing on your left foot, wearing 3-D glasses, makes me look a little like James Gandolfini from The Sopranos).  The fire pit consisted of a few rocks around a small hole in the ground; no grate.  One of those rocks exploded later that evening.  Now that’s entertainment!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch:  Manny had arrived and agreed with my decision to pitch the tent on my site and thought, as I did, that we’d remain that way for the weekend and go to the office in the morning to see what we could work out regarding the unused site and a refund for it.

Let me state here that the company, as always, was excellent.  That’s about all I can say good about this weekend.

Once we’d resigned ourselves to out situation, we got Manny’s tent up and I went about frying up some of Papa Brian’s World Famous, (again, I’m a legend in my own mind), sausage, peppers and onions on the old Coleman stove.  The ceremonial first beers were popped and the evening’s festivities began in earnest.  Manny and the older boys went down to the lake to do a little fishing while I tended the stove which was now bringing about the smell of Italian ambrosia that was pleasantly permeating the air.  Shortly thereafter, we had a fine supper, cleaned up and settled around the fire for marshmallows and chat.

Unfortunately, the twins weren’t having quite as much fun as the rest of us were and were rather vocal about their displeasure at their unfamiliar surroundings……………all night.  *laughing*  I laugh only because it brings back memories of my kids and my son’s cholic as an infant during a Disney camp out.  That seems like a hundred years ago.

Somewhere around eleven, the babies were amusing themselves in the tent, plotting world domination, and the two older boys had conked out.  We enjoyed a few more toddies around the fire and retired to our respective berths.

High forties my butt!

I heard the heater in Das Nook kick on a few times but didn’t think much of it.  Manny had a heater in the tent and, at last bed check before we turned in, the kids were warm and toasty, snuggled under their blankets.

The night temps Friday night/Saturday morning dropped down to just above freezing with a cutting wind coming off the lake like a freight train.

Manny’s heater gave up the ghost somewhere in the middle of the night.  When I rolled out of bed Saturday morning, guiltily rested, warm and refreshed after a night on my new nine-inch memory foam mattress, I found a gang of war-ravaged refugees looking like the crew of the Titanic sitting at the picnic table.  These were not happy campers.

Manny spent the night, awake, trying to get the heater working while Graciela, also sleepless, spent the night keeping the kids warm, all snuggled together on one thin air mattress, tapping their numb feet to the chattering teeth chorus, accompanied by the twins’ non-stop, rendition of,  “I wanna go home!”  Again, guilt addled, I missed the entertainment due to Das Nook’s ample insulation.

Needless to say, my fellow campers were done in and decided, unanimously, to return home.  Finally able to read an omen, I agreed and started packing up: all before the campground’s check-out time.

Manny took his weary family home while I went to the office to see what could be worked out regarding the unused site and the additional night which we’d paid for, up front, but wouldn’t be using.  Again, over the pot-holed, unpaved roads, I reasoned that the second night’s rental for my site should be sacrificed.  I was leaving for my own reasons.  Fair is fair, right?

Wrong!

Manny called me on his way out and told me that he’d talked to the owner, whom he’d seen outside as he passed, and that the owner would make things right when I went in to check out.

When I went in to the office, cool and collected, I was informed by the same person who I’d gone rounds with the night before, not the owner, in no uncertain terms, that there were no refunds:………… but she liked Das Nook.

I’m a fair and reasonable man.  I was willing to concede the second night on my site, but the unusable site rental should have been refunded.  I have been in similar situations at different campgrounds in different states and usually find the owners to be fair and friendly people who will go out of their way to please their guests.  Such was not the case and hence the negative publicity here.  I believe I’d rather camp in the Walmart parking lot then to ever darken that patch of woods again and I will be sure to mention my experience to anyone who asks about Lake Hartwell Camping and Cabins.

To further darken my weekend, the trip home was fraught with unwanted excitement and a lot of disappointment.

My careful calculations in regard to weight and balance were thwarted when I realized that the addition of the hot water heater to the rear-most portion of the camper was fine when it was empty.  However, this particular hot water heater doesn’t have a drain so once it has it’s capacity four gallons inside, that four gallons remains inside unless you remove it from the camper and tip it upside down.  Apparently, the weight of four gallons of water is sufficient to offset the entire balance of the camper and make it hell to pull over 40mph.  And the wind was whipping yesterday.

To all of you who may have been behind me on 24 yesterday, I offer my most humble apologies for my 35mph in a 55mph zone.  It wasn’t intentional.  However, I’d like to state emphatically to the rather unreasonable guy in the Miata who blew by me, finger waving, that my mother was no such thing!

I came home, unpacked, got a shower, had a bite to eat and, in total disgust, fell asleep in my office chair listening to some blues. *laughing*

Today was a new day and, after some wound licking and intense recalculations, I realized that, without question, I’m screwed.  There’s no place forward where the hot water heater will fit.  I contemplated putting it in the storage box up front, but I lack an inch clearance for that.  I tried under the bunk where the fresh water tank will eventually go.  No go.  So, after a few choice curse words, I finally conceded and decided that an 80 lb. bag of cement, strategically placed in the front storage box, should balance the load and get Das Nook back to pulling like the dream it pulled like before the addition of the hot water heater.  It’ll probably do wonders for my gas mileage, (that was sarcasm), but I am learning that there is a price to be paid to have all the comforts of home.

So, how was your weekend? *laughing*  They say a bad day of camping beats a great day at work and truer words were never spoken.  If nothing else, my friends and I will have something to laugh about over campfires at other campgrounds, (other than Lake Hartwell Camping and Cabins!), for years to come.

I’m undaunted.  I’m a lot of things, but never a quitter.  The first camping trip of the season for the Southern Appalachian Tear Jerker’s, “Spring Fling at the Holler,” is coming up May 20-22 in Jefferson, NC, and Das Nook and I will be there with bells on.  That’s a four-hour drive so I’ve got to make certain that Das Nook is in peak operating condition.  Team Nook, (that being me, myself and I), are up to the task and will have Das Nook looking like a million bucks, and have all the bugs worked out, when we finally meet all those great folks that I’ve been conversing with and getting ideas and information from throughout the build.

Onward and upward!

Until next week, I wish you all peace, happiness and every good fortune life has to offer.

Adio,  Brian

All new!  Revised for 2011!

All new for 2011!

To order your ebook copy, and receive a 20% discount off the already low $5.99 price, follow this link to Smashwords.  Unfortunately, the coupon code isn’t valid at any of the other ebook retailers.  When prompted, enter coupon code CM84R.  Your 20% will be discounted at the checkout.  Thank you.

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