Waking up in Shenandoah National Park

Camp Cook Chronicles: Make it and Break it, Road Trip Reality

Waking up in Shenandoah National ParkI’m not technically at camp, right now. We’re staying with another homeschooling family in Rhode Island, 1250 miles from our Georgia home. My plan, to break the trip into three overnight camps, technically worked beautifully. However, mentally, it was a fierce dragon breathing winter down my neck.

This is my first really long road trip with an actual destination and arrival time in mind. Back in December, I tagged along with Val on a mission to deliver her children to grandparents in South Florida. For me and my boys, there was no real destination – other than returning home a week later after circumnavigating the state of Florida. I had no deadlines, no time to arrive and I basically followed Val around with no plans of my own. It was fantastic and easy. However, for this trip, I had deadlines to meet: reservations I made along the way and a night of camping with the family we’d be visiting.

Make It & Break It

My plans included car camping as our only accommodations. This left me on a strict, technically perfect, routine: drive most of the day, make camp, feed children, explore the area with whatever sunlight is left, sleep in a tent, make breakfast, break camp, pack it all in and hit the road for another day of driving to our next destination to do it all over.

By the time I reached Big Meadows Campground at Shenandoah National Park for our second night of camping, I was exhausted and wired and hungry. To top it off, I hopped out of the Envoy and was hit by a blast of arctic wind. I was freezing. I looked around, in the fading afternoon light, at this parking lot full of tents they call a campground and I broke down. Not the car. Me. I broke down. Tears filled my eyes and I wanted to be at home – all the hundreds of miles home where I’m not parked among hundreds of other people in the middle of nowhere, staring down this unrelenting wind tunnel and racing the sun to give my kids a warm shelter for the night.

But, more than anything, I felt like I’d failed. The sun was setting and I still had to make camp and feed everybody before we could explore the reason we were here: The Appalachian Trail. I was sure there was no way I could accomplish that in time. But, Crazy Horse lent me some of his calm resolve… reminding me that we definitely won’t make it if I don’t pull together and get to work. So, I did.

Go ahead…Put on some of those puffy gloves and try setting up a 20 yr old tent with worn out shock cords in the frigid, gusting wind after driving for 5.5 hours with only a quick gas pitstop. Pull out the two burner camp stove and get a dinner going. Don’t forget to move as quickly as you can, because we’re in a race to beat nightfall. Fill a bowl for everyone, eat as fast as possible and then set off on a 2 mile hike to explore the Appalachian Trail before the sun disappears.

We made it. We did it. And we were rewarded with beautiful sunset scenes from overlooks on one of the most iconic trails on planet Earth.

The next day, we would break camp in the biting wind and make it again 7 hours north in New York.

Appalachian Trail at Shenandoah National Park


6 thoughts on “Camp Cook Chronicles: Make it and Break it, Road Trip Reality

  1. Oh, sweetie, hang tight. You’ll figure out how to pace it. Takes some trial and error. Well, a lot of error.

    No, it isn’t all fun and games but the rewards are worth it. Lots of ups and downs on the way.

  2. Woo-woo! This sounds GREAT. Have been on many trips like this. Sometimes you do wonder if you’ve lost your mind, but the experience cannot be duplicated any other way. Wonderful photos! I’ve been the trip planner of most of the trips I’ve been on, which, BTW, were all in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s. But, truthfully, the work is demanding and everyone would just sit around camp (enjoying themselves….we’ll have NONE of that) if it weren’t for the deadline of grabbing a reserved campsite before they give it away, or the ranger station closes. Last trip was in 2006 to Connecticut and we camped, no hotels, then, too, come to think of it. Looking forward to more of your adventures! Fondly, Robin

  3. Those challenging and most trying trips can often be some of the most rewarding ones in the long-term. Or at least so I’ve found. Beautiful photo. I miss the rolling green hills of Virginia, that used to be my regular weekend outing: Shenandoah or the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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