We had every intention of driving from Binghamton straight to Virginia, camping at a halfway point, and ending up in Charleston, SC, the day after. But Pennsylvania's a big effing state, and with a couple of stops it took a few more hours than expected. We stumbled upon a random park - Cunningham State Park, Manor Area - somewhere in Maryland and after having been frustrated by Virginian campsites not answering their phones or being ridiculously expensive, we settled.
Virginia may be for lovers, but I reckon it's not for vagabonds.
Luckily the camping area was fairly deserted -- I had hoped Jen's first experience camping outside would be much like what I remembered as a child: no man-made cacophony, just acorns falling a hundred feet from above onto the glacial boulders and deep brown humus, the random scrabblings of small forest creatures, and the whispering wind scraping against the nylon exterior of our two-man tent.
Well, and Bella's insistent barking at every non-urban noise, of course...
Jen forbade me from pitching the tent or starting a fire without her. It brought a grin to this country boy's face to see her schoolgirl glee at how quickly the tent popped up, how a sleeping bag curls up, the collection of firewood. Oh, my pyromaniac girlfriend... /laugh -- She spent most of the twilight hours collecting sticks and throwing them on the fire, haphazardly, hoping for a raging flame that would light up the entire site.
Evolution fail: Looking like a stick sucks when humans look for kindling.
Night fell, and Jen convinced me that Bella could sleep in the tent. Confined in such a small space, the dog was anxious. Her first time sleeping with rocks and acorns under her back, Jen was nervous. I was ready to snore, which I suppose sounds insensitive, and I guess I'm sorry about that.
The constant thunk of tree-nuts bombing down around us started to wear on the girls. On the verge of falling deep, deep under, I heard a slightly anomalous sound and sat up quickly. I strained to listen, Jen was breathing quickly, and Bella was curled tightly into a corner. Then a jingling sound, like keys, or coins. Not a sound you normally associate with nature.
I snapped into protective mode as Jen clutched me, shivering. "What is it? What's out there?" I tried to reassure her that the odds of anyone wandering around were practically zero, but I still unzipped the door enough to call, "HELLO?" No answer.
Jen asked me to go to the car, get the stun-gun (we carry one for nonlethal protection), and after taking one look at her kneeling, shuddering silhouette I couldn't help but acquiesce. I stepped outside.
I came back into the tent, and as I was sitting down, my pockets jingled.
About sixty-three cents of terror, I reckon.
TOMORROW: THE LOW COUNTRY, PART 1