Abby's First Camping Trip

For weeks, through the hot and into the comfortable weather, I was really looking forward to our camping trip. It was to be the first one since before Abby arrived. We spent all week getting ready. I spent a lot of time on details on our 1977 Volkswagen bus like hanging the funky green curtains as Sarah finished them, installing another seat belt, and lubricating the squeaky windshield wiper mechanism.

Friday night we wore ourselves out packing the bus and cleaning up the house... and we still had a few things to do Saturday morning before we rolled out of our driveway around nine. The drive to the coast went very well. We headed north on I-5 to Longview, Washington, watching the cars whiz by at seventy while we cruised at a leisurely fifty-five. Although the bus would probably go seventy, it certainly isn't designed for it, and since we were on a leisure trip, I wallowed in the idea of being able to drive slowly, enjoy the scenery, and avoid the stress and heart-attack that the caffeine-slurping cell-phone junkie driving 85 raced past us to reach. At Longview we re-crossed the Columbia river and then floored the throttle to maintain that 55mph over the sometimes steep road to Astoria. The bridge from Astoria into Washington is narrow and looks easily tall enough for an aircraft carrier to drive under (especially when you're driving a wobbly VW over the top). After the tall arch it cruises along for half a mile just over the water... probably only a few feet deep. It was at this point that I first noticed that the weather was not what I had hoped. The occasional light showers were becoming less occasional and more regular. We drove straight through to our campground about twenty miles up the peninsula in Long Beach. Fortunately Abby was able to fall asleep when we pulled the curtains closed in the back of the bus, and got in a nap just before we arrived.

After checking in and looking around, we took the proprietor's advice and headed several miles back to Ilwaco to check out the trinkets for sale at the modest Saturday Market and get a bite to eat at Ole' Bob's Seafood. We have a backpack carrier that we put Abby in so she can ride up high and we can get around. As we walked, we overheard nearly everyone we passed comment on it, and got quite a number of compliments! This continued throughout the day, much to our surprise, since we thought they were quite common. After a fresh crab melt and some clam chowder we headed back to Long Beach. We parked some distance from the beach, due to traffic, and walked down the main street. If ever there was a "tourist trap" Long Beach is it! There are amusement arcades, theme restaurants, and knickknack shops packed solidly on both sides of the street; and you can buy a shirt that says "I Love Long Beach, WA" without walking more than ten steps from any spot on the whole street.

We walked down to the beach where the annual "Sandsations" sand-sculpture contest was just ending and grabbed free hot-dogs before inspecting the sculptures. Unfortunately the tide was coming in quickly, and since we hadn't brought our wading-shoes we only got to see the backs of some of them. We wouldn't have gotten a whole lot wetter in the surf, however, as the rain was quite steady by then, and the wind was gusting strongly. We saw several castles, penguins, a mermaid, and the Deathstar, but the highlight was King Kong, who's shoulders and head jutted up six or seven feet above the beach.

It was nice to get away from the soggy crowds and head up the peninsula to the "Jumpin' Good Goat Dairy." On the way Abby grabbed a nap, and we were all ready to go again in time for the daily tour. Abby is intrigued with all animals, and grinned hugely when the little "kid" goats nibbled her fingers. I tried my hand at milking the goats, since Sarah was too shy, and found it quite easy... most of the work consists of installing and removing the vacuum tubes that do the actual milking! After that we visited the billy-goats and sampled the dairy specialty cheeses... quite good really! Several were a bit too "goaty" for us, but some had very little unusual flavor, and we bought one to bring home.

By the time we headed back to the campground it was very windy and pouring rain. The inside of the bus was fogging up, so I used several strands of wire and a multi-tool to temporarily wire the heater fan... something I wasn't expecting to need when we planned this camping trip in the ninety-five degree weather! Unfortunately something else in the system is bad, and I had to settle for wiping off the windshield with a rag. The windshield wipers on the bus then began to squeak. As we neared our campground I saw three bear cubs run across the road and remembered that they had mentioned giving left-over goat milk to a bear that hung around the goat farm! I wondered if Abby smelled anything like left-over goat milk.

It was time for Abby to go to bed soon after we arrived, so we "reconfigured" the bus by folding down the back seat into a bed, and set up Abigail's portable tent-bed (inside). In the midst of the pouring rain and trying to get the cooler and stove and everything else we needed where we could reach it for dinner without waking Abby, I tried to slam the sliding bus door (which never does close quite right), and it fell off it's front rollers! I grabbed it and tried to maneuver them back into place, at which point the back roller fell off it's track, the back lower corner of the door bent against the ground, and I had the whole thing in my hands! The rain continued to pour down, although I couldn't get much wetter than I already was, as I dug into the far corners of the bus for screwdriver and flashlight (never go ANYWHERE in a VW without tools!). I finally determined that the back roller would go on with a bit of finesse, but for the installation of the front rollers nothing would suffice but a swift kick. After that it was "as good as new," but we were a bit more cautious with the door the rest of the trip!

I was glad for a short lull in the rain (if not the wind) during which I cooked dinner. At least I have a lot of experience using that type of camp stove... every once in a while living on a boat and in a (previous) VW bus comes in handy. I dumped the large box of firewood which we had brought all into the fire pit at once, box and all, and lit such a conflagration that the whole campground (or at least our neighbor's tent) would have become a raging inferno had it not been for the soaking weather. We didn't last too long before crawling into the back of the bus and into our already-damp sleeping bags. By this time everything was moist. The humidity inside the bus was only slightly less than that under a running shower-head. I whispered a chapter of "Through the Looking Glass" and turned the flashlight off. It was far from the end of the night, however. The rain drummed down on the roof of the bus wildly like a hailstorm on a kettle-drum, and the wind rocked us in a way which called to mind boats and oceans. I don't know how many times I awoke. Several times I heard the small jingling sound made by a toy we had left with Abigail. She must have been awake a lot too, but not once did she cry or make any other noise but that little jingle. Some time around 2 AM the storm let up and we got a little sleep.

Everyone was ready to go in the morning. Sarah wanted to go straight home, but I knew we needed to have breakfast first, and so cooked up bacon and pancakes with tea while at the same time packing up the bus for the road once again. It was once again raining steadily. After wiping the condensation from the inside of the front windows with paper towels (so we could at least see a little) we headed for home. Halfway there the squeaking from the windshield wipers became so intense that Sarah was afraid it would wake up Abby from her nap. I had considered bringing WD-40 along... but had to settle for a squirt of cooking-spray, which fixed the problem immediately (at which point it quit raining). We got home around two in the afternoon to find sweltering heat and sunny skies.

Although this camping trip had probably some of the worst conditions I have ever encountered, we got home in relatively good spirits. Tired? Yes! Abby went straight to sleep. Glad to be home? Yes! It was so nice to be out of the soggy bus. Successful? YES! Abigail's first camping trip... and we didn't pack up and drive home before breakfast... ;-)