Friday, July 31, 2020

Dances with Lightning Bugs: a Tiny Trailer Excursion

Lake Rathbun at Buck Creek Campground, and Army Corps facility

Somehow, lightning bugs are getting into my camper at night, just lightning bugs, so for the last two nights I’ve woken up to a beautiful, flickering display of wonder. I don’t know how they’re getting in, but since it’s only lightning bugs, I’m counting my blessings rather than worrying. I catch them and gently shoo them outside.

I'm spending three nights at Buck Creek Campground at Lake Rathbun in SE Iowa. What's been fun so far (it's dawn after my second night here) is that I have no particular agenda for this trip except to scout out a couple of Army Corps campgrounds--Buck Creek Campground and Island View Campground. I rode my bike the five miles to Island View yesterday and will do so again today, which involves a long ride across the Rathbun dam (or dams, there are two, one huge and the other smaller).

It's been hot, so my activity has been mostly in the morning and evening, with afternoon time consisting of reading, writing, napping, and my afternoon TM meditation. In addition to exploring with my bicycle, I've also enjoyed some cooking and playing around with my new portable shower, the Iron Hammer Portable Shower. I'm not endorsing the product yet after using it only three times, but so far it's still pumping water. I warm a couple of five-gallon buckets of water in the sun during the day, and my shower is sitting on the picnic bench in my swim trunks, spraying myself. It takes less than five gallons for this kind of shower.

Site F-3

I'm set up in a nice spot, although I get a good bit of afternoon sun. Luckily the air conditioner handles that. One good plus this camping season is that after three years, the camper insides have finally stopped off-gassing chemicals from the adhesive wallpaper so I can shut up the camper for full ac effect. In prior years, we had to keep windows and ceiling vent cracked to keep the fumes down. RTTC no longer uses the decorative adhesive. Thank you for all owners!

*     *     *

Here I am on Wednesday afternoon the next day. I've been having a toasted bagel with cream cheese for breakfast, so even though I was hoping to drop a couple of pounds with some bike riding . . . probably not! I did bicycle back to Island View Campground this morning, leaving at 9:10, and it was a bit cooler, I guess. The sun was shining, so I liberally applied sunscreen, especially to my legs. I wore a long-sleeved linen shirt as usual in order to keep the sun at bay on my upper torso. I spent quite a bit of time taking notes on the best campsites--"best" being defined as having shade and hopefully a view of the lake. By afternoon it had warmed up. However, when the clouds blew in and the chance of rain increased, I dropped my awning and generally broke camp. There is an increasing chance of rain through the night and into tomorrow, and since I am heading home tomorrow, I decided to pick up while it was dry.

I've enjoyed this trip. I think that planning my activity with the idea of an afternoon siesta to dodge the heat was a good idea. It's worked well, providing me with morning exercise on my bike while I explored and then some relaxation and camp time.

New habits, or "teaching the old dog new tricks."

Regarding COVID-19 protocols, I have used my own portable toilet and shower this trip. My only interaction with campground facilities has been the electrical connection, the water spigot, and the campground trash bins. I had my alcohol spray handy for all of those necessities. When walking or bike riding outside of camp, I wore my bandanna loose around my neck, cowboy style, ready to cover my face, bandit style, if necessary. No one approached, though, so I felt safe.

Kids interacting, fifteen in this group. The "blue tees" had been to the Des Moines Zoo today.

And then came my last evening. It was scheduled to possibly rain, but because the rain held off, I decided to take one last walk through the campground. The campground has three loops--A, B, and F. Walking up the hill, I started with the farthest from my F-03 campsite and headed for Loop A. At the top of the hill was a large group of fifteen kids, from about four to fifteen years of age. Some were in a large bicycle group, a "pack o' bikes," and the rest were on the playground equipment. A few wore matching blue tee shirts, souvenirs from a couple of families who had traveled to the Des Moines Zoo.

Loop A was almost filled with campers, many of them with kids. The kids were all interacting, and I think the concept of family "bubbles of safety" interacting didn't apply here. I'm observing the great fun the kids and adults are having, all interacting, and I'm thinking, "Polk County and Des Moines is one of Iowa's "hotspots," and maybe twenty folks went to the zoo, half or more kids, and then they've come back here and are interacting with other campers. I haven't seen a single mask worn in the campground." What I saw was a very real, concrete example of why the United States has one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the world. Negotiating my way through the streams of kids, I felt less safe than during the rest of my stay here. The kids were totally innocent and happy, as we want our children to be, but I was the one maintaining my distance from them, not the other way around. And we're a little less than one month when school begins.

I am looking forward to camping this fall and early winter in our local state and county parks. It will be less crowded, safer. I think this will be my reality for quite some time--looking for ways to pursue those activities I enjoy, yet doing so in a manner that keeps me safe. Sometimes I wish each individual novel coronavirus was the size of a Bengal tiger. Then folks would say, "Oh, yeah, better avoid that sucker!" But with this invisible virus continuing to do its thing, and with so many not seeing the danger, I just have to avoid people and enjoy my freedom privately. I have had a chance to talk to three couples during my time here, them in their camp and me in the middle of the road. I enjoyed that, but felt obligated for those folks traveling to be aware of the potential dangers.

Since I've applied for my federal Senior Pass, the next time I camp at an Army Corps facility, the fee will be half price. That's great! These campgrounds open in May and close at the end of September, though, so my time will be short at these federal campgrounds this season. I bought the lifetime pass, though, so look out next year--lifetime pass and new trailer!

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  1. I'm just back from a 3 day tent trip. I spent it at a state park that was conveniently close to a dark sky park which was the objective of the trip. Not a state park I'd stay at again unless it was because I was visiting the dark sky park again. Sites way to small and close together. It wasn't full (I was there mid-week) but I notice through the reservation system it's full this weekend and I can't even imagine. Anyway, I had fun, and the weather was pretty perfect (a little rain each day) but the moon sort of obscured the stars during my two nights of attempted star photography. Still I had fun and got a couple shots I like. Hoping to try again in a couple weeks at a different park, I need to get the app that tells me the moon phases and where the milky way will be on any given night. Tent camping is still fun, and challenging all at the same time.

  2. I had seen your post in my emails but was waiting to read it at a more relaxed time. (The grandkids were here yesterday.) I've just read it (it's dawn now on Sunday), and it sounds like you had a good time. I've never done much star-gazing or photography, but it sounds like fun. The sky is beautiful at night, especially at night when the experience is not dulled my light from towns. I'm looking forward to reading about your next starry sky adventure!