Just before heading to Nairobi, I celebrated the beginning of the camping season. Memorial Day weekend started with a wedding in Memphis, and was followed by a drive through Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama so that I could add a few more states to those I have visited. I am slowly racking them up. Someday I hope to visit, or at least set my feet in all 50 states.
We had planned to camp in the William B Bankead National Forest in Alabama for two nights. We were assured by the rangers that they never run out of camping sites – and there were three possible campgrounds in close proximity. Besides, we knew that it is legal to camp anywhere in a National Forest. We thought we were prepared.
These were the lessons we learned:
- Some National Forest campgrounds have gates before the campgrounds.
- The rangers are not always accurate – as people are staying closer to home, the campgrounds are filling up more than is historically normal.
- William B Bankhead National Forest is not a national forest where it is comfortable to pull off the road and camp anywhere. It felt like we were driving through small town after small town and the side roads seemed to be private driveways as much as national land.
And so we drove through the night with just a truck stop nap. Arriving home at 6 am, we napped, regrouped, and worked to redeem our camping trip. That is when a friend of a friend blessed us. Don owns a beautiful piece of land that is 1/2 x 1/2 mile with a creek running straight through the property. He has a beautiful understanding of his land: he is a protector and shares his land openly. We were so blessed and it makes me think about how I might care for and share land should I ever own some.
We set our tents up by the stream, our hammocks over it, and our beer and watermelon in it to cool down. We hiked up the stream, damned it to create a pool to float in, and some of us (not me) caught and released water snakes and turtles. We read, played card games, and ate great camping food. It could not have been a more perfect first camping trip for the season. Looking forward to many more – with revised and improved background research for future camping sites!