He sat, all afternoon and evening, into the dark, alone by a campfire, next to his pop-up camper. His son pulled and parked the camper for him, for he lost eyesight in one eye due to a recent stroke, and couldnâ€™t back well any more.
Each night, as quiet fell upon the campground, he remained still and silent, leaned forward in his lawn chair, elbows on his knees, hands clasped in the fireâ€™s warmth.
His wife was gone, 23 years now. He was accustomed to living alone, indoors or outdoors.
On the third night, after seeing the dome light on in his vehicle from our camp across the road, I felt a need to interrupt his posing.
â€œSir? Did you know your dome light is on in your vehicle?â€
â€œNo, I did not,â€ he replied, â€œThank-you.â€
And I returned to the flickering light of my campfire, and he returned, after attending to his car, to his.
In the morning, as a gesture of thanks, he brought us kindling to light our morning-coffee campfire.
He had peaked our curiosity — this old man, alone and quiet in the night. We had to ask, â€œAre you alone here?â€
With stuttering spaces filled with spelled-out words his mouth would no longer say, he summed up his story for us, and then gave a matter-of-fact shrug.
â€œI just like to get outside.â€
I hope, when we are his age and condition, shall we all.
10/07 – Add Things to Love About Audra State Park
Audra State Park has many attractive features: hiking trails, a walkway through a cave, the Middle Fork River, geocaching, pavilions and game courts. The park is a ‘best kept’ secret itself. But some odd features at Audra’s campground are especially appealing to hard-core campers.
Rough and Ready
Audra’s campground is inconvenient for most large RVs. Most sites have small pull-through drives banked above the site or above the road. Other sites are cramped or require backing. One campsite is even designated as “tent only,” as it requires a mini hike to get to the site from the road. Those who travel in large RV’s will find Audra’s sites a bit cramping to their style. Odd then, that this would be a positive for the park.
Audra’s minimally polished grounds reward other campers with spaces upon the very banks of the river, or in an area surrounded by forest and rock on almost all four sides. Due to the abundance of Rhododendron and boulders, campsites at Audra feature varied levels seclusion and privacy, some offering almost 100% visual cover. Almost all sites enjoy afternoon shade as well.
There are no round welded fire rings at Audra either. Square grates, welded on a cement platform, through the summer get surrounded by river rocks carried there by campers wanting to keep coals alive.
This is also a plus, as the stone fire ring circumference is directly related to how many rocks were there when you arrived, and how many more you can carry. Welded fire rings in newer parks limit the size fire you can make. At Audra, you can build a better campfire.
Tent campers get to experience the bath houses of every campground they visit. Outdoor bathhouses are not commonly referred to as a pleasant experience, bringing to mind the locker rooms of our youth — always wet, never any hot water, and smelling of chlorine.
It is difficult to get in and out of the showers at Audra without getting all of your clothes wet. But the reasons why are what makes the risk worthwhile. With due caution and planning, you can have a powerful, massaging shower without getting your clothes soaked.
First, the water in the campground bathhouses is almost always hot, hot, hot. If you don’t follow a family of five into the bathhouse at get-ready-for-bed time, or arrive after the morning wash sessions, you should have plenty of steaming water.
But the kicker is the amazing water pressure. Turn the shower on without blocking the water, and the pressure will blow the shower curtain across the stall right up in the air. That’s why you don’t put your dry items on the little bench in the dressing area. Move the bench completely outside the stall, and put your dry clothes out there while you shower. Don’t worry, no one is going to steal your underwear.
I discovered the amazing power of the Audra shower on a chilly fall evening after hiking the trails all day. We were still damp with sweat, but as the sun set, I felt a defined chill. I donned my camping shower cap to keep my head dry, and headed to wash off the day.
Warmed by the intense heat of the water, and tightening from the day’s physical output, I stood under the shower head and just let water pound on my muscles.
Clean, relaxed and toasty, I crawled into the sleeping bag for a cozy night’s rest. The next morning, after camp coffee, I went to the bath house to wash my face and brush my teeth.
That’s when I noticed them — little red spots all over my neck and collar. On my shoulders too.
I leaned forward to the mirror, rubbing the spots, which did not itch, were not rough, or swollen. I felt my forehead, to see if I was fevered. Nope.
I was brushing my teeth when it hit me. They were little red bruises. The water pressure in the shower was so powerful that long exposure to it had literally bruised me. And yet it felt so good.
I suppose, now that the world knows, the powers that be will insist that the water pressure at the park be turned down. I hope that isn’t possible, because when you’ve finished a day of hiking the mountain, a pounding, hot shower is just what you need.
Cold Spring Nights
Audra State Park’s campground is open from April through October. In the summer, the cool mountain-valley evenings are a blessing. The chilly water and evening temperatures are two main reasons the campground is so popular — and crowded — during the hot summer months. But, if you visit Audra early in the season, the nights can be downright cold. In fact, in April, you could wake to find ice and snow upon your tent and table. (Or, if you’re there during a spring Nor’easter, as we were this year, you could wake to find the Middle Fork River at your tent door.)
Not too many who view camping as a leisure activity will embrace the thought of camping in the cold. But, adventurous campers who visit Audra during the early spring or late fall could have the entire campground to themselves. No running generators; no voices; no traffic; no waiting for the bathrooms; no need to observe campground “quiet hours.”
In fact, there is no sound but the crackling fire, the river, and the life of the forest – unless you make it. How often do you get an entire campground to yourself? A few chilly evenings near the fire and inside the sleeping bag seems a low price to pay.
Another benefit to arriving early in the season – free firewood. Because the river runs so high in the winter, in early spring, Audra’s campground is full of driftwood. Yes, some is wet and sandy, but much of it is still good for the campfire. Besides, wet and sandy wood can be dried once the fire is going. Buy a bundle of wood from the park when you arrive, then make one of your first activities a walk along the river. Gather armfuls along short strolls, and remember locations of larger logs. Later, drive to gather the larger pieces.
When you are on an outdoor camping adventure, you find that unexpected discoveries will bring you comfort and relief. Often, it’s the simple things.
A private weekend in the forest with a soothing shower, a roaring fire, and a good supply of firewood — it goes a long way. No, it’s not the comforts of home, but sometimes, that’s the whole point.
I’m finally sorting through all of our digital photos for the past year, and have begun posting “slide show stories” on our travel writers site at wvtravelers.com.
I use URL forwarding for that site, so here’s a direct link to the Audra On Ice page:
One of the great things about camping on an undesirable weather weekend is that you get the whole place to yourself..
Frank and I did take advantage of the unpopulated park, (and the weather) to do a camp site review for each of the 65 camp sites within the park. Each review included which sites NOT to choose when heavy rain has been predicted.
We took photos of all the sites, with and without standing water, even.
Then, we took photos of our Coleman camping gear in action, so we can write product reviews later on. In fact, Frank took over 1,000 photos in one day. Aren’t digital cameras amazing?
Bob, Chris and Trudy were all there, and remembered us, and little Miss Daisy.
Some might think it was a terrible weekend to be sleeping in a tent. But it was an adventure — and that is how we approach all of our trips — as an adventure.