I don’t know how they know, but they do. Maybe my husband and I emit a different chemical signal for anticipation on the way out to a camping trip than for resignation — back to the grind! — on the return leg. However they sense it, the little dogs react by being restless and never completely settling down in their cockpit bed from the moment we embark to the moment we check in, even during longer journeys. Conversely, when we pack up and leave for home, they’re often curled up asleep before we leave the campground. Is it excitement about going somewhere new, versus the ho-hum of returning to the familiar? Only a dog whisperer would know for sure.
It’s an equal dichotomy for my husband and me, as well. There’s nothing else quite so satisfying as parking the motorhome in its spot; completing our arrival routine, which includes putting down the stabilizers, putting out the “Welcome” sign and the mini white lights along the awning; and then dropping down into our lawnchairs, knowing we have about 43 hours of peace and quiet to look forward to. No demands, often being off the grid, and very little structure to our days. The outside world doesn’t intrude much, so we have a respite from bad news. If we want to go to a nature talk or to movie night, we can, but if we’re too busy reading or sitting by a lake, all good. At Hocking Hills State Park, we always feel obligated to use the superb trails, because the scenery and geological formations are must-sees, but other than that, we avoid agendas, for the most part. Where there’s accessible water, we take along our kayaks for the entirely Zen experience of paddling along slowly, under our own power, soaking in the serenity. A lake or stream is a perfect vantage point to observe local birds, watch butterflies flit along the banks, and peer into the woods to pick out magnificent old trees. It’s sometimes possible to see more from the water than from a land perspective.
Last year, we tried taking our big dogs in the kayaks. The beagle took to my husband’s sit-in kayak fairly quickly. The foxhound, however, was too much of a bundle of excitable energy for my sit-on kayak, and came close to capsizing it in the ten minutes before she abandoned ship. Our late shih tzu, Sadie, loved going for rides on the water, and didn’t care how rough it got. The newer girls, though, are another story. Elderly Khloe can’t see very well, so the motion of the boat disorients her, and she’s nervous. We just made an attempt with the younger one, Cindy, and she may turn out to be as good a sailor as Sadie was, eventually. We like to give our canine kids new experiences. It’s part of having a getaway. And yes, doggie life vests come in all sizes. Other craft work for dog recreation, too. We’ve seen several stand-up paddle-boarders with golden retrievers and Labs sitting contentedly in front of them. Turns out the stand-up boards are versatile, also: last year, I was surprised and impressed to see a yoga class taking place on paddleboards, and I thought it must be the very definition of relaxation.
Our outdoor trips are obviously not the purist kind, totally back to nature, with no creature comforts. I’ve thought several times that we’re not really camping; for that, we’d have to be in a tent, cooking over a fire, drinking water from canteens or jugs, sleeping on the ground, with maybe air mattresses for minimum damage to backs and joints. Our motorhome, though quite small, is fully equipped with a complete bathroom, a furnace, a stove and refrigerator, and air conditioning, like all of its kind. The 40-foot behemoth models come with up to five TVs, gas fireplaces, multiple bathrooms, queen beds, and other luxuries, so I tell myself that at least we’re not that decadent.
To our credit in the hardiness department, unlike the vast majority of trailer and motorhome owners, we take our home-away-from-home out year-round. We’ve overnighted in ice storms, deep snowfalls, and temperatures in the single digits. Certainly, it’s harder to travel in the winter. We’ve had to navigate around trees that have fallen across the road while we huddled at our site, and wait for the all-clear until ice melted and we wouldn’t slide into a ditch. Amenities are reduced or eliminated at the parks, so we have to adapt (although we do have a complete Thanksgiving dinner in the motorhome every year). Still, the cold months are my favorite time to camp, mainly because of the feeling of isolation. Really getting away. On a given weekend, we might have only two or three neighbors throughout the whole park. The trails are usually impassable due to mud or snow, but we just walk on the [well maintained] roads with the big dogs, taking in the silent beauty of the woods and lake at our “home” park, where we go exclusively between November and March. The sight of deep gray clouds over the half-frozen lake is matchless. Watching the wind spin veils of snow off the tall pines is breathtaking. The sheer starkness of black trees against white snow and gunmetal lake is soothing in its simplicity. I can exhale. And there’s nothing cozier than reading, writing, puzzling, or crocheting done in front of a window looking out on that scene, dogs ensconced all around.
Someone told me last year that I should take advantage of every opportunity to get out in nature in our traveling home, because it would save my sanity. How prescient that advice was! Throughout my personal turmoil of the last year, and then the national catastrophes we’ve seen recently, that escape to the woods has indeed been a safety valve, a way to stay centered. It’s literally a retreat to sanctuary. The shih tzus are right: it’s exciting to be driving toward an adventure and a place of peacefulness. The more often, the better.