One of the great things about Alison is her travel bug and sense of adventure. Sometimes we get away to long-planned destinations, like North Captiva Island in March and a terrific trip to Richmond for my sister’s wedding a couple of weeks ago. Sometimes it’s a little more, “Hey, know what? We have some time and a tent.” After a late start and a fun brush with the natives in Manassas, we got in our cars and headed West until our cell phones cut out.
Luckily, Alison’s phone held up long enough to google a place to camp, else some bemused state trooper may have ended up asking us why we were lighting a fire on the side of Interstate 66. The first place we called from the road didn’t have any waterfront berths, but we saw that just a few miles south of Skyline Caverns was “Gooney Creek Campground.” The site was the beneficiary of mostly good reviews, although one disgruntled former tenant had labeled it the “worst campground ever.” Deciding not to hazard a guess as to that person’s criteria, we checked it out.
One of the reviews noted that the campground was run by an eccentric woman who chops all the firewood, but we weren’t entirely prepared – “pack rat” doesn’t begin to describe the eclectic ***piles of stuff lying around the porch where she spends a lot of her time. Everything from wire sculptures with African themes to stacks of old books and paper, to ceramics, to woven baskets were strewn around her rocker. An ominous disembodied Black doll head kept watch from one of the tables.
The woman regarded us a little suspiciously when we drove up and had to ask about fees and campsites, but she grunted that site 18 was open and agreed that we could go take a look at it before we committed. I put Alison in the car, then got around and we were off to make sure we could spend the night where the proprietor proposed to put us. When we got back ten minutes later, she practically stroked my hand as she took my money. “You know,” she said, “There aren’t a lot of young men your age who still open doors for ladies.” Alison chimed in that I’d been raised properly … and for the next 24 hours, I reveled in the fact that every time we were near the campground headquarters, Alison had to continue letting me open her door for her. She agreed that I had a reputation to think of.
Site 18 ended up being interesting. We hadn’t even gotten the tent pitched before we’d found half a dozen wood ticks crawling around on us. Considering that we continued catching them trying to latch on, it’s nothing short of miraculous that we both (we think) came home without any passengers. One of the guys cutting through our site told us that it floods when the waters rise, and some of the reviews I saw after the fact (thank goodness) complained about large numbers of snakes.
Speaking of cutting through, our campsite was the last along Gooney Creek. There’s a scenic path that extends down along the creek, so during daylight various groups of people were cutting past us to hike or fish. When it became dark, though, we were at the end of the line and had terrific privacy. We agreed that we’d rather people passing by while it was light than wondering who was tramping through our space during the night.
Our neighbors were fun. It was two goofy guys with two girls who were clearly trying to dress sexy, although they looked like they were trying to stuff ten pounds of ground beef into five-pound sacks. Alison theorized that the guys were dorks who aspired to be the next YouTube sensation, talking the girls into posing for sexy videos off by the creek. Without knowing for sure, cigarettes and Budweiser definitely figured prominently in their mission.
The best part of the afternoon and evening? The nothingness. We played dominos and cribbage. I chucked my normal ambitions for cooking on campouts in favor of quarter pound hot dogs on skewers. We had a campfire, including a couple of cedar logs that made the entire site smell wonderful, and just drank wine and talked into the dark night. Our cell phones didn’t chirp and there was nowhere we had to be.
Sometimes it’s fun to take quiet time at home. Sometimes it’s fun to plan active vacations where we’re learning about people and customs and food and architecture and history. And every once in a while, you have a special weekend somewhere that gives “Deliverance country” a whole new meaning.
Gooney Creek Campgrounds
7122 Stonewall Jackson Highway
Front Royal, VA 22630-7727