Travels with Harvey

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My husband is a funny guy, used to getting laughs. But he’s not looking for a chuckle when he describes his weekend plans. That, however, is when he’s most likely to get one.

“Oh, sorry,” a listener will say, realizing he’s serious. “You just don’t look like the RVing type.”

We’re not quite sure what type that is – we’ve met RVers of all kinds – but we have a pretty good sense of what type it’s not: the type whose longest hikes are from his car to the office door, whose travel urges are fulfilled by watching PBS, and whose most notable survival skill is navigating interoffice politics.

So, yeah, the skeptics have a point: my husband and camping don’t naturally fit together.

But love often drives us to step outside our comfort zones, and if there are two things he’s crazy about, it’s his family (our sons are 11, 8, and 7) and the beautiful Commonwealth that’s been our home for over two decades.

Several years ago, we started making weekend jaunts to share with the boys our love of the Old Dominion.  We took tour guide-perfect trips: Williamsburg, Mount Vernon, Luray Caverns.  We stuck to plans laid out by experts; stayed in approved hotels; ate in chain restaurants.

Then along came Harvey (the RV), a purchase fueled solely by my husband’s memory of a childhood vacation. I was skeptical. It would languish in storage, I was sure, while the novelty wore off and the expenses mounted.  To get our money’s worth, we’d have to camp every month.  Make that twice a month.  That’s a lot of campfires.  A lot of s’mores.

And a lot of Virginia. My husband assured me we’d see it all.

Our first trip was planned with deliberation worthy of a Mars mission.  Where do you go on a chilly November weekend with three boys begging, “no learning, please!”? Beaches were disqualified: too cold. Plantations and museums were out: too educational. Anywhere west of Staunton was too far.  Finally, we found the answer – Carter Mountain Orchard in Charlottesville – where we’d pick apples, drink cider, and relish the same view once enjoyed by Jefferson.

The trip was not without hiccups. Just getting acclimated to the 30-footer, my husband cut a corner too closely and gouged a hole in Harvey’s back end.  Undaunted, he ventured up Carter Mountain without contemplating the significance of the second half of its name.  With Harvey whining against the incline and veering closely to the unprotected shoulder, I closed my eyes and prayed until we emerged, frazzled, on top. Maybe it was the thrill of accomplishment that invigorated us, or maybe the brisk fall morning, but we approached apple picking as a competitive sport. Lugging back more than $100 worth of fruit, we vowed more restraint the next time.

The boys take advantage of the low tide and last rays of light to search for crabs while camping on the Eastern Shore.

Harvey soon took us to Temperanceville, where a pink sunset over the Bay provided a vibrant backdrop for our crab hunt. To Urbanna, where we scoured antique shops for hours. To Pocahontas State Park, where we fished and paddle-boated and marveled that such a beautiful campsite could be had for about $25.

It was on Gwynn’s Island, though, where I felt our boys were developing a genuine appreciation of Virginia.  The 7th Virginia Regiment, a dedicated community of Revolutionary War reenactors, was reconstructing the Battle of Cricket Hill.  My father and our 8-year-old were dressed in full period costume, complete with waistcoats and wool hats, despite temperatures exceeding 100 degrees.

Most of the soldiers worked double-duty.  They first assumed British roles, firing cannons from the island to represent the defense of the Royal Governor’s camp.  A rowboat crew crisscrossed the waters of the Piankatank River separating the island from the rest of Mathews County.  This was the British Navy — not quite Dunmore’s enormous fleet — but we got the idea. They then switched loyalties, positioning their cannons and militia on the mainland and firing back to the location they had just defended.  Observers munched on watermelon as the regimental commander narrated the scene.

In the middle of it all was our son, faithfully readying ammunition and awaiting orders. The weight of his task and the brutality of the sun subdued him, but, as even an 8-year-old knows, you can’t goof off in battle. When my mother commented on the sacrifices made by the real soldiers 235 years before, the other boys nodded knowingly. Not once did anyone whine about learning.

Could we see this much of Virginia in my SUV? Sure. Would we? Probably not. Harvey won’t be satisfied by trips through familiar suburbs.  He compels us to explore.

My husband still gets chuckles about our weekend plans, but, as he tells me, they don’t last long once he’s described the beautiful scenery, the friendly campers, and, most importantly, the moments with our boys. That’s when the skepticism fades and the genuine smiles emerge, along with, occasionally, a confession: You know, I’ve been thinking about buying an RV myself.

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