Travels with Harvey: No Advanced Planning Required

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I am not a procrastinator.

No, really, I’m not. Don’t be swayed by the fact that I’m typing these words as my editor waits patiently, my deadline just hours away. Ignore, too, the fact that I waited until two days before the Memorial Day weekend to book the vacation which is the subject of my article.

A young couple enjoys the brilliant sunshine and cool breezes along the river’s shore.

A young couple enjoys the brilliant sunshine and cool breezes along the river’s shore.

I’m really a fastidious planner. As evidence, I submit my complex but reliable scheduling system, consisting of no fewer than four white boards, two calendars, and – for emergencies – the palm of my hand, where urgent reminders (“pick up toilet paper”) get scribbled.

I also submit the guidance I generously provided today to my 11-year-old, whose school project, as usual, languished until the night before it’s due: “Your failure to plan ahead isn’t my problem. Get your butt in gear.” And to my college students, I recently emailed this useful, though foreboding, warning: “Do not wait until the last minute to begin your assignment. It will not, I’m afraid, go well for you.”  I am very helpful that way.

So, as you can clearly see, my decision to wait until the Wednesday before the year’s busiest travel weekend to search for a campground was not due to procrastination. Rather, I was lured into a false sense of security when we purchased Harvey, our RV.  Among the many selling points my husband presented – along with on-board bathroom and built-in kitchen, neither of which held much appeal – was one that did: no advanced planning required. It’s unnecessary when you’re bringing your hotel room with you, he explained.

Unfortunately, that didn’t turn out to be entirely true. Planning ahead is crucial. Not if you plan to pull over at a rest stop and squeeze in among the 18-wheelers (which we’ve done), but certainly if you want to stay at one of those huge, resort-like campgrounds with  water parks and mini golf. So last April, I got out my laptop, calendar, and credit card, and booked our RV trips for the entire summer.

I intended to do the same this spring. I thought about it a lot, and we had many conversations about it, but no reservations were made. Finally, with Memorial Day looming, I logged online for what I knew would be a daunting challenge.

I started with a few close, private campgrounds, like Cherrystone in Cape Charles.  My reservation request was answered with a snicker. (Not really. It’s a computerized system. But still, I felt chastened by the red “unavailable” notice that popped onscreen.)  I moved on to the state parks. No luck, unless we wanted to drive through the HRBT and on for another four hours. On Memorial Day weekend? No thanks.

After hiking to the river, and tossing a football in the open field, the boys were content to sit on the dock and watch the boats speed by.

After hiking to the river, and tossing a football in the open field, the boys were content to sit on the dock and watch the boats speed by.

The ideal location, which increasingly seemed unattainable, wouldn’t require hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic. It would be quiet, away from the holiday crowds, but have enough activities to keep us busy. Most importantly, it wouldn’t be completely booked.

I took a shot and called Northwest River Park. No online reservations available; this time, I’d be rejected by a human being. But to my astonishment – and, it seemed, to the ranger’s – there were four campsites left.  I soon discovered why. I couldn’t reserve a spot on the phone. I had to mail, or personally deliver, cash or a check.  No complaints, though. I delivered my check with relief.  Crisis averted.

On Saturday, I packed Harvey and woke the kids early so we could arrive by 9:00, the earliest possible check-in time. At 9:30, the boys were still eating cereal and reading the comics, so I gently reminded them that they needed to be more punctual. (I might have actually said they needed to get their butts in gear, but either way, it’s good advice.)

Despite our tardiness, we found a pretty treed spot situated just the right distance from the playground.  The boys couldn’t decide what to do first, rent a paddleboat or play miniature golf. Paddleboats won, and golf was reserved for the afternoon. Despite the perfect weather, the park was quiet. There were no lines for anything, and the atmosphere among the RVs and pop-ups and tents was subdued that evening as dozens of campfires filled the air with scents of burning wood and grilling meats.

Sunday morning, we rented two cherry-red canoes and set off in Lake Lisa, a fishing pond that narrows into a winding freshwater lake, enveloped by branches of trees growing along its banks. Bright green duckweed covered the water’s surface, its tiny leaves like the paint daubs of an impressionist’s landscape. We counted eleven turtles basking in a sliver of sunshine, and, to the boys’ delight, a lone baby sunning itself on a log.  “It’s like we’re on a Disney ride,” my husband said, by which he meant that it was very nearly perfect.

A wooden bridge crosses Lake Lisa to connect hikers from the campground to the Northwest River pier.

A wooden bridge crosses Lake Lisa to connect hikers from the campground to the Northwest River pier.

The Northwest River, which we discovered on our afternoon hike, was as sparkling and blue as the lake was tranquil and green.  A smattering of visitors lounged on its banks and fished from its pier as speedboats skimmed in and out of our sight. We watched a woman reel in a catfish and a fishing boat captained by two men and a yellow lab bob offshore.  The boys dangled their legs from the dock, their toes barely reaching the water.

We agreed that it was one of the prettiest campgrounds we’ve ever visited. Also one of the cheapest, least crowded, most fun, and definitely the closest, which means we can return any time we want.

Don’t tell my kids, or my students, but I guess last-minute plans sometimes work out okay.  I’m reminded of my fourth-grade science project, which I didn’t start until the night before the deadline. Desperate, I cut some branches from backyard trees, glued them to a poster board, and titled it “Survey of Native South Florida Citrus.” I won third place.

But I am not a procrastinator, I promise.

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