That night, 12 hours and 560 miles closer to home, (I drove a lot of back roads in between) I pulled into my favorite Illinois (I know, I know, the words favorite and Illinois just don't seem to go together.) rest stop at MM 79 of southbound I-57.
If you take the "cars" fork when entering the rest area (Those of you with tow-behinds or larger motorcoaches will be OK, trucks do this too.) then turn right just beyond the bathrooms you end up on a little side road that takes you out onto a peninsula sticking out into Rend Lake. This road makes a relaxed loop at the end (Big enough for big rigs to get around easily.) and has a wide, paved shoulder all the way around for parking rigs of all sizes well away from the freeway noise.
My timing was impeccable! (Yep, sarcasm. . .) The sun had just set and I no sooner parked, opened the vents, and stepped out, than the sirens in Benton, a few miles to the south, started going off. A quick check of Weatherbug showed a nasty looking storm off to the southwest and heading this way!
Of course, to get out of here I had to go south, right towards the storm - in the dark - so I shut everything up tight again and hung on.
The worst of it was over in about 15 minutes, but during that 15 minutes there was some pretty impressive straight-line winds that reached under The Van and blew about a cup of water in under the gaucho through a leak I still haven't found.
I'm not sure what happened, maybe it was the storm last night, or maybe just a brain-fart, (Or, based on the overheard conversation from many years ago where the child psychologist told my mom there was nothing he could do for me, maybe there's just something fundamentally wrong with the way my brain works.) but barely an hour and half into Wednesday's drive I had made a detour and was pulling into the Shawnee National Forest Oak Point campground at Lake Glendale.
When I stopped at the pay-station to pick up an envelope (I can never seem to remember my campsite number on the walk back up to the pay-station so I take an envelope with me and fill it out while I'm standing in the campsite.) the host came out all apologetic because the electric sites were all taken for the rest of the week and through the weekend. (Remember, this is early Wednesday) I told her I don't want electric anyway, I want the apparently unpopular non-electric loop (No generators allowed! Which, in my opinion, should always be the case in public campgrounds.)
|The tent in the foreground is mine. I use it as a placeholder.|
I know, I know, brain-fart or not, in the face of the upcoming holiday weekend, this is just pure insanity!
But my thinking, my justification, was that it has been decades since I actually braved camping though a holiday weekend, so maybe my perception of what it would be like is heavily skewed by my broad and general dislike of people. (Individuals are find but "people" suck!)
I figured I could survive a few uncomfortable days to find out for sure. Worst case, I could forfeit a few of my nights and bail out Saturday. (I've found that traveling in the middle of a holiday isn't all that bad, its only terrible on either end.)
Conclusions: It wasn't perfect, but not nearly as bad as I expected. The place, predictably, filled up, but being an old FS campground there is a bit of space between sites so I didn't have neighbors coughing into my dinner. (Though one evening the young couple in the next campsite sang to their little girl and I ended up with 'Frère Jacques' stuck in my head all the next day. and here's me disliking anything French!) This isn't a "party" campground either, at least over on the non-electric loop, so the noise wasn't unbearable. Noticeable, but not unbearable. And I don't know what all these people do during the day when they are camping, but they certainly don't do the things I do (More on that over the next few posts.) so weren't in my way at all.
I really expected it to be an uncomfortable experiment with hoards of your typical out-of-control yahoos, but it wasn't. Maybe camping is too much trouble for the yahoos nowadays. (When tuna sales dropped over the past few years the manufactures discovered that it was because the millennials just couldn't be bothered to open a can and pour off the extra liquid. Once they started packaging the same tuna in ready-to-eat, tear-open pouches the sales went back up.) I'm probably not going to go out of my way to camp over holidays, but now maybe I won't be held hostage by the holiday schedule quite so much in the future.
Further observations: Say what you will about the government handing public lands over to concessionaires, (And I have my own conflicted opinions about that, especially when I run into concessionaires that won't honor the geezer-card because it cuts into their profits.) but when the campground filled up Friday evening the host and manager started leading campers (But no big rigs!) over to one of the picnic grounds or the boat-launch, any place with bathroom facilities, and pointing them to spots where they could set up camp. You would never find actual Forest Service employees doing something like that. They would just hang out the full sign and go home.
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