Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Observations from a Cheap Yellow Bicycle

RV America

Campsites make up about a third of our accomodations, and a few of them fulfilled the expectations of the term fully. The Thomas Mitchell Park in Mitchville, IA had scenic walking bridges, a fishing pond, and other amenities its visitors could enjoy. A day later we found the Springbrook State Park to be much in the same mold, maintained by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and two older caretakers who decided to stay committed to their regular schedule of grass cutting, despite mandatory cutbacks from the state office. Both sites appeared to be a logical place for a young family to spend a weekend, and it seemed many did.

Most campsites we walked the bicycles into, however, were not like Springbrook or Mitchell Park. They did not have swimming areas, basketball courts, nature trails or were next to dams. There were no lawn to throw a frisbee or pavillions to have a picnic under. We peddled slowly into the Cottonwood Campground in Ligonier, Indiana because the driveway was gravel and hard on the tires. The grounds was no more than an acre or two along the road with a loop made with crushed stones, a shack designated as the bathroom, and four RV campers. We knocked on the camper that was next to the sign "Manager." A woman with long gray hair and a wheathered face stepped out holding a cigarrette away from her. "What can I do for you, Honey," she asked. She would call us that often before we left the next day. She only charged us for one tent because ours were both small and and her boss was away and be none the wiser, she explained. It was an offer made by every such campsite host, each of which was older, tired looking, and mildly intrigued at the sight of us. Rain was on its way that night, and if the lightening was too much we were to go into the bathroom and wait it out. In the end, Paul dealt with it by turning on his iPod, eating Gobstoppers and drinking whisky from a naggin while he got wet, while I slept soundly enough a few feet away in my own tent.

The four RVs were quiet as it grew dark, offering little clues about the people inside them. I did not know if they were people who bought a camper and pulled it into the Cottonwood Campground to get away for the summer, because I did not know what they would be getting away from in a pulloff on the edge of Ligonier, Indiana. I did not know what staying in a condensed living space in a condensed community offered them, of if it was enjoyable. I could not state that buying a camper was getting something of their own and that living in it for the summer was proof to them that they still had some control over the world they lived in. The only thing certain was that they, unlike Paul and myself in our small tents, did not get wet as the rain continued.

I awoke to find Paul staring at his drooping tent with his arms limp at his side, the empty naggin in his back pocket. We shook out the rainflies the best we could, getting the front of our shirts wet again. "A big storm is on its way," the camp manager said, stepping gingerly through the wet grass. "The weather channel shows it getting here in an hour and a half. Honey, maybe you can stick around until it passes." Paul and I looked at each other. After reasoning through various scenarios with our host in the end we headed into town to eat breakfast, leaving half of our clothes in the dryer and 50 cents on top of it so the manager could put the second load in while we were waited out the storm in a cafe. While we loaded our bikes a tall, round shouldered man with bleached hair all the way around his body came out without his shirt. "Big ass storm on its way," he said. "You're going to get soaked on those bikes."

"Bigger than last night's?" I asked.

"It will make last night look like a sprinkle," he said, laughing. "Do what you want, but..." He walked away, shaking his head and smiling to himself. As we left the driveway another man emerged from his RV in a greasy ball cap.

"Hell of a storm on its way," he said. He grinned, exposing heavy plaque on his teeth.

Paul and I sat in a Subway, using their free wi-fi to plan our route for the day. Empty sandwhich wrappers were pushed to the side of the table, with a few piece of lettuce and half-eaten tomato that fell out of the bread rollls. A young girl was at the cashier, looking over at us often because we were her only customers. She energetically brought us a pen and sub wrapping paper to write on when we asked for them, and filled our water bottles from behind the counter. It began to sprinkle, but it did so through sunshine, and then the timid rain stopped. When we mounted the bikes again I almost felt bad, because I knew the people at the Cottonwood Campground in Ligonier, Indiana in some way needed that storm, much worse than we needed to avoid it.

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