Pine Grove Furnace State Park proved to be an interesting stop along the way for us on many levels. Winding up a steep incline and around sharp bends the approach to the park penetrates a dense pine forest. The Appalachian Trail runs right through the park and thru hikers are everywhere this time of year, getting an early start on their goal of reaching Mt Katahdin in Maine before the fall/winter weather sets in. The road was narrow and the visibility is limited, keeping Arnie tightly focused behind the wheel and me clutching the hand grip.
Keeping a quiet calm state of mind when we are on roadways like this is a challenge for me. Intrusive thoughts involving loud metal crashing noises keep popping into my mind. Instead of breathing, I alternate between gasping for air and holding my breath. All that mindfulness practice flies right out the window exactly as I imagine we all will do upon impact. In my mind, there is a speeding vehicle approaching around every blind corner. I visualize feathers flying about the cab of the truck as Cracker the bird bounces about in my imaginary crash scene. My little dog jostles around the confines of her travel cage. An active imagination is a gift for a writer unless she’s on a road like this and on this drive, my imagination was playing havoc with my nerves. And my nervous system is directly connected to my mouth. Odd incomprehensible noises escape when I am this tense on a ridiculously dangerous back road. Ohhhhhh, gaaaadd, sheeeeet, ohno ohno ohno, umumumum”, I moan in horror! I have Passenger Induced Tourette’s Syndrome, a not so imaginary condition that causes me to utter obscenities that I don’t use on a normal daily basis when I am the riding on a road such as this. Today, I am sure I am simply going to die in anonymity on this awful back road.
The route approaching this park should have been a forewarning. From the time we left the highway, the width of the pavement gradually narrowed down while the ditches along the sides deepened. At the actual entrance to Pine Grove Furnace State Park, the road narrowed to a ribbon that was barely passable for two vehicles and I now had a growing sense of unease. Our camper is pretty long, especially when you add the length of the truck. And they don’t turn together on a dime, but rather need time and space to react. The truck and trailer are like an old married couple communicating in their own way. The truck says, “We need to turn here and now.” and the trailer simply ignores it for a few minutes and when it’s good and ready to respond, it begins to make the turn.
As we made the tight turn into the campground area itself, it became clear that the designer of this place was a serious tree lover. While it is woodsy and beautiful to look at, not one tree was cleared unnecessarily, making for a very tight entry into each and every individual campsite. Just to add to the challenge, boulders had been placed at the entry corner of each campsite by that perverse tree hugging campground designer who wanted to be sure that no Pine tree was injured by vehicles. There were no pull through sites, something that we always request when making reservations as opposed to back in sites which are much more difficult even under ideal circumstances. Every site at Pine Grove Furnace required backing in with little room for error. The pit of my stomach began to tighten.
Winding carefully through the campground towards our site, we counted up from site #1 to site # 24 and thus far, I had not seen anything I thought that we could navigate into. And then, there it was, the magic # 25; a narrow gap between two enormous trees, flanked by boulders on either side of the entrance. I closed my eyes trying to get a mental picture of the angles and adjustments that would be necessary to cram us into this impossible space moving in reverse. I was the fat lady looking down at the airplane seat knowing that there was going to be a massive squeeze factor involved if this was going to have any chance of working. Yes, I should have bought two seats for this flight!
At this point, I need to remind everyone that, as a traveling couple, Arnie and I have a distinct division of skills and talents. Arnie drives forward and I do all of the backing up. Being big believers in playing to our individual strengths, we divide our labor according to what we are best at. My nerves get the better of me driving on the highways with the big rigs, making me a menace on the road. And Arnie is challenged when it comes to the intricacies of moving a vehicle with a hitch in reverse. While he struggles with left vs right, for some inexplicable reason, it comes natural to me, probably because I can wipe my mind clean for a short time and operate on pure fear and intuition. I think it comes from raising four kids, which also involves a large share of pure fear and intuition. But between us, we have a full skill set, so that’s all that counts.
When we pull up to a campsite with Arnie at the wheel, we stop the truck and switch. I get behind the wheel while he gives directions for backing into the site and aligning us with the water, sewer and electric hook ups. Most of his directions I ignore. Because as I indicated he’s not strong with the left/right thing. We apologize after the fact for anything we said while backing up the camper. Sometimes we back right in with no issues and other times we are a spectacle. Today, I was pretty sure there was no way to avoid being a spectacle. So I felt little confidence when I said to Arnie, “I will try this, but there’s pretty much no way we are getting into that spot.”
I climbed into my big black stallion of a truck and placed my hands firmly on the wheel. Just like a rodeo rider in those few seconds before the gate opens, I said a quiet prayer, took a deep breath and said to Arnie, “Okay, let’s go.” “Okay, said the parrot from the backseat.” “Shut up you feathered idiot.”, I replied in a thoughtless attempt to relieve a little tension by verbally abusing a helpless animal.
Back and forth, back and forth with small adjustments I eased the camper in reverse through the obstacle course. “Zen mind”, I chanted trying not to notice how close the trees were. When the anxiety arose, I tried to notice and name it without succumbing to it. “It’s only a thought.”, I reminded myself several times. But was more than a thought, it was a really large boulder. Arnie gave me patient encouragement. Finally, after holding up traffic for twenty minutes and itching backwards at a painfully slow pace, I was surprised to find that we were in. I could feel the relief wash over me as I leaned out the window to look at Arnie with gratitude that once again we had prevailed over a challenge by working together. “Am I close enough to the hook-ups?”, I asked. It seemed like slow motion as he turned around to check and then back to me with a bit of a sheepish look on his face. “ Oh-oh, there’s no hook ups on this site.”, he said quietly.
No hook-ups? Boondocking, camping without access to water, sewer or electric hook-ups, is a perfectly acceptable practice for most folks but we travel with a tropical bird who is somewhat fragile and susceptible to cold. We cannot be without electricity to keep him warm enough. We looked at each other, sharing this very special Oh Crap moment. Perhaps we should have looked to check on that before we went to all this trouble, but we were tired, hungry and road weary after days of rain along this trip and we missed an important detail. We won’t blame Arnie who made the reservation and walked the site while I backed up. What would be the point of placing blame? Nothing, so we won’t blame Arnie. No point in blaming Arnie. Nope, none. None at all.
Just then, along comes a Fairy Godfather by the name of Ron the Campground Host. Ron has a big grin and a helpful heart. He spied us standing at the site pondering our options and walked up, saying those magic words, “Wouldn’t you folks rather have a site with electricity?”. Turns out that he had one site for one night. One night was all we needed and we were so grateful! But now, I would have to park this rig, all of over again in yet another tricky space. Oh why not? It went pretty well the first time. I can do it again, especially for electricity to keep us warm and make coffee!
So, in forward gear again, Arnie pulled the truck out and headed gingerly down the road to the new campsite with me muttering from the passenger seat something about the next one will surely be easier after the practice run I just executed. But the universe does not operate with fairness and the new site appeared to have all of the unique challenges of the first one with one significant addition. Now I had an audience. In the adjoining campsite, there sat three men in lawn chairs under the canopy of a huge toy hauler camper. They had obviously had no problem backing in and were all settled in with a roaring campfire already blazing to ward off the chill. Turkey season in Pennsylvania started the next day and these guys were in full regalia, camo jackets, hats, etc. Add to the camouflage trio, in the site across from us was an older lady overseeing a small tyke on a tricycle. With a booming Grandma voice she cautioned him, “Watch out. Stay right here. It’s a lady backing that up.” The stage had been set for some serious performance anxiety. I was on stage and the audience was expecting a performance to critique.
Now I truly believe that this moment was karmic payback for all of the times we have pulled up chairs and spied on the dynamics of couples putting up tents for the first time or attempting to park a brand spanking new camper. It’s high entertainment. Now I know what you are thinking: that’s not very nice. But we’ve all done it. You know you have, at some time in your life, been guilty of rubbernecking at some spectacle. Watching people set up camp under trying circumstances is great rubbernecking. All campers can relate and it’s hysterical to watch and listen in. I knew exactly what these three guys were thinking; this is going to be good. They unapologetically stood up to rearrange and position their chairs for a full view.
Let’s just say backing in the second site was an encore experience, an excruciating instant replay of the first time, this time with an evolving pinched nerve in my neck from cranking around to note how crazy close the camper was to the pine tree on the left. I was acutely aware of the peanut gallery while struggling to squeeze into the second too small site of the day. Time seemed suspended while I maneuvered the truck and camper carefully back and forth between the bushes, boulders and trees.
After several attempts and another twenty minutes of adjusting the coupled vehicles by inches at a time, the camper finally slipped backwards into the site at an acceptable angle and it was even close enough to hook up the electric! I leaned out the open window and yelled back to Arnie, “ Is it over? Are we okay now?” “Okay” came the response from Cracker in the back seat. I looked over at the mighty hunters and grinned. Hopping out of the truck, I stood tall facing them and said, “Show’s over boys! Back to the beer!” They laughed and gave me the thumbs up.
Later one of them came over to chat and shared with me that he thought I did just fine and that if I had needed help, he knew I would have asked. That was nice, but I probably would have only asked for help if I had backed over my husband. Backing up that camper gives me a feeling of empowerment and competence. I earned the nickname of Large Marge for a reason and I claim it with pride. In the big scheme of things, there are skills that are far more important and valuable than backing up a camper. This is a small thing compared to the life changing skills that some people perform on a daily basis. Like brain surgery or peace negotiations. But when I hoist myself up into the truck and prepare to shift into reverse I do feel like I am representing all of the sisters who thought they couldn’t do something because it’s a man thing. Each time, no matter how long it takes me, I feel as if I accomplished something solid and validating. Everyone needs something that makes them claim their worth and backing up a camper seems to be mine! I am woman, hear that engine roar. Or, something like that.
Later that day, Arnie and I took a ride into one of our very favorite little towns along the trip North. Milford, Pennsylvania is quaint and dear. The streets are lined with nice shops run by local artisans, trendy cafes and great restaurants. It is a throwback kind of town with a laid back feel. One shopkeeper told us that it is a day or weekend trip escape for folks who need a break from the city. They come and stay at one of the inns and sit out on the porch for dinner, watching the world pass by at a quieter pace. We especially love the serenity of the porch at 203 Broad where we are establishing a tradition of stopping off for a bite to eat, a drink and porch time as we near the end of our grueling Northern trip each year. The fare is vegetarian, the service warm and friendly and on this particular day, it was a perfect way to wind down from our parking experience at Pine Grove Furnace park just a couple of hours prior.
So imagine our surprise when we heard the unmistakable roar of Harley Davidson coming up Main Street disturbing the peace. Right in front of the peaceful porch where we were unwinding with an afternoon drink, three huge bikes carrying four black leather encased people pulled in to one parking spot. One couple pulled in smoothly, performed that bone rumbling exercise of gunning the motor a couple of times, parked and dismounted. A second fellow did the same thing, gracefully angling his mount into the space, shutting down the rumbling engine and athletically swinging a leg over his bike. The third rider pulled in but had to do some maneuvering to fit into the space left. She pulled in and then eased it back and forth several times. Unsatisfied, she moved it to the next space shifting the bike back and forth to find her perfect sweet spot. She sat with the motor running for a moment and then shut it down.
Of course we were watching it all. So was everyone on the porch. It’s that rubbernecking thing. The turkey hunters watched us backing the camper in and now here we are watching the bikers backing their Harley’s in. It’s voyeuristic entertainment and we cannot help ourselves. Every head on the porch was turned and all eyes were on the beautiful girl with the long legs and the black biker boots. From under her black reflective helmet, kinky blonde hair protruded in wind-blown wisps.
The single male rider took off his leather jacket revealing a crisp long-sleeved white shirt. I imagine these folks were some of those escapees from the city, riding their expensive bikes out into the country on a beautiful warm day. The single guy rider walked over to the girl and took either side of her helmet in his hands. He seductively unbuckled it, slid it gently off and set it on the ground. Everyone on the porch took a collective breath as he tilted her head back and planted a long romance novel kiss on her. Among the many other things going through my mind was the thought, “Doesn’t her neck hurt?” When the amorous couple finally came up for air, the porch audience breathed a collective sigh. We continued to stare spell-bound while he helped her dismount her bike and then strode up the stairs onto the porch, big black boots making a thudding statement. They chose a table and sat down. Of course, they were speaking French. They ordered coffee and pastries and every other diner on the porch was thinking, “I’ll have what she’s having please.”
This was just surreal. And the irony is not lost on me. I back up a thirty-four foot camper attached to a giant pick up truck fifty yards into an unbelievably small space in the woods and I get a token, “Good job Babe”, from my husband who is hooking up the sewer.” This stunning young woman with the chic raised-with-wolves look backed a motorcycle two feet into a spacious large parking space and she gets practically consummated on Main Street. I mentioned this to Arnie. He looked confused or perhaps he was yet to fully recover his senses from what he had just witnessed.
But despite some discrepancies in the degree of reward that this beautiful young woman and I got for our similar performances that day, here’s what I know. As women, we really need to celebrate our accomplishments at each and every season of our lives. So Biker Chick, I celebrate your bravado, your raw love of life, your confidence in your sensuality because I was once you and one day, you will be me in the wonderful and natural evolution of life and love. Flaunt it, toss it and swag it girl so that you remember this time well as you move through all the seasons of your life. Meanwhile, here’s to all the women who know how to run their own motors! And to the men who appreciate them in their own unique ways too!