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  • Writer's pictureJenna Beall Mueller

Three Dogs and a Canned Ham: Our First Camping Trip

Updated: Jun 24, 2020

Originally, Adam and I planned to take our first camping trip at the tail end of June. We figured that would give us plenty of time to plan and learn the ins and outs of Chanice, our Shasta Airflyte.

But after only a few days of gazing adoringly at our adorable camper, that suddenly would not do. We were watching too many RV road trip videos on YouTube. We got impatient. So, I booked a two-night getaway at Lake Cowan State Park, which is 51 miles northwest of Cincinnati.

We both worked Thursday morning and planned to take off around two that afternoon.

What time did we actually hit the road? Five-thirty. Just a casual three and a half hours later than planned. Fortunately, Adam realized we would need to run bleach through the water system and then flush it out three to four times before using it. Unfortunately, this task took a while.

No bother, we were on the road! Granted, I had two dogs who insisted on sitting on my lap—one of which was Margot, who weighs a whopping thirty pounds—but here we were!!! Off on our first camping adventure!

"What should we listen to?" I asked excitedly.

We settled on Billy Joel and settled in to a rather smooth drive.

Our drive north continued to go just fine until we were about ten miles out from the park. That was when we encountered an ominous orange sign that read—WARNING: ROAD CLOSURE AHEAD. LOCAL TRAFFIC ONLY.

I'll be honest when I say neither of us even discussed this sign.

I'm not sure what Adam was thinking, but I was all, What constitutes local? We live in Ohio, doesn't that count? Additionally, per Google Maps, we should have been exiting the road before this road closure became a problem.

You can only imagine the depths my stomach dropped when we hit the giant road closure blockade on a narrow, two lane country road.

"WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?" I said, already prepared to call AAA for the second time in as many days. I wondered if Jimmy could get us out of this jam. Also how was local traffic even supposed to make it through that impediment? A bicycle wouldn't have been able to creep around there!

"We're going to have to figure it out," Adam said with a sigh. "It's not like we can just leave a camper in the middle of the road."

I stared at my husband in absolute wonder and awe as he managed to maneuver his truck and our camper this way and that, backward and forward, until we were astonishingly turned around.

It was incredible. Truly incredible.

We arrived at Cowan Lake State Park, and a friendly ranger went over the Covid-19 rules with us. We enjoyed a short drive around the park, admiring the lake view, and then headed for a spigot to fill our fresh water tank.

Just as we pulled up to the spigot, we heard a crash of thunder and the heavens opened up to rain. And I'm not talking a sprinkle or a shower here. I'm talking a downpour.

After waiting it out for ten minutes, Adam shrugged and said he was going to go for it. The dogs were VERY concerned to see their father exit the vehicle in such a storm and all sat there anxiously watching him from the windows.

Again, snaps for Adam, a hero for the second time that evening.

Now that we had fresh water, we were ready to find our campsite! We had booked site 144 and were thrilled to see both the back and left side were bordered by woods. There was even a trail opening in the forest behind us. To top it off, the two sites to our right were unoccupied. It was dumb luck and very appreciated after the road closure and rain storm.

The rain was only drizzling at this point, and we set up camp. Blessedly, this part of the journey went well. At least we are good at unhitching Chanice and setting up her stabilizers.

We went inside to have a few drinks and enjoy the light rain from our dry, cozy camper. "Let's see how the water works," I suggested, first flipping the water pump and heater on and then turning on a faucet.


I frowned. "Well, that's funny. Maybe it's because the water hasn't been used in so long?"

Adam looked doubtful.

The couple we had bought the camper from had never actually camped in it before. And the woman before them had never used the bathroom. The water system was probably just rusty and needed some time to wake up.

"Let's look at the manual," Adam suggested. He must have noticed my wide eyes because he added, "You DID remember to bring the manual, right?"

No. Of course I hadn't remembered the manual. I could picture it very clearly still sitting on the kitchen island.

So, for the next ninety minutes, Adam and I googled and YouTubed every search query we could think of, trying to determine the cause of our water dilemma.

For the record, *I* was the one who figured out where the water tank was located (my first and only hero moment of the trip), and from there, we discovered the camper had been winterized. Our mission became de-winterizing Chanice, which luckily only required the turning of a handful of valves.

Finally, we could relax.

Except the fencing we had brought for Margot, who refuses to go to the bathroom on a leash, was not going into the grass. Despite the rainstorm (and Adam's strength, of course), the ground was too hard. So poor Adam had to MacGyver a playpen using green, plastic fencing and bungee cords.

We were too tired to even build a fire. We sat around a lantern.

We looked like such crazies that first night, sitting inside our jerry-rigged fence with three dogs scampering around us. I'm sure all the other campers were giving us serious side-eye, wondering why we had to go and junk up the place. It was ten-thirty by the time we finally ate microwaved hot dogs for supper.

"Tomorrow will be better," we both agreed.

Adam slept well that night, but I had an overweight Frenchie at my feet, a dachshund near my head, and a golden retriever stretched out along my side. Let's be real, I was the one who deserved the awkward sleeping position that night. Finding the water system does not equate to turning a camper around on a tiny country road, filling a fresh water tank in the pouring rain, or building a makeshift dog pen.

The next morning, I volunteered to brew us a pot of coffee. And then I promptly remembered that I had forgotten the tea kettle.

"No worries! I'll microwave the water," I said.

So, sure enough, I microwaved two mugs full of water, added them to the French press, let the grounds steep for four minutes, and then slowly pressed the filter downward.

Adam was outside making breakfast (bacon and eggs) on the Coleman stove.

"Here you go," I said proudly, handing him a mug.

I took a sip at the same time he did, realizing I'd effectively made us lukewarm water with a hint of coffee.

It was bad.

Luckily, breakfast was good, and we enjoyed our meal at the picnic table with a pleasant breeze.

Dewey Bonaparte: Commander of the Campground

From there, we took all three dogs for a walk. I loved strolling through the campground. It was so much fun to see other people's campers and elaborate setups. Some had even brought hanging flower baskets with them! We had A LOT to learn.

We left the dogs in the comfort of Chanice's air-conditioning and went by ourselves down to the beach, where dogs were not permitted. It was a gorgeous day, sunny but not too hot, and the lake was beautiful. There were a few fishermen on the dock and lots of kayakers in the water.

"How do you get down to the lily pads?" I kept asking Adam. We could just barely see them from the beach, but neither of us was sure how to get over there.

When we got back to our campsite, we piled the dogs into Adam's truck and headed out for some firewood and charcoal because—SURPRISE!—we had forgotten those essentials, too.

Once we were back, the little dogs stayed inside the camper while we took Gus for a proper hike down the trail that was located directly behind our campsite.

It was gorgeous. Tall trees, lush thickets, and creek beds galore.

Only ten minutes into our hike, we turned a corner and there, right in front of us, was the section of Cowan Lake that was covered in lily pads. Seriously! I took a million photos and marveled at their beauty. I had never seen so many lily pads in one place before, and these ones were huge, too. They made me think of Giverny, one of the loveliest places Adam and I have ever been.

That evening, a fellow camper stopped over to show us how to better use the water system.

We grilled steak for supper and enjoyed it alongside potatoes and asparagus. Adam built us a fire, and we looked up at a starry sky. When a very fat raccoon approached our campsite, ATE DEWEY'S FORGOTTEN DINNER, and then hurried away, we laughed until our stomaches hurt. (We also washed his bowl really, really well afterwards.)

I can't say it was the most relaxing first camping trip, because honestly, it was more like an avalanche of "here's what not to do" lessons. But, somehow, we still had a blast, and now we feel better prepared for our next adventure.

And, as usual, I feel so insanely lucky to have a partner like Adam, who makes life easier and whole lot happier, too.

Even when you're stuck turning a canned ham camper around on a country road.

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Sep 17, 2020

Just saw your story on my newsfeed this morning, and wanted you to know that I live in Prescott, Arizona, but recognized the photo of Cincinnati chili!! I serve it to raves from my friends at our annual Super Bowl party. We are RVers also but have family connections to Cincinnati. Happy travels.

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