Saturday, September 1, 2012

Tenter’s Lament

Every law enforcement officer who has checked my record has found it clean1.
I’m a well-behaved AARP member (if you overlook the fake address I listed to dodge their blizzard of junk mail). When I camp I'm in my sleeping bag by 9 pm, never have a barking dog in my tent, and only throw rocks at raccoons that are chewing through the strap on my ice chest.

But I’m often the riffraff that campgrounds want to keep out. Especially in Louisiana, where I visited last summer.

I should have been suspicious of the bear story. The high school student in the entrance booth at Kemper Williams Park seemed a bit too happy to tell me that they had closed the tent sites because of a lurking bear. "How about I stay, but I don’t sleep on the bacon"? I asked. She suggested I try Lincoln Park in Morgan City, LA, just down the road.

While I was looking for Lincoln Park on the north side of town, I saw Lake End Park and pulled in (by the third day I realized there was no "Lincoln Park"). It was Kemper Williams’ week to use the bear story, so they let me stay. In a tent site--no tents in the RV sites.

The tent sites are in the corner of the park where the highway makes a right angle turn and the jake brakes roar

Tenters have prime waterfront real estate at Lake End. Right on the green water of the ditch.

Large trees shade the tent sites, protecting us from the icy 80o breezes off the lake and preserving the mud puddles under the picnic tables and the mold growing in the food spilled on top.

The one women’s shower needs a PSA test right away. You can collect enough water to lather up by rubbing your washcloth along the wall directly below the dribbling shower head. After a good lather, just rub yourself back and forth on the wall to rinse off.

Your clean clothes, dirty clothes, towel, and toiletries hanging on the single hook or slung over the stall door are in no danger of being splashed.

The only fan in the women’s bathroom/shower was small, disassembled, and stationary when I visited. Getting ready in the morning took longer than usual because I had to make periodic trips outside into the lower (80%) humidity to let enough sweat evaporate off my face that the next layer of makeup would stick to it.

I brought performance art to Lake End Park. A cloud of golf carts had hitched rides into the park with the RVs. A parade of low-rider carts, lights blazing and music pumping, circled around and around at dusk and beyond. The drivers toured the parking lots and recircled through the parking area in front of the tent sites. Cart after noisy cart slowed and heads swiveled to watch me feeding and grooming myself in my native habitat.

In the mornings a foot parade of retired Morganites perambulated the park. They strode the path behind the tent sites and only watched out of the corner of their eye. I said good morning to one septuagenarian and heard his complete medical history in reply.

On a day trip to Cocodrie, LA I looked for a campground with fewer

spectators. I searched for tent sites in Amelia and Gibson, then turned on to Bayou Black Drive. I pulled into every campground along the necklace of lots clinging to the ribbon of raised road bed between Gibson and the outskirts of Houma.

I assured each campground owner that the parish sheriff hadn’t been summoned to Palmetto Island or Lake Fausse Pointe State Parks, where I'd stayed the previous week. I reminded them of my clean record ("never convicted"), gave them my Dun’s number, and cited my stratospheric credit score. I offered college transcripts and a letter from my mother. No dice; no tenters.

On my last morning at Lake End I took a walk over to the RVers side of the park and fell down a marsh rabbit hole. As I tumbled, I saw breezy RV sites next to the lake

and partially shaded ones nearby.

I bumped my head as I careened down the rabbit hole and saw a large building with restrooms. I went in and turned on one of the many showers. I jumped back as a torrent of water gushed past me.

I caught a glimpse of dual vents in the ceiling

and heard the roar of ventilation fans as I stepped back outside.

I woke up and hit the road to Slidell, LA, which doesn't seem to have crosswalks or pedestrian crossing signals. I stayed in the Motel 6 and no one watched me.

I never found a private campground in Louisiana that would let me spend the night. Lake End is a city park and the other places I stayed were state parks.

State and federal campgrounds allow tenters and RVers access to all sites and facilities. But there's a whole lot of real estate without these public services, especially in the eastern U.S. Lake End Park has the greatest contrast between RV and tent sites and facilities that I’ve seen, but the pattern is familiar. Private campgrounds that allow tenters usually sequester them in the noisiest, muddiest, dankest corner, as far away from the quiet, peaceful, dry RV sites as possible. When tenters’ facilities are separate, they are not equal; they are separate and unequal.


My visit to Louisiana made me think that tenters are being discriminated against. Now I wonder if there's something about me that campgrounds don't like: Am I not supposed to be still camping at my age? When I'm pleasant to the attendant at check-in, do I seem like a push-over who won't complain? (Well, OK, that last part's true. But I have a blog now.)

Last month I hit Tillamook, Oregon the same week as the County Fair. I finally found a tent site at the Tillamook/Bay City RV Park. The attendant was sorry to tell me that the only tent site she had was "a narrow one." "Narrow" being less than 10 feet wide. She didn’t mention that the "narrow" site was in the farthest corner of the park by the highway intersection or that it was less than 10 feet from the sewage outfall, where every night-time toilet flush would echo up the casing.

The next morning there were still several unoccupied spacious tent sites away from the highway and sewage outfall. There must have been a terrible highway accident to prevent that many people from making it to their reserved sites. I'm surprised I didn't hear the sirens--I was right next to the highway.

But please don't think that my narrow site was completely lacking in amenities. It did have artwork.


1When three county sheriff’s deputies converged on me last April I was pulling weeds on my mother’s farm. My family has been pulling weeds there for 147 years. We’re not done yet.


  1. It is so frustrating and disheartening to travel into the woods, seeking solitude and maybe a brush with undomesticated critters, only to find oneself surrounded by urban noise, paranoia, and rank stupidity transported in the sterile confines of huge diesel-powered machines that belch spent fuel all night long.

  2. Rangewriter,

    otoh, those huge diesel-powered machines have kitchens in them. I've gotten a lot of meals from the occupants over the years--yum!!