A Tale Of Thunder

Otherwise known as “What I Did While Everyone Else On Earth Read Harry Potter 6”.

I have officially survived the camping trip at Pymatuning State Park. Anyone who was in the Ohio/Pennsylvania vicinity, I’m sure, knows that it has rained this weekend. Most of the weekend, in fact. It just got done pouring outside my window a couple minutes ago, actually. But that’s beside the point. The point is that the commentary is below, and the photos are here.

Pymatuning State Park

The weekend of camping began around 2:50 Friday when Greg picked Mark and me up from our uni. We drove to Heinen’s with our shopping list and started tracking down ingredients. That night we were having typical camping fare: hot dogs and s’mores. Made it back to the car in time for some rain, an unfortunate precursor to the remainder of the trip. By 4:10 we were out on the road and heading due east toward Pymatuning State Park. Rather than taking I-90 by the lake, we took 322 (basically Mayfield Rd.), which gave us a much more pleasant viewing experience in my opinion. The two-lane highway cut through trees and cornfields, mostly, punctuated at times by little towns and their single spire churches. We ran into a couple of Amish buggies as well. Rain continued in intervals.

Shortly before six o’clock, we arrived at the campground, shooed some people out of our reserved spot, and took a quick look around. We had a non-electric spot, with no one immediately adjacent to us, though the campsites are fairly close together. Everything was pretty standard: gravel driveway, fire ring, and rotted-out, nasty picnic table. Our lot was pretty well covered by trees, but peeking between them and off to the left was the lake.

Suspecting that the rain would follow us (WHY did I leave my rain jacket at home?!) we hurried to set-up the tent and store our gear. Once that was done, we grabbed our water bottles, filled them at the spigot, and headed toward the camp store to get some wood and ice. We pretty much made it back without much worse than a couple raindrops, a rumble or two of thunder, and sore hands. That’s about where luck ended.

Immediately, we set to with the fire: gathering wood, making wood shavings, and generally being scout-like. Within a few matches, it was clear that nature was against us. We kept striking matches, the wood kept not burning, and the rain kept falling. We leaned over the fire but to no avail. The light rain turned into a downpour, and we ran into the tent for cover.

When the rain slowed, we ventured outdoors again, me in my wet shirt and the guys in fresh, dry ones, to find our rain-soaked firewood. Cue a new march to the camp store, this time for lighter fluid and a full box of matches. As Mark put it, “with enough lighter fluid, you can get even water to burn”. It turns out that perseverance is also a necessary ingredient. It was well after dark (and raining again, surprise!) before we got a fire capable of cooking our hot dogs. Let me tell you, though, those hot dogs were excellent. Greg and I finished up with a couple of s’mores, then we all crowded into the very dark tent and called it a night.

I didn’t sleep particularly well, what with a winter sleeping bag and the ground trying to mess with my back. But I managed to stay still until 8 AM, when I started recording our little escapade. At half-past a rather vociferous crow woke Greg up, and we both started moving around. I grabbed my shower things and headed for the bathhouse. About all I say for it is that the water got warm.

When I got back, Mark was up, and it was time to try our pancakes. Greg had a punctuated coffee can we planned to put over a small fire and atop which we could cook pancakes, but things did not go quite as well as planned. Temperature regulation is a bit difficult on a campfire. As we were hungry, we gave up pretty quickly and laid into the Frosted Mini-Wheats we had the foresight to buy. Black cherries made a nice end to things.

Another trip to the camp store for more lighter fluid and some foil. (The kind we’d brought was not what we needed.)

Then we decided to try some hiking, but the trail was poorly marked, and it looked like it was several miles to the dam (and then we’d need to come back), so we decided that the car would be a good ally. Besides, I reasoned, that would give us a chance to sit and read for a bit at the dam.

As it turned out, going in the car was a brilliant idea because the moment we arrived at the dam, we suffered an absolutely torrential downpour. We sat in the car steaming (quite literally) with our Teddy Grahams and dried fruit until it passed.

Greg and I set out to explore, cameras in hand. We walked along the outlet, crossed the bridge that ran across the dam, poked around a building that I suspect provides some control over the dam, and journeyed down to the spillway. Naturally, there are many photos. We returned to the car to find Mark in the same spot, Dave Barry book in hand and ears firmly ensconced in the headphones attached to his iPod Shuffle.

By this point, the sun was out and it was growing muggier by the second. Greg and I changed into swimwear while Mark stayed back at the campsite with his book. Greg and I walked out to the beach and waded into the wonderfully cool water. There was once a time when I would have been swimming with my head wet with lake water, but I must say my sensibilities have changed somewhat since then.

When we got back to the campsite, we read for awhile before making another trip to the camp store, this time for ice and beverages. When we got back, we started straight into getting the fire going and dinner cooking. For this meal, we wrapped pepper- and Worchestershire-seasoned veggies (mushrooms, onions, green peppers, and potatoes) and beef in foil packets and placed them in the coals to cook. I added dessert by cutting up a couple of apples and wrapping them in foil. Just before dinner was ready, we noticed the change in the air that could only be a thunderstorm coming in. Down came the clothes line. Into the tent with the books. Back into the car trunk with the supplies. Just as the sky broke open, we fished the last foil packet out of the fire, doused it, and jumped into the car with the food, dinnerware, and three Cokes. Like the thunderstorm from earlier in the day, this was quite the storm. Eventually we found a pavilion where we could hide out and eat. In some ways, that dinner was our crowning glory.

Once the rain stopped and we got back to camp, there was still an hour or so before the sun was supposed to set and we had lots of wood and lighter fluid. So we lit the fire anew and made some more s’mores. Well after dark, we crawled back into the tent and talked for an hour or two before falling asleep. Now, had anyone been close enough to hear us, they would have been amazed at finding such geeks out camping. Among our topics of conversation: XML and the Oxford comma.

Since Pymatuning really seems best suited for fishing and boating, we had no qualms about heading out fairly early the next morning. Breakfast was leisurely, cereal and watermelon, followed by breaking down camp. By 10:30, I think, we were on the road home, and we got back to campus shortly after noon. The first and most important order of business? A shower. A nice, long, warm battle against the stickiness of sweat and the stench of woodsmoke. I’m happy to report that I have won.

2 Responses to “A Tale Of Thunder”


  • Ack! I forgot to write about the alarm-clock-imitating crow in my report. Was your stuff taken from your notebook that you were writing in during the trip? It somehow has a different feel that what you usually write….

    That dinner of meat and vegetables was certainly our best moment. Even with the craziness in getting to the point where we could eat it 🙂

  • Hey Greg! The entry is pretty much what I was writing in that notebook with tenses altered a bit. The last three paragraphs (everything after the swimming) were written last night. I was trying to improve upon my usual technique, though I don’t know that I succeeded. This got read through a few more times, I think, than what I normally write.

    I was so impressed with us when it came to that dinner Saturday night! That really felt like the moment where we conquered the situation and came out on top.

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