I spent last Thursday wavering with indecision. I’d intended to go to a meet-up of fellow Travato owners in Jasper and I’d been looking forward to it for months. It was, in fact, a big part of the reason I’d decided to spend my month in Arkansas, rather than North Carolina or Georgia. But I felt like crap. Not so debilitated that I wasn’t even leaving the van — Zelda was getting her walks again — but taking a shower still seemed like a monumental endeavor, possibly beyond my energy level entirely. Meeting people, going out to eat, listening to music, canoeing on the Buffalo river, sharing a potluck dinner, all sounded nice, but completely overwhelming. I was still in crawl-under-the-covers and stare-out-the-window mode. And I knew that the 16-hour drive to Florida wasn’t going to be a breeze.

Zelda made my decision for me on Friday morning. It was a chilly morning, so I was buried in my sheets, tucked up under my warmest blanket. She was snuggled into me so sweetly, curled up in the curve of my back. It was so cozy and nice. And then it was not cozy and not nice, because there was warm liquid on my back and my sheets and my blankets, rapidly turning cold in the chill of the van. She stood up and gave me a look of puzzled reproach, then moved over to other side of the bed and curled up and went back to sleep. I did not go back to sleep. Ugh. She honestly doesn’t seem to have any awareness that she’s peeing. She’s not showing signs of distress ahead of time, not telling me she needs to go out, not even squatting. She was lying down, and then she was lying down in a puddle of dog pee. And so was I. Ugh, double-ugh, triple-ugh.

Adding laundry and a need for clean sheets and a dog with incontinence issues to my trip dropped a heavy weight on the “go home now” side of the indecision teeter-totter. Instead of packing to head north, I called the vet and made an appointment for Z, posted my apologies to the Facebook group and started on the road east.

Here’s an interesting factoid: Arkansas is actually a lot closer to Colorado than it is to central Florida. If I’d been headed to Denver, it would have been a 12 hour drive. I don’t know why that’s surprising to me — obviously the western states touch the midwestern states — but I think of Arkansas as a southern state.

I didn’t leave too early and I didn’t push too hard on the drive. I took it reasonably easy, giving myself breaks when I got too tired and spending some time at rest stops and in grocery store parking lots. In the early evening and just across the border into Alabama, I found a water management area that offered dispersed camping. Perfect!

sunset at the Marion county water management area

Or not quite so perfect. When I got there, a sign said, “no camping.” Apparently they’d changed the rules. A nice woman warned me that the game warden would make me leave, plus give me a ticket. So I let Z out for a bit and ate my dinner while admiring the above sunset, then headed on. I wound up spending the night in a nearby Walmart parking lot. It was a typical parking lot experience, too noisy during the evening, creepily quiet in the early hours of the morning.

On Saturday, I decided I wasn’t going to push. When I look at a drive on Google maps and see that it’s 16 hours, I subconsciously believe that it’s going to take me 16 hours of driving time. My conscious mind knows much better. That 16 hours doesn’t include getting off the highway for gas, the extra driving time to find a place to stay, breaks at rest stops for meals and dog walks, traffic delays and getting trapped behind school buses. That 16 hours is the totally optimistic, ideal world, robot-chauffeur drive time. Reality is never so quick.

But leaving Arkansas early meant that I had plenty of time to get to Florida. Instead of driving all day and staying in another parking lot overnight, I decided I’d find a campground in the early afternoon and enjoy a peaceful night. I picked one not quite at random. I didn’t want to stay someplace that I’d already been (even though I’ve quite liked a lot of the places I’ve already been) which ruled out many of the places on my most direct path home. Also, I’ve been discovering that I really like the Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds. All other things being equal, I’m more interested in trying a new ACoE campground than any other option.

Slight digression:

National campgrounds, IME, are really crowded. They’re very nice, but they’re packed with people, and they’re busy, busy places. Not just people, but people on the move.

State campgrounds depend on the state. Some states have really nice systems: Florida is a total winner in terms of quality of the state parks for camping, but other states… well, it depends on the state. I was going to say “not all states are created equal,” but really, it’s, “not all states make the same choices.” That said, overall, state campgrounds are second on my list of campgrounds to try.

County campgrounds — completely erratic. You’ve got no idea what you’re getting when you try a county campground: it might be incredibly lovely or it might be a parking lot for transients.

Independent campgrounds, generally speaking, are for a different audience than me. Maybe they’re resorts, maybe they’re trailer parks, but they typically prioritize paved parking spots and amenities. Some of them are very nice, of course, but you also pay for what you get. The most expensive places I’ve stayed were independent campgrounds and while I can certainly think of a couple off the top of my head that were worth the money, I rarely try them these days. I only look at independent campgrounds if I’ve ruled out all my other options.

Which brings me back to Saturday and finding a place to stay. I spent a while at my morning rest stop browsing camping options reasonably near to my path, eventually picked Cotton Hill Campground, and headed that way. I got there around 2 and they only had a few spots left — and a two-night minimum stay! I didn’t even pause: I was already sick of driving and taking a day as a break sounded just fine to me.

More about Cotton Hill in my next post…