Am I glad that's over or what? Thirty-five days straight, twelve hours a day, seven days a week. The money's great, but you have no life and no wife. Girlfriends and wives like to see you ever now and then. Phone calls, even letters don't do the trick. That one on one personal touch is needed from time to time.
Trust me, I should know after doing this for twenty-five years. Two wives and a half dozen girlfriends later, I'm starting to see that there's something wrong with this picture. By now I should have a fairly old, old lady, and a nice, younger girlfriend. Well, it hasn't worked out that way.
Most folks that see me around, when I am around, think I lead a wild and carefree life. I have traveled over most of the U. S. and a great big part of the world. Like a sailor, I'm supposed to have a girl in every town or port. How's that going to happen when I'm working twenty one to forty five days a month, twelve hours a day, with a week or ten days off between jobs?
Even ten days is too short a time to get yourself home, unpack, do the laundry, check the mail, have a few beers, pay the bills, cut the grass, work on the house, pack and get back on the road. What happened to rest and relaxation? Not to mention a sex life. God, what was that? I think I remember way back when. I just don't remember why.
At my age I should be thinking of retirement and settling down with the little woman to live the golden years. Right. My retirement consists of what I have in the bank against what I owe. As for the little woman, here we go again. There ain't no such thing in my life. Get the point? If wishes were horses we'd all be up to our hips in horse manure, even more so than we are now but don't get me started on politics.
Where was I going? Oh yes, camping. I had to quit to do it but I'm taking some time off. Where better to spend it than in the woods. Wrong! I can think of a hundred places I'd rather be but none I can afford now that I'm unemployed. Story of my life, when I have time, I have no money and when I have money, there's no time. For once I'm going to make time and the hell with the money.
The boss had the nerve to call me after three days home and ask if I could fly down to South America and take over a job that was going badly. Wrong question, on the wrong day. The first day home I unpacked my things and caught up on my rest. I did my laundry and the mail thing. After sorting, it mostly ended up in the trash, the mail that is. I wrote all the checks and got them either ready to deliver or to mail.
After grilling a steak and a taking a long hot shower it was time for bed. Yesterday morning I went to town and paid or mailed bills, made a small grocery run and had a light breakfast at my favorite cafe. After dumping the food off, I headed for the local bar. I think I could leave for six months and on returning, I'd still know everyone in the place. That's where I spent the rest of the day and most of the night.
The phone woke me at the crack of dawn to a splitting headache. Hangover is more the right word. I hope the boss's "sexy Terry" wasn't listening in. If she was I'm afraid she may have learned some new words about up bringing and hereditary traits.
Somewhere about half way through the one sided conversation I quit. At least I think I did. Either way I'm not going to the jungles of Brazil or wherever it was he wanted me to go. I remember giving him plain directions on where he should go and how to get there.
Later, after downing four aspirins, a glass of orange juice, and a beer I tried to go back to bed. No luck whatsoever, so I got up and called unemployment to file a claim. Who knows, I may get lucky and he will tell them I'm laid off. At worst I'm fired. I'm too tired of the whole mess to care.
A little later yet, I'm sitting on my back porch sipping black coffee and admiring the beauty of the day. This is where the idea of a camping trip comes to mind. Of course my mind is not really functioning up to speed after all the alcohol I'd consumed. A dead fish inside a wet newspaper was thinking better than I was.
I hadn't been camping since my last marriage, some five or six years ago. I remember that at one time I had everything I'd need to go, but where it was I wasn't too sure. Somewhere inside the shop or the storage building would be my first guess. There was a bass boat out there too, I think.
Around about my third cup of coffee this idea started to sound better and better. I can't handle caffeine any better than I can alcohol, and the two together are double trouble. I become a wide-awake drunk.
I went inside, fixed another cup, and went to put on a pair of shorts and a tee shirt. I figured I'd explore the depths of my shop and storeroom and see what was there. It had been a very long time since I'd even unlocked the door much less entered the place. Speaking of which, where was the key to the lock?
After a short search and a brainstorm, I found the key on a nail behind the kitchen door. So good so far. The shop was a minor mess to say the least, with several unfinished projects scattered here and there. Some I remembered but others I didn't have a clue. Or were they parts of something else.
The storeroom was a total mess, nothing in the right place. I stood in the doorway between the shop and storeroom and looked back and forth. I could just stay home and clean this up. Nope, sounds too much like work to me. I wanted rest and recreation.
Where to start? A tent would be nice, lets see, I remember an old army duffel bag. Yes, there's an eight by ten frame tent and three small dome tents in here. I pull the three small tents out and check to see if all the framework for the big one is in the bag. It seems to be. There's a full sized air bed mattress, with a pump in there too. I toss it out to the floor of the shop. Looking around I selected two lanterns, a camp stove, a gallon can of fuel, a five-gallon water can, and two sleeping bags. A small hatchet and a bucksaw are next in the pile.
Three fishing rods, a tackle box, and a bucket with rod holders, cast net, and stinger add to the growing heap of stuff. Two ice chests and a pair of lawn chairs finish the load. Taking another look around I try to decide what else I'll need. It's too warm to need the tent heater but a tarp, cable a come-along may be handy in case of rain.
Back in the shop I look at this mountain of stuff and wonder if it's worth it. No sir, you're not backing out now. I looked at the boat and wondered why I hadn't had it on the water in three or four years. Both the boat sticker and the license tags were out of date; I sure didn't feel like messing with city hall to get them renewed. I'd fish off the bank, if I wanted to fish. I'd need to stop and get a fishing license.
Back in the house and another cup of coffee later, I started to pack. Shorts, tee shirts, bathing suit, towels, a couple pair of Levies, socks, two sweat shirts, and a pair of sandals, sounded about right. I'd wear a pair of shorts, tee shirt, and my tennis shoes. I'd need a pillow, sunscreen, and mosquito repellent.
In the kitchen I set out an old boiler, a skillet, a coffeepot, and the utensils I thought I'd need. A small bucket and a small plastic pan finished this pile. It all went into a box along with whatever foodstuff from the pantry I thought would be useful, from spices to coffee and sugar, to canned goods. I'd brought one of the ice chests in with me and filled it from the refrigerator.
A radio crossed my mind so I found one in the top of my closet. There were no batteries in it. A flashlight was the next item. Its batteries were dead as usual.
After the job of loading all this crap into my old Ram Charger, I felt like going back to bed. Nope, I'm still not backing out. All dressed and ready, I made one more pass through the house to see what I'd missed that I would need.
My shaving kit, a pillow, and a small medicine bag were all I found. A couple of coffee cups and a few odds and ends from the kitchen were added to the loaded truck. A shovel was added from the last check of the shop and I was ready.
I climbed into the truck and started the engine, then promptly shut it off. Okay I was going camping; the problem was I didn't have a clue as to where. I sat and thought a moment; in the past I'd always had family with me, that dictated where we went to camp. Being alone and kind of wanting to stay that way was a whole other story.
I pulled a map out and went over it looking at and for campgrounds and areas. There were endless possibilities as Texas is a very large state. Most places were to far or in areas of the state where I didn't really want to spend any time. The fact that I had fishing gear in the truck meant there should be water there. That narrowed it down a lot.
Five sections of three national parks were what I was left with. Two had limited water and were to close to large population areas. One was a high usage recreation area that I remembered from way back when. That left two areas that I knew absolutely nothing about. One on the southern end of Sam Rayburn Lake and the other on the western shore of Toledo Bend.
Starting the truck back up, I headed out with kind of an idea where to go. Stopping in town, I gassed up and had lunch. While eating I made a list of the supplies I would need. A stop at a Wally World super store took care of that list.
On the road headed east I was feeling better than I had in a long time. I realized I was driving about five miles under the speed limit, where I was usually running ten over and always in a hurry to get to or from somewhere. I also realized that I was actually watching the scenery as it went past. Now this was living like I couldn't remember for a long time.
I was about half way across the Indian reservation when a small white car flew past me on a blind curve. He made it, but the guy in the other lane and I both had to hit our brakes hard to keep from getting him killed. Usually this type of driving just pisses me off, but today I just shake my head and continue on. I was actually amused and amazed at my attitude which is totally unlike me.
A couple more curves and I hit a long down hill straight stretch. As I come out onto the straight away, I see the small white car pulled over on the side of the road at the bottom of the hill. A few seconds later the passenger door opens and someone gets out and slams the door. The car sits there for a moment then throws rocks and gravel as it fishtails back out onto the highway and speeds off over the next hill.
As I get closer, I realize that it is a woman standing on the side of the road with her arms folded. I slow and pull over just past her. Opening the door I lean out and asked. "Are you alright?"
She is looking at me with a frown on her face. She opens her mouth then closes it before unfolding her arms and walking toward me. She stops by the back bumper of my truck and asks, "Are you going into Woodsville? Is there a bus station there?"
"Yes I'm going through Woodsville, but I don't know anything about the town." I answered. "Would you like a ride?" She walked around to the passenger side, opened the door, and got in, which I took for a yes.
As I pulled back onto the road she said to no one in particular, "Some people are real assholes."
I chuckled and nodded, "Me or the guy in the car?"
She looked over at me and replied, "The guy in the car. Sorry, I didn't realize I had said that out loud. He's an idiot and crazy to boot. I thought he was going to get us killed back there passing on that curve and that was the third time today. I should know better than to date guys from the city."
I had been looking her over ever since I stopped and I liked what I saw. Tall, long red hair, cute face, nice set of boobs under that short halter top, narrow waist above wide hips encased in a pair of short cut off levies, and a pair of legs that seemed to go on forever.
Yes, a very, very nice looking lady in her mid thirties. I chuckled at the sarcastic tone of her voice and said, "Yes he sure appeared to be a real winner. What was his hurry? It's far to nice a day to be flying by all this beautiful scenery."
She turned in the seat slightly and looked at me for a moment before answering, "We were supposed to be going to visit some friends of his that have a cabin over by Sam Rayburne Lake. To tell the truth though, I'm not really sure what he had in mind, except for his plans for me. He didn't know it but he had more trouble than he could handle. I'm not that type of lady, if you know what I mean."
I laughed and asked, "Where are you from?"
She smiled for the first time and her face lit up. "I'm from a little town just outside Bryan. Where are you from?"
"I live a few miles west of Livingston, out by the lake." I answered.
Glancing in the back of the Ram Charger she said, "Looks like you're going camping. Where at?"
With a chuckle I answered, "I'm not sure yet. It's been a long time since I've been anywhere besides work and even longer since I've been camping. I have a couple of places in mind but have never been to either one."
I kicked the truck off of cruise control and let it slow as we entered the city limits of Woodsville. "I've been through here several times, but I've never seen a bus station. As small as this place is, it will probably be at a convenience store down toward the center of town."
It was. A greyhound sign hung out in front of the Shell station on the corner of the major north south highway and the one I was on. As I pulled into the driveway, I said, "I'll wait around for a little while if you want me to. I'd feel better knowing that you were going to be alright."
She looked at me for few seconds and then smiled, "Thank you. You seem to be a pretty nice guy. Most people wouldn't take the time to worry about a stranger."
When I was parked she continued, "I'll see if there's a bus headed for Bryan and how much the ticket is. I should have enough money. I think I'll be fine."
Smiling I said, "I'll wait just the same."
She was back in about ten minutes and frowning again. Opening the door she said, "There are only four buses a week through here, two for Dallas and two for Houston. The Houston bus just left an hour ago and the next bus will be for Dallas next Monday. What the hell am I going to do for three and a half days? There's a Motel down the road the guy said was reasonable but I've only got enough money for the ticket to Dallas and back to Bryan. I hate to have to do it but I guess I'll hitch hike home."
Not liking that idea at all I said, "That's not a good idea. There are a lot of crazy assholes out there, some even worse than the one you were with earlier. Look, I'll drive you home, if it's going to come to that. I can have you there safe and sound in five hours."
She looked at me closely and then said, "Closer to six hours, I live on the other side of Bryan and way back in the sticks. I appreciate the offer but you've got your own plans and I don't want to mess them up."
I chuckled and said, "I haven't been camping in a long time, and to tell the true the only reason I'm going is to get away and hide for a while. I'm tired of working too much and being alone. Spending time with you sounds better to me; anyway I can always go on with the trip after I drop you off. There's got to be places over that direction to camp."
She stood looking at me for a minute or two and then climbed up into the truck and sat down. "Okay, the hitch hiking idea was a bad one but I still don't want to spoil your trip. Yeah, there are several places to camp over in my neck of the woods but you wouldn't like it. They get over run by the college kids in the afternoons and evenings who are looking for a place to get out of town and to party. Weekends are even worse. What other options do we have?"
I laughed and jokingly said, "Well, you could come camping with me and on Monday I could run you back over here to catch the bus. After all, you were on your way to spend some time at the lake anyway."
She looked at me for a long moment and then looked over in the back of the Ram Charger at the pile of camping gear. Looking back at me she grinned and said, "I can't believe I'm saying this, but okay. Just remember I ain't that kind of girl. When I agree to go camping with you I mean camping and nothing more, understand?"
I chuckled as I nodded and then ask a question as a thought crossed my mind, "Uh, just one problem that I see. Where is your luggage? All I've seen is your purse and you aren't carrying much of a wardrobe in there."
She looked dumb struck for a second and then swore under her breath. Shaking her head she said, "Idiot. I'm an idiot. All my stuff is in the trunk of Glen's car. I've been so worried about getting home I hadn't even thought about my clothes. Now what do I do?"
I had started the truck but I shut it back off. "Do you have any idea where his friends place is on the lake?"
She looked thoughtful for a moment then answered, "Somewhere on this side of the dam, down by the lake. Glen said something about a park and boat launch ramp that was closed because of erosion but I didn't catch a name. I'm not even sure of his friends name."
"That whole area is part of the National Forest, as best I can tell from the map I studied earlier. I wonder if they have a Ranger station somewhere in that area. They would know what parks are closed and what's near them." I said thinking out loud.
Opening the truck door she said, "I'll go ask the guy inside if he knows and if he doesn't then I see if he has a phone book that lists it."
"Okay, you do that and I'll check the map and see if it's marked and how many roads go down by the lake in that area." I said as she got out. "Oh, by the way, my names Larry."
She grinned and said. "Laura. Laura Ashford. I'm glad to meet you Larry. Would you like a coke or something when I come back, it's starting to get hot out here."
"Thanks for the offer but save your money, I have some iced down in the back. I'll get a couple out." I told her. She smiled and headed inside the station.
When I got out to get the cokes, I realized she was right. It had been a cool wet spring and now in late June it was starting to get hot in the afternoons. Since I'd been back, I had always been in the air-conditioned house, truck, or bar. Back in the truck, I looked over the map in the area near the dam. There were only a couple of areas that were shown with roads down to the lake. There was a park in that area too called Sandy Creek. I was folding the map to show that area when she returned.
I handed her a coke and said, "There's a lake office shown at the dam and a forestry office shown off a side road just this side of the dam, but I don't know which is the right place."
She grinned and said, "The forestry office. I called and the only boat ramp and park closed is at the end of the next road west of the office. The Ranger said there was a sign there with a closed sign nailed across it. When I asked him about people living on the lake he suggested that we drive down that road and take the first road to the left. According to him there are about a dozen roads off that one that go down to the lake. All of them turn off to the right. There are about four small subdivisions and twenty five scattered homes in that area. When we get to the Sandy Creek Road we've gone to far as there's no one living past there that's on the water."
I grinned and handed her the folded map showing the exact area she was talking about. She laughed and said. "You think you're so smart don't you?
I laughed and answered, "More like a blind hog finding an acorn by tripping over it. Luck has its place sometimes."
She popped the top on the coke and took a sip. Settling back in the seat and crossing her legs she asked, "What are we waiting for? Shall we go house hunting or is that car hunting since that's the only clue we have."