Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Never Call Retreat


I woke up with a splitting headache. My first thought was "Carbon Monoxide Poisoning!" since propane makes me nervous. A dozen things in this RV run on propane, including the furnace, the stovetop and the water heater. So I climbed down from my bunk with vague thoughts of looking in the mirror to see if my cheeks were rosy.

Ron looked at me curiously as I staggered past. He was pouring milk for Benny, whose cheeks were always rosy. No help there. I decide a more intelligent move would be to check the carbon monoxide detector, but I couldn't understand the thing. There were lots of green lights, so I decided we'd all live. So I gave up the idea and fished a Snapple out of the cooler.

We were in a bit of a pickle this morning because both our holding tanks were reading two-thirds full and our fresh water supply was low, which made showering a risky business. Ron used the bathhouse through the trees so we had enough water for myself and Benny. I'd given up on the idea of showering Benny - I'd never get him back into that stall -- so I gave him a sponge bath on the kitchen counter instead. Much less traumatic for both of us.

We pulled into the campground's empty dumping station about 10:30 a.m. to empty our tanks and replenish our fresh water. I went into the office to reserve our space for another night and buy a few groceries. When I returned, our small RV was dwarfed by giant road yachts. Ron was scuttling between the trailer and the station's water faucet, looking annoyed.

“I know,” he said. “I was going to wait for you, but then half the Fifth Naval Fleet showed up.”

We finally escaped to U.S. 29 and headed to the battlefield. Manassas, or Bull Run, was the site of two major Civil War battles. The first clash in 1861 was the very first battle of the war. Washington was so confident that the Union would lick those rebels that civilians followed the soldiers to watch the battle and enjoy a picnic lunch.

The Manassas Visitor Center featured an amazing map that laid out the events of that first battle. Tiny lights blinked on and off, revealing troop movements. Blue lights were Union, red lights were Confederate. Battles were indicated by flashing yellow and orange lights. The whole display was so dramatic and clear, Ron and I were captivated. Benny loved the lights too. “Red, blue, orange!” he yelled.

We walked the one-mile, circular trail behind the center, following the battle's movements. Things went badly for the Confederates at first, even with the Union commander's dinking around and wasting time. Then fresh Confederate troops arrived, and rebels rallied behind Stonewall Jackson in the battle that gave him his nickname. When the Union army finally retreated, they ran smack into a crowd of panicked picnickers racing back to Washington D.C.

The weather today was gorgeous, warm and sunny. Benny was tired after the walk and refused his lunch, so we put him in his carseat and hoped he'd nap while we took a driving tour of the second Manassas battle in 1862. It was a far-flung battle, so the tour required lurching up and down two-lane roads in our ungainly RV, covering the same ground repeatedly.

Benny was asleep by the first stop, so we sat in the tiny parking lot near Battery Heights, reading the battle guide and wondering how we would get out again. Then a small hatchback car turned up and parked close behind us. We watched in dismay as three people got out, walked over a cannon-ringed hill and disappeared in the tall grass. They never returned. I even climbed the hill to look for them, but they were gone. So we reluctantly executed an extremely tight 12-point turn and sped away.

We missed the second tour stop and had nearly left the county before we found a place to turn around.

“Only nine more stops,” I said cheerfully. “At this rate, we'll be finished by midnight.”

Benny slept until we foolishly took a shortcut on Featherbed Lane, which was narrow, unpaved and insanely bumpy. We nearly ripped off our mirror passing a tree-cutting machine, and a passing gravel truck scared us half to death. By the time we reached stop 5, Benny was complaining and I was counting my teeth.

We completed the tour by 4 p.m. and headed back to the campground for dinner: spaghetti and corn on the cob. Afterwards, Benny and I visited the laundry room. When we returned to the site, Ron had built a campfire, with our three lawn chairs arranged around it. We toasted marshmallows and made smores, then put Benny to bed.

With Benny asleep, Ron and I sat beside the dying campfire and talked about the coming weekend. The RV was due back Friday and we'd have two more days to adjust to reality again. This trip was a real chance for Ron, Benny and I to spend time together, and we didn't want it to end. Somehow, we'd have to work small escapes into our daily lives. We talked about buying a tent and camping throughout the summer, visiting relatives or just playing around. Benny was getting older and traveling was much less daunting.

The air was getting cooler, and we retreated into the RV, folded clean laundry, and went to bed. Tomorrow we would head home again.


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