90,000 Miles to Me
Ohio mountains trees

6,785 Miles • Oops

This is a backdated post from September 25th, 2017

Spent the night at a lovely, green campground outside of a small town called Chillicothe, Ohio. I found it with an app called AllStays, which has been super helpful in finding parking lots to sleep in for free when it is getting close to dark, but also has campgrounds and RV parks and other places you have to pay to stay at, which I am not willing to do when Walmart is so nice about allowing overnight visitors.

But I check out the campground listings because some of them are free, and the scenery is nicer than in parking lots. This campground came up and said it was free, and it was only a few miles out of my way, so I headed over. I figured it would be some dinky, five spot thing in a state forest (the details on the app listing were sparse), but it turned out to look more like a small RV campground nestled into a tree clearing. Looked private to me.

I pulled in and didn’t see a booth or hut to check in, no signs for visitors or price list or anything, so I thought, maybe it is free after all, but was still skeptical. As I drove through looking for a place to park, an older gentleman in a yellow t-shirt that barely covered his pot belly came up to greet me. He was very friendly and climbed in his golf cart and drove me over to where I could park. He pointed out where the showers and bathrooms were, wished me a good night and left me to settle in, not mentioning anything about a fee, so hey, I thought, it really is free. Cool!

About twenty minutes later he drove back up and told me it would be $15 for the night. Dang. “But my app said this place is free,” I exclaimed in surprise. “What app?” He responded. So I showed him the listing and he stared, puzzled, at my phone for a minute and didn’t quite know where to go from there. I was apologetic about it, just saying that I didn’t know and wasn’t expecting a private campground, and promised to report a correction to the app right away, and he was very kind and offered to let me stay the night for free.

What a gentleman. I was so happy that I didn’t have to leave and look for another place, as it would be getting dark soon and I was tired from driving almost 300 miles and looking forward to making dinner and settling down surrounded by greenery.

I wasn’t going to use any hookups anyway, but was careful not to take advantage of his kindness by using their showers or toilets or anything. In fact, I didn’t even step out of the van.

The next morning as I was brushing my hair and getting ready to head out, I see my gentleman walking back toward me carrying a cup of coffee, and he disappears behind my van for a minute before reappearing, stuffing a notepad into his back pocket. He tells me in no uncertain terms that he is going to report me to the sheriff. “Um, what? Why?” He wants to alert them to a possible scam, that people might be going around staying at campsites for free because some app tells them they can.

He doesn’t ask me to pay (it also didn’t occur to me until much later to offer), but storms away in a huff, and I finish stowing my gear, close up the water can, tuck my curtains away so I can see out the back windows, and am gone within five minutes.

I’m not worried; nothing will come of it for me, but it was an unsettling experience to have someone that I thought of as a generous and kind gentleman to change colors so quickly.

I figure he tossed and turned that night, fretting and ruminating over losing that money or not knowing how to handle the situation or not understanding those new-fangled technologies like apps, and he just needed a way to take control of the situation. Reporting a license plate to the sheriff is something he understands. Something that makes sense in his world.

I ruminated over this one myself for longer than I’d like to admit, and think I understand now why he reacted that way (at least a plausible why) and that helps, but it still hurts. I hurt him as well, and for that I am sorry.

The rest of the day was very different, very lovely, filled with the green hills and towering trees of Ohio and West Virginia (pic above). The mountains of West Virginia were so densely packed with trees that all I could see were their tops smushed together like heaping mounds of broccoli, some beginning to turn fall colors.

Salad for lunch at this field in Salem, West Virginia. Not the Salem of legend. I had lunch “on the rocks.” These rocks, in the foreground:

green field with cabin

At the end of another long day of driving, I arrived at my best friend’s house in Virginia and got to stay put for a few days.

What would you have done at the campground? Any advice for how to handle a similar situation in the future? Please comment below.