Camping at Harrison Lake

Sunday night’s camping trip almost didn’t happen, even after booking the campsite two months in advance.

Eight o’clock Sunday morning, Aaron and I were awakened by the most amazing thunderstorm. By 10am, the rain was still going strong. By noon, the rain had abated to a drizzle, but still wasn’t letting up.

We’d already assembled everything we’d need for outdoors cooking and sleeping the night before, and had been planning to head out to Harrison Lake around 2:30pm to get there after the check-in time of 3:00. By 3:30, though, we were playing Wii Baseball and had resigned ourselves to an evening indoors, and to making our preplanned foil dinners on the grill instead of a campfire.

At 4pm, though, the rain let up and the sky started to clear. Just a little. Enough to permit camping, at least, if not swimming. So, we packed up the car, and off we went.

We arrived at Harrison Lake an hour later, after a minor detour on County Road M (props to Aaron for knowing how Fulton County roads work, and getting us past the roadblock with no problem). Located our general camping area, then headed up to the main office to check in. Bought some firewood at the camp office, and headed back to our campsite to set up.

I had been very deliberate about which campsite to reserve online; I wanted as few close neighbors as possible, plus a view of the lake. Seeing the site in person, I felt I had chosen well.

The sky was overcast, so we started pitching the tent as soon as we got situated, anticipating an early dusk. Luckily, our dome tent didn’t hold too many mysteries, and we got our shelter going on without too much fuss. It took us a little while to figure out how to assemble the fly (aka the cool tent cover thingie), but it all worked out eventually.

Shelter, check. Next order of business: fire.

We assembled the smaller pieces of firewood in the teepee formation, got out some newspaper to light the fire, and went for it. Tried log-cabin-style when the teepee didn’t work. Flopped everything in a pile when log-cabin didn’t work. Doused the logs with lighter fluid. Repeatedly. Bemoaned our lack of tinder. Felt generally inept.

Little did we know that the camp office was selling “green lumber.” One well-meaning passerby let us in on that little tidbit. “Look at that,” he said. “That ain’t even cracked. Good luck getting that to burn.”


We pilfered some more likely-looking wood from abandoned campsites — people leave it, after all, since transportation of firewood across county lines is illegal due to the spread of the emerald ash borer beetle. The additional firewood was a little help, but not much, as it was still damp from the rains. Aaron even left briefly to try to buy some better firewood elsewhere, but the local minimart had already closed.

Finally, two hours after we’d first started trying to build our campfire — yep, that’s TWO HOURS of fighting with Mother Nature — our camping neighbors presented us with a starter log. They were using a camp stove, they said, and had never used a starter log, but kept one with them just in case. They must have been watching us fight with our campfire (or lack thereof) for a couple of hours, and finally took pity on us.

The starter log did the trick. Loads of fantastic fiery chemicals made both our green lumber and our damp pilfered firewood stay lit. By this point, it was reaching dusk, and we had to wait for the fire to burn down enough to present us with sufficiently hot coals for foil packet cooking. We roasted a couple of hot dogs in the meantime; we hadn’t eaten since lunch.

Just after dark, our chicken and veggie foil meals were ready to eat: chicken breasts, mushrooms, onions, asparagus, summer squash, and green peppers cooked in a foil packet. We ate in the dark at our picnic table, wishing for a lantern. Afterward, we made some s’mores (with Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate bars) and sat around the campfire, talking and drinking bottled water (no alcohol allowed in state parks).

I’m not sure what time it was when we finally let the fire burn itself out and went to bed — sometime around midnight, I think. Aaron had bought a new air mattress and battery-powered pump for the trip; I’d ended up underinflating the bed due to my unfamiliarity with the airbed/pump combination, so whenever one of us got up, the other person’s ass touched the ground until they came back. That was the only real downside of sleeping in the tent — that, and the massive amounts of dirt we tracked in on our sandals. All night, Aaron kept waking up at unfamiliar nature sounds, and I kept waking up just wondering what time it was.

Finally, just before 8am, we heard the very loud sounds of a tanker truck pulling up and emptying the port-a-johns across the way. I couldn’t get back to sleep after that, and was up and around at 9am to try to stoke the fire. No luck, and we weren’t about to spend two hours trying to get a fire started again. We skipped breakfast and opted not to trek down to the shower house. Instead, we packed up, took a leisurely walk around part of the lake, and left around 10:30am.

On the way back through the country, we saw a billboard for The Barn Restaurant at Sauder Village, which wasn’t far from the campground. Since we hadn’t eaten breakfast, we decided to take a little side trip to The Barn for an early lunch. They opened at 11am — only a couple minutes after we pulled into their parking lot — at which point we went in and proceeded to have the best lunch buffet I’d had in quite a long time. Roasted and broasted chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, salad bar, taco bar, baked beans, rolls with apple butter, and quite possibly the best peach cobbler I’ve ever had. Ever.

And that was our first camping trip together. No swimming, very little walking or hiking, but there was s’mores and campfire cooking and sleeping in a tent. I think we’re going to try this again sometime… hopefully, when the weather will be a little more agreeable. And when we’ll be armed with a starter log.

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