What a difference a weekend at the beach can make.

Wrong Place, Wrong Turn, Right Spot
This weekend, we went to Hunting Island, south of Beaufort, SC. When I made the reservation I thought I was reserving Huntington Beach, our favorite beach camping destination. An hour before we were scheduled to leave for the beach, my intelligent and thorough husband read through the reservation details and realized my error. Had he not, we would have driven for hours and arrived at a full campground at 10 pm and not known what to do except sleep in the car. Stuart figured out directions to the new destination and I called to get the combination to the gate so that we could enter the park after closing, and all seemed as if it was going to go off okay.

At some point during the drive, we must have been deeply engrossed in conversation because we saw the exit for 95 come up, and yet still somehow missed it. By the time we realized it, we were almost in Charleston and had taken an extra hour detour. Hmm, not an auspicious start.

Hunting Island is 13 miles southeast of Beaufort. Once you leave Beaufort, you cross two drawbridges and follow a two lane highway spanned on either side by lush green marshes. There’s a smattering of houses on a few side roads and very little commercial development. It’s scenic and remote without being too remote that you feel vulnerable or like you must have a week of provisions with you.

We arrived at the campground at nearly 11 and were stunned at how pretty it is. The park borders the beach and is covered in tall woods that form a thick canopy of pines and palms. Most of the tent camping is relatively secluded and nestled among the trees, but our site was the best of all, with natural barriers on either side and woods behind, providing lots of privacy from the other campers.

A Carrier of Good Luck
However, as my friend Jeff says, when it comes to luck, I’m like someone with a recessive gene, I’m a carrier but not someone who has it expressed in any tangible way myself. We knew we couldn’t make it through the entire weekend without some mishaps and getting lost wasn’t enough to satisfy the bad luck Gods.

Having learned our lesson about beach camping in August two summers ago, we decided to leave the fly off the tent so that we would have some airflow, see the stars and not be suffocated. It was delightful sleeping weather, warm but not too humid and enough of a breeze to make tenting enjoyable. Before we went to sleep, I asked Stuart, “what if it rains?” He assuredly said, “It won’t rain” and added a little chortle, as if to say, “silly girl.” Having efficiently executed the rain dance with those three words, around 3 am, the skies opened up driving big rain droplets through the mesh in the top of our tent. It took us a few minutes to get outside and grab the fly from the trunk before we got the tent protected; no sooner than the fly was secured, the rain tapered to a drizzle.

When we climbed back inside the tent, we discovered that the top sheet was pretty damp and unusable. Fortunately, I had another sheet tucked away in a corner that managed to stay dry, so all was not lost. I crumbled up the wet sheet at the foot of the tent and spread out the dry sheet and we went back to sleep. A short while later, I woke up a little chilly and grabbed the damp sheet to see if it was dry enough to use as light layer. As I spread it out, an R shaken from his hiding place, went running across the floor of the tent. A R!! R! Shivers. Somehow though, I managed to fall back asleep even with a R in the vicinity.

Fresh Start
Saturday was a delight and a fresh start, a new chance to turn the tides of our recent bad luck. We went to the grocery store nine or ten miles back in town and found ice and some eats for the rest of the weekend. When we got back to the campground, we ate lunch, and then gathered our snacks, reading materials, chairs, towels, and sun tent and proceeded to the beach.

Ten Ton Tent on the Run
I have to interrupt the story here to describe the sun tent. We purchased it two years ago so that we could spend prolonged periods on the beach without getting cooked. When set up right, it offers skin-saving shelter from the sun, while still enabling us to enjoy the beach experience. We’ve used it several times and it’s lovely to have a place to retreat. The shade gives a reprieve from the heat and a comfortable place to lay on a blanket and watch the waves rolling in on the beach in complete safety, for as long as you wish. The only problem is that the thing is a huge pain in the ass to use. For starters, it’s a cumbersome pig that weighs about eight pounds and is very heavy to lug even a short distance. It has three legs and if you don’t position them correctly, you have a kite and a lethal weapon instead of a shelter. When it’s very windy, just forget it. One leg has be positioned just right against the wind, and tied down with the many ropes in heavy wet sand. The sand has to be wet all the way through or the ties will just rip out and fly about with the stakes whipping around in the wind, just itching to put your eye out.

When we pulled out the tent on Saturday, all the ties were tangled together and it took at least twenty minutes of patient unwinding to get them free. Then we got the legs positioned, but the wind was way too strong to make it worthwhile. The windward leg got blown flat and was laying on the sand immediately and the other two legs moved around wherever the wind wanted them to go. Everything we had placed under the tent laid exposed, including our ice-water filled thermos. We weighted down our two picnic blankets by covering all the edges with sand, but even the chair heavy with magazines and books tipped over in the strong winds. We gave up fighting it and just let the wind do whatever it wanted and laid out in the sun on our beach blanket instead.

We made the best of it. The nice part about the wind was that we had a nice cooling breeze, so there was no repeat of the suffocatingly still air we suffered through a couple of years ago. Several times we ran into the waves and frolicked about. Everything was delightful, until…

Submerged Groins Are No Laughing Matter
Because our arms were weary from walking half a mile with beach gear, we didn’t want to walk any further than we had already, so we chose a spot on the beach next to a “submerged groin.” The tide was out so we could see the metal barrier and rocks going into the water. I saw them and thought, “If anyone is going to end up dashed against them, it’s going to be me.” Talk about foreshadowing.

Late in the afternoon, Stuart and I were enjoying playing in the water. The strong winds and rising tide were producing bigger and bigger waves. Their force started pushing us right in the direction of the groin. Stuart managed to stay several yards away in safety, but I wasn’t strong enough, and even though I was using all my strength to swim away, I was their prisoner. Before I knew it, I was right next to the rocks and, with one more wave, I was dragged into them. I swam harder now against the current and could see Stuart, unaware of my predicament, laughing in the distance. I was like a small child, unable to fight against the continuous battering, their force, like the wind, thrashing me about wherever they pleased. Another wave rolled in and dragged me into the groin again, even harder than the first time. Now I wanted to cry. I was not only in a lot of pain, but starting to panic that I wasn’t going to be able to escape the rocks. I was sure one more blow and I’d need stitches, if there was still an attached limb to stitch.

At this point, Stuart realized I was struggling and came to my rescue, literally pushing me into an area where the sand was high enough to walk back to the beach, though even that was difficult. When we finally reached safe ground, we caught our breath and examined our many cuts and gashes. Stuart had several on his hands, and my knee is quite shredded in addition to a few nicks on my hands. Lesson of the day, “No matter how funny submerged groins may seem, they are no laughing matter. Avoid groins, submerged or visible.” Who knew there was crying at the beach?

Playing Rocky with the Raccoon
We recovered from the hatefulness of the rocks by enjoying a peaceful few hours at the campsite. We showered and removed most of the sand from our crevices and relaxed inside our screened gazebo. I caught up on some reading and then we had our dinner, fried chicken, purchased earlier in the day from Publix. When we were done, we walked the trash to the dumpster half a mile away, then came back to camp ready for a fun night. Stuart set up the computer, which had a selection of several movies, we got out our mixed drinks and settled in for a relaxing Movie Night. We had canned nuts and pretzels and the only thing missing was the popcorn. We chose “The Life of Brian” and began our cozy and romantic evening, protected from the mosquitos and wildlife inside our gazebo. What could be better! Our memories of the groin began to fade away in the tranquility of the woods. Or so we thought.

It’s not often I’ve had to go head-to-head with wildlife, but this trip provided a few opportunities. Earlier we had fought against a battalion of ants who found whatever miniscule droppings from dinner made their way to the ground. I thought that was the biggest of my worries. An hour or so into the movie, two raccoons decided that there must still be good eats on our picnic table. Maybe they smelled the residue of coke in the cans we were flavoring our bacardi with, or the lure of pretzels was too much to resist. We spent the next forty minutes alternately trying to scare them off, thinking we had and resuming the movie, and then refilling a pitcher of water and throwing it on them. Eventually, after we put the last of the snacks in the car and threw the remants of my coffee on them, they left us alone. We finished the rest of the movie in peace. Finally. Peace. We started an episode of “The Office” to end the night on one last upbeat note, but the computer died half way through, so we took the hint, gave up and went to bed.

In the middle of the night, Stuart discovered the R that was still running around in the tent and smashed his head in. Then at 3 am, the dog at the neighbor’s campsite, barking in excitement, chased off the raccoon. Then finally, there was peace.

Sunday was a much more relaxing day. We drove down to the public beach and rode bikes to the lighthouse, laid on the beach, played in the waves, laid on the beach and played in the waves some more. It was the perfect ending to the vacation and truly restorative. When we got home last night, I felt like I had been gone a week, forgetting the last three weeks and everything that came before it, the stress washed away in the ocean waves. Instead of feeling like “just one more thing,” I feel like I had a fun adventure.

Turns our my reservation mistake was a good thing after all, leading us to a new destination we wouldn’t have otherwise visited. Hunting Island is now, unquestionably, even with its groins and raccoons, biting ants, ill-placed dumpster, my favorite beach camping spot.

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