On tour, standards change in ways you might not predict beforehand. I suppose this is true of any place you go. When you’re vacationing in Hawaii, your standard for what constitutes a beautiful beach may change.
During my Mississippi River tour, we mostly camped, except in the major cities. The ability to choose “nicer” campgrounds was a luxury not often afforded us – we were mostly at the mercy of what campground was within about 10 miles of our route (deviating 10 miles from our route would mean a 20 mile return journey to get back to the route).
Most of the campgrounds we stayed at were awesome. State parks in particular were great – they had great amenities for the most part and very few people (I suspect due to the massive flooding and the “cold” weather). The two most important features that I look for in a campground are 1) a suitable place to pitch my tent, including having a flat grassy spot and being away from very loud noises and harsh bright lights, and 2) potable water on site. I’ve never encountered a campground not have both of these features.
The third most important feature of a campground is one I could do without for one day at most – a shower facility. Warm showers are preferable, but if it’s a warm day, I’m willing to take a lukewarm or even cold shower. At Rocky Springs State Park, there was no shower facility but there was a spigot, so I took a “biker’s shower” – showering with my underwear and shirt on, which has the disadvantage of not letting me get as clean as I would like (and also the disadvantage of being less dignified, but conventional dignity leaves equation within a couple days of bike touring, I find), but has the advantage of letting me clean my underwear and shirt.
The first day of the tour landed us in a campground called Carlos’s Campground. I called ahead to ask if there were showers, and whereabouts it was located, but I was too tired to ask about much else. We were deep enough in the middle of rural Louisiana that we had no hope of getting to another campground, and it was well past sundown. I couldn’t find much information on the place online on my Droid, and most of the locals didn’t even seem to know. When we arrived, I realized it was a long term RV and tiny-cabin camp for Hispanic itinerant workers, not a campground for recreational tourists. We spoke to Carlos in his office, which was a relatively palatial house at least about three times bigger than the rows of single bedroom cabins that lined his dukedom. Although the campground was full, Carlos was gracious enough to allow us to camp out at his expansion property on the levee and to use the shower facility there.
It was all very nice of him, and we have a beautiful view of the bayou. But when I walked into the shower, I was hesitant to use the facilities. The concrete structure had mildew growing everywhere and looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in months, if not years… or ever. Damp Spanish language celebrity tabloids sat on top of the toilet (I chose to believe they were damp from the humidity). I eventually decided I would shower after all, but I wore my sandals so I wouldn’t have to touch the floor with my feet, even though this meant that I would have to try to dry the sandals out during the ride the next day and it looked like it may rain. Chris cheerfully told me that this wasn’t that bad, and that he had showered in much worse facilities. I regret not taking photographic evidence.
The next day, we stayed at a very nice lady’s doublewide trailer. I was very, very glad to be showering in an actual residence, although the showerhead was held in place with duct tape and the bathroom floor was shag carpeted. I felt good about showering again.
Contrasted against our first night, Fort Pillow State Park in Tennessee was probably the best campground shower facility we had.
It was clean and had very hot water! Plus, the shower curtain actually worked!
It also had a segregated bench area within the individual shower stall where you could place your clean clothes and whatnot. If this isn’t luxury, I don’t know what is.
And it wasn’t just the shower stalls. The whole place was pretty immaculate. A caretaker came by in the morning to “clean” the bathroom and sweep away the leaves outside, even though we were the sole campers that night – I’m fairly sure he must’ve cleaned the place daily.
Later along in the trip, we did come across facilities which weren’t as bad as the facilities on our first night, but were still pretty scary. It was in Pleasant Hill, Illinois, a dry town with no 3G access on my Droid – a double whammy! The campground was in an industrial part of town, next to a fairground.
The picture doesn’t quite do justice to the desolation of the place. There were industrial parks across one street and sad houses across another. Clearly no one had been here to camp in ages, although – to our relief – the facilities were at least functional.
This is what greeted me inside as I peered into the shower stall…
And here’s the inside of the shower stall in all its glory. The water was hot, though! And even though the floor was gross, I left my sandals outside the shower stall – I was so over grossness by this point in the trip, about two weeks in. I had learned to shift my standards and expectations. And you know what? I didn’t catch any dread diseases and I haven’t had to amputate my feet.