Lessons Learned: Hamilton Branch State Park

When we bought our camper, I made one rule: we will use it at least once a month (barring any unforeseen circumstances).

Initially, I had booked a trip to Hunting Island State Park as our October trip, but then we decided to take our sans-kids anniversary trip. Since our venture to North Carolina had required us taking some time off of work, I decided to reschedule our trip to the coast and book a quick weekend trip somewhere closer to home.

I chose Hamilton Branch State Park, an expansive park with 200 campsites nestled along the shores of Lake Strom Thurmond. We’d visited the park on a daytrip before, and promised we’d be back to camp. I decided to book the weekend of Oct. 25, so we could participate in the park’s trick-or-treating event.

Our first trip to Lake Greenwood State Park in March 2019.

On the day of our scheduled departure, Steven and I both raced home from work to pack the truck and hook up the camper. Even though we packed quickly, the sun was beginning to set as we pulled out of the yard and headed west.

That’s when things got interesting.

As we cruised down the road, I decided to pull up our confirmation email, just to double check the details of our arrival. Hmm… I couldn’t find it. So, then I decided to double check that my credit card was charged. Again, no dice. At this point, I started getting nervous. The only conclusion I could draw was that somehow our reservation hadn’t gone through.

Lesson One: Always print out your confirmation email prior to departing.

As the last rays of sunlight faded from sight, I shared the news with Steven. He chuckled, but was clearly flummoxed. We decided to continue on to the park, in hopes of finding an available site. Of course, when we arrived, the park office was closed. We checked the list of available sites tacked to the door, but didn’t find much that fit our needs. Finally, we decided to double check that the site we believed we’d reserved wasn’t, in fact, reserved to us.

At this point it was pitch black. We located “our” site on the map, but realized it would be hard to turn around, if it was occupied by someone else. Steven strapped on a headlamp and took a stroll down to the site. It ended up being more of a trek than a stroll, and when he arrived at the site, it was empty. We had hoped there would be some kind of sign indicating who the site was reserved to, like we had encountered at Barnwell State Park, but no such luck.

Steven was understandable growing frustrated at this point, and comments about “just going home,” where starting to be slung around in the darkness. To make things worse, all of our stomachs were starting to rumble.

Lesson Two: Eat before you hit the road.

In a last effort to save the trip, we decided to hunt down a camp host. Luckily, we saw a small wooden sign denoting “camp host” just a short distance down the road. Steven trudged to the site and knocked. A few moments passed. Then the camp host emerged. When Steven explained our predicament, the host said, “you’re on site 33, I remember because I used to know a guy named Yancey!” So, after all the drama, the site was reserved to us. I never did find the confirmation email, but I did find the credit card charge. It was just further back on the statement than I had thought it would have been.

Crisis averted, we snaked through the woods to our site. Did I mention it was dark? Really dark? When we finally arrived, we grabbed our flashlights and headlamps to inspect the set-up. It was odd. The lot was huge, but the electric box and water were on the far side of the site blocked in by trees. Navigating our camper into the spot took some intricate maneuvering.

Lesson Three: Don’t arrive in the dark (especially, if you don’t know the set-up of the site).

Once parked we discovered the water spigot was missing any discernible handle, meaning Steven had to do some MacGyver-ing. Did I mention we were hungry? Our misadventure reaching comical heights, we finally were able to set-up, make dinner and relax. Just in time to get ready for bed.

The next morning, the stress of the previous evening melted away when we saw the spectacular view our quirky site provided. In fact, that Saturday ended up being one of the best days we’d had in a long, long time. There was a slight chill in the air, the campfire was warm, the view serene and the company perfect. Our toddler enjoyed trick-or-treating that evening, and all was right with the world again.

Lesson Four: make the most of every day you’re given.

This trip definitely taught us some new lessons, but in the end we were thankful we persevered through the challenges and enjoyed a peaceful weekend together as a family enjoying all that nature has to offer. And would it really be a Yancey family trip without some misadventure in the mix?

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