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Camping: Losing it in Lousiana

Travel: Michelle Sathe and Kara the pitbull-mix rescue-dog on the road

Posted: June 5, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 5, 2011 1:55 a.m.

ince playing fetch is one of Kara’s favorite activities, Michelle Sathe took advantage of the uncrowded campground at the Black Bayou Recreation Area, in Louisiana, to indulge her four-legged friend.

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Kara and I left the sanctity of our hotel room, destined for outdoor adventure at Cypress Black Bayou Recreation Area, about 325 miles from Wichita Falls, Texas.

I’m not usually a camping girl. Sure, if someone else does the work, pitches the tent, makes the food — I’m down. On my own, not so much. However, I wanted to mix things up on this trip, really get into nature and have a brief absence from the electronics that seem to rule my life.

It looked nice enough. About 15 miles from Shreveport, La., the surrounding area was lush, with brick track homes, some rather fancy, acres of lawn.

The winding road took us to the gate of the park. I stopped to make a reservation and ask some questions.
“Do you have gators in the park?”

“Well, ma’am, we have some on the far north end, not near the camping sites,” said the nice clerk, a young, tanned woman with numerous piercings.

In California, I’m offended when people call me ma’am, taking it as reference to my age. In the south, it’s just a form of politeness. Or so I tell myself.

“OK,” I took a deep breath. “How about snakes?”

“I’m not going to lie. We do have snakes here, especially this time of year. I hate snakes,” she said, shaking her shoulders and head about wildly, the universal sign for the heebie jeebies.

“Do they go in the campground?”

“Well, sometimes they do, but if you have a dog, they shouldn’t come around,” she said, infinitely patient. “We’ve never had anyone complain of having one in the tent.”

I paused for about 15 seconds. Was I going to wimp out and go to a hotel or just deal with the elements?

How realistic was it to get bit by a snake or eaten by a gator here, anyway? Probably the same as getting hit by lightning. I would not let fear control me.

“Alright,” I said. “We’ll take a campsite for a few nights.”

We scouted the campgrounds, which only had about three other sites occupied, and picked T-11, right near the lake or body of water, the one I was assured was gator-less. It was very picturesque and better yet, an ideal spot to play fetch.
That’s the first thing I did: I got Kara good and tired so I could focus on setting up camp. It was my first time with the new equipment I purchased before the trip. Kara loved being able to skid in the grass, sometimes catching the ball in midair and coming down on her side, prompting a high-speed roly poly.

It was comical and endearing, this sweet, stumpy little girl turning into an agility champ whenever she got the chance.
As we set up camp our neighbor, a construction worker from Mansfield, La., introduced himself to us as Robert. He stayed there when he had work in the area, rather than drive 90 minutes each way.

Robert pointed out the other campers. “The guy on the end is kind of belligerent. He and his wife have lived here for nine years,” he said.

“Wow,” I said in disbelief. “I might be a bit belligerent if I had to camp for nine years, too.”

Robert smiled. “You know that show ‘Billy the Exterminator?’”

I nodded, with a wry grin. Wayde and I had watched it a few times. It’s about a redneck exterminator named Billy, who proudly sports a blonde mullet. We laughed at how backwoods it was.

“His business is just a few miles down, right by the Chevron on your way in,” Robert said. “One of the raccoons he found on his show lives in the campground zoo now.”

Somehow, this didn’t comfort me. Billy was called upon to “relocate” all sorts of creepy crawlies and gee, he lived right down the road. Great.

Despite this newfound knowledge, and the incessant, deafening quacking of ducks and chirping of crickets, Kara and I slept well our first night at Black Bayou.

With no plans for the day, I set up the folding chair in front of the lake and threw the ball to Kara in the morning, at lunch and in early evening, entertained by autobiographies of Michelle Phillips of The Mamas and The Papas and Dallas Taylor, a drummer from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Both had the familiar crash-and-burn themes found in such autobiographies, as did Keith Richard’s “Life,” which I was listening to in he car to make the long miles bearable.

The night was about 80 degrees and breezy. A half-hour later, that nice breeze turned into a wind that howled and strained our little tent — to what I thought might be the breaking point. I watched as the crooked corner bent even further. When the winds would temporarily abate, I’d kick it back into place with my socked foot.

Poor Kara. Kyle, her foster mom, warned me she didn’t like wind. However, my little friend made not a whimper. Her ears perked up, and she snuggled closer, but remained silent. I patted her big head and said soothingly, “Don’t worry, Kara. We’ll be OK. You’re such a good girl…”

Meanwhile, my mind imagined our tent taking off into the atmosphere like Dorothy’s house in “Wizard of Oz,” but I kept up the calm exterior. Realistically, I reasoned to myself, our couple hundred pounds of body weight and equipment should keep us anchored. We would be OK.

The winds went on for hours. The only blessing is that it quieted the ducks. Occasionally, I’d hear Kara softly snoring and start to drift off, too, reminding myself that tomorrow we’d have a real roof over our heads.

In the morning, still fuzzy from lack of sleep, I saw a small, dark snake wriggle in the grass as I folded up the tarp.

Thankfully, Kara was already in the car. I let out a horror-movie-worthy scream and ran away from it. No one came to my rescue. I left the tarp behind.

Camping was indeed an adventure. I’d give it that.

Kara will be available for adoption when she returns to the Santa Clarita Valley on June 26. For more information, contact Kyle at canine commands@hotmail.com. To follow Michelle and Kara on the road, visit www.pitstopsbook.com and click on Pit Stops Blog.

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