Driving down a rural country road covered by a canopy of tree limbs last weekend, I wondered how many times I had traveled the same path before.
I was headed toward Long’s Retreat in Pike County, a family resort not far from the Highland County line. One hundred times, I wondered? No, it would be many more than that.
I am not sure when I made my first trip to the place that holds so many memories, but I remember my first overnight camping excursion there a little too well. It was about 44 years ago, when I was 17.
There were four of us on that trip, and for the most part three of us were well behaved. But one of us was not. That one friend had an ornery and defiant streak, and about the time things were supposed to be quieting down, he decided to get loud, belting out some kind of screeching sound — over and over — that sounded like some sort of prehistoric creature. We were in process of trying to quiet him down when the resort owner appeared at our campsite. He gave us a friendly warning, told us to enjoy ourselves, but warned that the screeching needed to stop.
It did — for a few minutes. Then our friend started in again, and the owner showed up again, and this time he was not in a such a friendly mood. It happened one more time before were able to muzzle our friend, after being told we could stay for the night, but would have to leave early the next morning.
It was quiet the rest of the night, but early the next morning our screeching friend was at it again. The owner showed up again, and that time he lit into us before telling we needed to leave immediately. Since we had swimming passes for the day, the other three of us begged for mercy, asking if we could swim before we left, promising to leave if our buddy got out of hand again. The owner kindkly and reluctantly agreed.
Things went fine the rest of the day, but my buddies and I were now marked. It kind of set the stage for the next few years of my Long’s Retreat adventures.
A year or so later some other buddies and I decided to start camping every Memorial Day weekend at Long’s. Each year when we wandered into the retreat store to pay for a camping spot, we were met with suspicious eyes and told we could camp, but only in the most remote area of the resort. That worked out fine because it was pretty open in Area E, and we wiled away the weekends playing Wiffle ball, volleyball, Jarts, softball, horse shoes, tossing footballs and Frisbees, once had a marshmallow war with some other campers, and generally being carefree.
Not far from where we were told to camp, there was a creek that led to a waterfall. So each morning we’d walk up the creek with a towel, shampoo, tooth brush, tooth paste, and a beverage to wash our mouths out after showering in the waterfall and brushing our teeth.
There were many day trips to Long’s Retreat over those years, especially the summer I was 21. I was at a bit of a transitional point in my life and my girlfriend — now my wife — was working at a drug store in uptown Hillsboro. She had to work weekends, which gave her week days off here and there. My job was through week, but on her off days I called in sick way too many times so we could float the day away on mats at Long’s.
After a handful of Memorial Day weekends with my buddies a Long’s — where our crowd grew larger and louder each year — people starting moving along in life and the tradition came to end. So the next year I decided to try the Memorial Day weekend with the girlfriend and her young son. When I walked in to rent a campsite, they said that would be fine, “but you know where you are camping!”
I explained that I was with my girlfriend and her son — rather than my buddies — and promised to behave if we could camp in a little less remote location. They kind of looked me up and down, then said they’d give me one chance.
I guess we passed the test, because that started a new chapter in our Long’s Retreat adventures. We had a pop-up camper we took there for a few years, had two more sons along the way, and graduated to camping in cabins. It was during one of those cabin trips that we ran into some other friends with kids who had permanent campsites. They told us we needed a permanent site of own, and before long we had a big camper right on water on the back side of the lake amongst our friends.
It was the first of two sites in the same area. They were a lot of fun. We had friends to hang out with and our boys had buddies to run around with. The boys loved it, and have often said they wish we never got rid of the place.
But then they became more and more involved in sports. Before long we were spending more time driving back and forth from Long’s to practices and games on the weekends than enjoying our campsite. Our friends had similar issues. They gave up their sites, and soon we did, too.
I had become a bit disenchanted with the place by then anyway. It had grown to barely resemble the place I started camping at as a teenager, and for me it was just too crowded. In addition, wife also realized it was too much of a hassle running back a forth between the camper and practices and ball games in Hillsboro and elsewhere by then, so I think she was kind of ready to move on, too.
But not for long. In a two or three years she was ready to go back. So, once a year or so we pack up and head to a Long’s cabin. Sometimes she even takes a bunch of kids and goes without me. Just last weekend, when we took five grandkids to Long’s, she wondered why we ever sold our spot, and told one of the grandkids she’d go every weekend if she could.
Sometimes I grumble when she tells me she’s rented a cabin again. But when I get on those remote roads lined with a canopy of tree limbs, special memories of priceless and carefree times come flooding back. Then I’m ready to throw another log of memories on the campfire.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected] or 937-402-2522.