Not So Happy Campers

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Now that summer is officially here, I have been dying to get out and go camping. It's one of my favorite things to do and we still have not gone on a trip yet this year.

Mike and I are really outdoorsy people. We love to camp, hike, bike, kayak, swim, and fish. In our first summer together, we spent almost every weekend exploring and camping in parks up and down the east coast. Our all time favorite place so far has been the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.
We have been back to visit several times since we first discovered the area and we love it more every time we go. Our first trip will always be the most memorable, though.

We hiked...
We saw gorgeous mountains...
We saw some beautiful wildlife...

We ate s'mores...
We had the time of our lives getting to know each other and sharing our love for nature...
And of course, to top it all off, we did what every couple does on their first trip... we broke the law together...
The story behind this photo is one that our family will never let us live down. It's funny to talk about now but at the time, Mike and I were far from amused.

I will start off by saying that we are not typically rule-breakers of any kind. We respect authority and try hard to follow rules and laws regardless of where we are or what we are doing. Up until that trip, Mike and I had never been in trouble with the law before.

That being said, I think that law enforcement in Virginia is probably the most strict (and ridiculous) of all the states. I understand that laws are put in place to keep people safe, but if people are unaware of the existence of those laws in the first place, it is impossible to expect them to be followed.

The picture above was actually taken on our way out of Shenandoah. We had such a blast on our first trip together that we didn't want the fun to end, so we stopped at Great Falls Park to do just a little more hiking before heading home.

We hiked a trail that followed the river on the Virginia side and after a few miles, we looked for a nice place to eat our lunch that was close to the water. Keep in mind that throughout the trail, there were many paths - totally cleared and very well traveled - that led straight to the water. None of these paths were restricted or blocked off in any way. None of them had any signs or indicated rules of any kind.

We found one that we thought looked good and headed to the river. When we got down there, we saw dozens of people relaxing in the sun, eating, and swimming down by the rocks.

Mike and I quickly ate our lunch and then decided that it might be fun to hop in the river and cool off for a bit. So we stripped down to our bathing suits and jumped in. We were just getting comfortable with the chilly waters when out of nowhere we heard a voice right be hind us shout "GET OUT OF THE WATER! GET OUT OF THE WATER NOW!"

We had no idea where the voice was coming from until we climbed out and saw the boots of a state trooper on the rocks above us. It was hard not to notice his gun and taser gleaming in the sunlight.

Before we had a chance to say anything, he informed us that we were breaking the law by swimming in the river and began to collect our personal information. He told us that there had been almost a dozen deaths the year before due to the rough currents and that we should have known better than to get in the "treacherous" water.

Now, I understand that there are parts of the Potomac that can be dangerous, but look at the water in the photo. Does that look rough to you?!

While he was writing up our citations, we noticed that the dozens of other park visitors were getting tickets as well. I remember being absolutely stunned. Mike was furious.

There were no signs, no indication of any kind that swimming in the river was prohibited or even dangerous. If there really were that many people that died, it should have been plastered all over the trails!

While Mike sat on the rocks clearly fuming, I tried hard to remain cooperative. I asked the officer what kind of fine we owed and how to pay it. He looked me in the eye and said, "There's no fine. You don't owe anything. It's mandatory appearance only. The only thing you have to do is show up in court. They usually give offenders like you community service hours to complete and then that's it."

Then I started to get angry. So the state didn't want our money but they wanted us to take time off of work and school to drive all the way back down to Virginia to get a sentence of community service?! I would rather just pay a fine and be done with it!

The officer finished writing out our tickets and then moved on down the shore to cite more people. We hiked back to the car cursing him, Virginia, Great Falls, the Potomac, and pretty much all of humanity the whole way.

A few months later, we drove down to the courthouse in Richmond to receive our sentencing. There were hundreds of people there all for the same crime - "Unlawfully Wading in the Potomac River." Some people showed up with lawyers and photos to prove that there were no markings or signs to say that swimming was against the law.

Even though the whole thing was ridiculous, we didn't fight it. We took our 30 hours of community service and turned the trip to Virginia into another camping adventure.
This was taken in Shenandoah just after our court appearance.

It didn't stop us from enjoying all that Virginia has to offer - we've just learned to stay out of the water!

No comments:

Post a Comment