"I don't work 40 hours a week to pretend I'm homeless on the weekend."
This is a direct quote from my husband, a wise sage of a man, that has been repeated and borrowed countless times by numerous individuals. It's funny and it's also true, and yet despite several less than ideal camping experiences I continue to hold tight to my belief that camping is totally worth it all. It's an adventure! It's good family fun! It's an opportunity to unplug and simplify! It's a great way to get in touch with nature!
And oh did we get in touch with nature on our latest camping trip two weeks ago.
In a life filled with obligations, my family was able to narrow down an entire summer of weekends down to one where we were all in the same state with no prior engagements. Scoping out an already known by heart campground, we decided on two prime campsites to use as the scene for what we were sure would be a weekend to remember. This was going to be little Pebbles first camping experience, an event that my girls were beyond excited to be a part of. As we prepped, purchased, penned lists, and packed we took a little time to fret over the never wavering forecast of unfavorable weather. "What if it rains?," the girls would ask. "We aren't going to let a little rain stop us! We are camping no matter what".
Please keep in mind, this was the forecast for both Friday and Saturday, taken straight from The Weather Channel app: Isolated thunderstorms in the morning, then variable clouds during the afternoon with strong thunderstorms. Storms may produce large hail and strong winds. High 78. Winds SSW at 15 to 25 mph. Chance of rain 70% . Not exactly favorable for tent camping, but whatever.
Friday morning dawned with partly sunny skies and faces bright as sunshine as the girls and I finished loading the car. A call at 8 am from my dad was punctuated by two questions: Are you bringing jackets because it's a little cool and Do you still want to do this? We answered in the affirmative, unwavering in our enthusiasm, to both.
An hour's drive later the girls and I pulled into the campground of my youth encouraged by the still mostly sunny skies. We were the first of our party to arrive; in fact, driving through the campground I quickly realized we were among the only ones in the entire park. Of over a hundred campsites available, there were maybe seven other sites occupied.
|Two very happy campers|
|Site 1: from my dad's red car to my silver car. It extends from the road back behind the tents about another 10 feet.|
|Site 2: From my car to just beyond the tree in the upper left corner. Lots of room to run and play!|
|Campsite across the road. Take your pick!|
Not long after we arrived, my mom showed up. Let me remind those of you who have been following for awhile: we grew up tent camping, but my parents made the switch to the luxurious life of a camper a few years ago. Due to limited free time for camping and a sense of fiscal responsibility, my parents sold their camper a year or so ago. This would be their first foray back into the world of REAL camping, marked by the celebratory purchase of a brand new ten person tent complete with LED lighting system. As mom exited her vehicle, her face read less "This is going to be such a wonderful weekend spent with family" and more "I've just entered the seventh circle of Hell". A quick pep talk from me about how life is what you make of it and the always welcomed distraction of her two very excited granddaughters seemed to lift her spirits just slightly (but not before she could utter a very heartfelt, "This is so stupid").
My dad arrived soon after looking slightly harried (see above paragraph re: my mother's mood), and we were fast to get to setting up our tent sites. We knew we were in a race against nature and wanted to get these tents up quickly before the weather turned. While we tended to those duties, the girls and my mom wandered the nearby attractions, mesmerized by the awesomeness that is a pair of binoculars. A light misting did little to dampen spirits.
With tents assembled and my car unloaded, dad decided he would go back into town for a few more provisions (i.e., McDonald's) while I joined the three trekkers on an extended nature walk. It wasn't until we neared the end of our walk that the rain became a little more substantial, but again we weren't concerned. Looking at the radar I was aware that things would likely get worse before they got better, but we weren't going to let a little rain stop us!
|McKenna's find of the day, hidden in the grass along our hike|
Just after 3:30, following a phone call from The General and another glance at the doppler, we decided to retire to our respective tents for a little quiet time. Our timing was simultaneously to the unleashing of a storm none of us could have imagined. Pounding rain, thunder and lightning in stereo, and substantial winds whirled around us. Only a foot or so away, the sounds of nature we so loud I couldn't even hear my parents yelling for updates on the girls. I don't know why there were concerned: while they were mopping up leaks in their new tent and simmer with righteous anger (I'll let you guess who was doing what), the three of us were reading, singing along to iPods, Facebooking, and napping. It was gloriously serene despite being separated by a fierce weather system by nothing more than a thin layer of nylon.
Almost two hours later, the storm finally broke. We learned that only three miles from us there were reports of receiving an inch and a half of rain in five minutes time. Roads were covered with run-off from nearby fields and others were closed due to flooding. "If we can make it through that, we can make it through anything!" was my dad's enthusiastic reply to our afternoon ordeal.
|This was the scene just outside the door to our tent. You could not escape the mud.|
The five of us met up with my brother, sister-in-law, and niece for dinner at a nearby restaurant (the planned campfire meal was not going to happen thanks to the drenched conditions). Upon finishing our meal, Erik stated defiantly that he was still going to sleep in his tent that night. As darkness quickly enveloped the campground, my brother, dad, and I got his tent set up as the rain started falling again. I had just gone into my parents tent to check on the girls when my dad and brother walked in behind me and announced, "We have to leave. Right now. The park officials are making everyone evacuate because they're afraid the dam is going to get wiped out".
Elaina starts crying, not because she's scared but because "You promised we'd go camping no matter what". McKenna looked at Elaina and not-so-lovingly told her, "Just get over it. That's life". I thought we would simply load our vehicles with our clothes and come back in the morning; my dad informed me that, no, we would be dismantling the entire campsite. In the rain. And lightning. In the dark. Shit.
So I might have sort of lost my cool composure in those 45 minutes. I might have started dashing around like a crazed person, shoving camping gear haphazardly wherever and however it would fit. I lost my phone at one point, but never did I lost site of one prevailing thought, "Now I get it. Now I know why The General hates camping, and OH MY GOD I am so glad he is not here right now".
Back at my parents house, a little muddy and a lot frazzled, we spent the following two nights drying out tents and tarps, eating food designated for the campground, and cleaning laundry. Did the dam ever break? No. Did the girls care that our weekend plans were altered pretty significantly? It didn't appear to bother them. Did we still have a weekend filled with laughter and memories that would wash away clouds on even the darkest days? Of course.
So why do I love camping? Well, you really can't beat the stories that come out of a weekend spent living like you're homeless.
(For the record, The General does not regret declining ever open invitation to join us. He's happy to partake in the memories by proxy.)