We had been warned, I suppose. By Accuweather. By the park ranger. By the actual weather we drove through to make it down the one lane trail of a road to the blocked entrance to the campground. But we made it. We were starving. We were tired. We were perhaps a little dramatic. But we made it.
As a family we have a pretty good division of labor for camping trips. My husband gets the campfire started and begins dinner. (Is this why I love camping?? I hadn’t really put two and two together up until just now. I literally do nothing but set out plastic plates at dinnertime! It’s not the outdoors, it’s the lack of food preparation! Anyway…I love it!) I set up the tent and get things ready for bedtime…which was coming closer…like the rain.
I would not say we are “glam-pers” by any stretch of the imagination, but we do bring air mattresses for our camping trips. And I realized right away that I had forgotten the nice one. The one for the adults. And the batteries were fading in the air pump. But I did my best and set beds up for the crew. Now if you have ever gone camping or shopped for a tent you have seen the person count that identifies how many people can fit in the tent. Like sardines. I think ours is rated for 30 or something (okay, maybe 12), but I struggle to fit the 7 of us. We had one queen size mattress for Nick and I; one twin mattress for our oldest and youngest daughter to share; one twin mattress for our 8 and 3-year-old to share; and a lovely stack of an extra sleeping bag and a flannel sheet for our oldest son. (Perhaps the true hero of the camping section of this trip! More to come…)
The tent was ready. The food was ready. This was my favorite part! We make pretty much the exact same menu every time we camp: brats, potatoes, grilled peppers, baked beans and some kind of fruit…this time it was watermelon! Eating outdoors, after a 5.4 mile hike, brings the dinner table energy to what I long for on a normal day at home. People stay seated, and they don’t complain about the food. At all! Also, they fight over who gets to wash the dishes. I’m not joking, parents, we had to have one kid sit and chill because she was so worked up that it wasn’t her turn to wash the plates. (In hindsight, I should have totally used this to my advantage during our kitchen remodel and sent the kids out to the hose with a bucket in the backyard! Next time!)
At this point it started to drizzle a little. But there were s’mores to be had. So we got tough and roasted our marshmallows and enjoyed the exclamation point on our hike completion. Also, it’s worth noting that I hadn’t thought about how much easier camping would be now that the big kids could be trusted to get the little kids to the bathroom to brush teeth before bed. All the things that were hard just a year ago were easing up now. It’s like that in so many different parts of life, isn’t it!? Just when you get used to one thing being a struggle you look around and no one is in diapers and people sleep through the night ,and you can breathe a sigh of relief. About that one thing.
The tight quarters and excitement of the tent combine for a slower bedtime from in bed to asleep than usual, but even that was easier this time. Now Grace will be Grace so she stuck her head out of the tent with her big silly grin to report things to us. (“I let William use my flashlight.” “I’m only a little tired.”) But eventually the kids fell asleep. All the while Nick and I sat by the fire, drinking our campfire coffees (There’s not much better than a hot cup of coffee made over the fire after a full day!) and trying to pretend it wasn’t raining. Because it was. Kind of a lot. Before too long we gave up the act and cleaned up our site and headed into the tent.
Not long after we got into our sleeping bags, and just moments after I fell asleep, Will sat up crying. I asked what was wrong. “It’s raining!” he cried out. I got up to comfort him and settle him back into his sleeping bag, and as I bent over to tuck him in, rain fell on my head. It WAS raining. In the tent.
It was around 11 o’clock. There was no packing up and leaving the mountain at this point. Nick got out of the tent, found an extra piece of tent material and put it as a layer between the tent and the rain fly. Problem solved. But Will’s spot was soaked, and he was sad, and he’s my baby so he gets away with such things, so we had company on our air mattress for the night. He woke up every half hour or so. Sometimes all the way awake with a sweet “Can I have two snuggles?” sometimes moaning and not getting patient, loving responses. (“Can you PLEASE be quiet! Don’t wake up BooBoo!!!”) As a quick sidenote we have had more than one camping trip that included a night terror. If you don’t have a child who has night terrors (not nightmares, not “scary dreams”, full-on screaming, thrashing, sound asleep TERROR) you may not understand the depth of my concern on this front…but my Gracie is growing through them and our whole family sleeps better these days.
At one point, somewhere in the wee morning hours our oldest son, Lucas, sat up and said “there is a puddle!” and so he snuggled over on our side of the tent between the air mattresses on the floor. I think my rain coat was his pillow. He did not complain for ONE second. In the morning when I saw the puddle I realized what a champion he was. His sweatshirt lying next to him was SOAKED. At six the water started dripping onto Nick and my faces. And the camping trip was over. We quickly got the kids up and into the Big Van through the rain (it was raining too hard to start a fire to cook breakfast), and we broke camp even faster than we had made it. I think all things included we were in the van driving home in under 15 minutes. We made it.
Let me tell you the magical part, though. Despite the rain and the fitful sleep, despite the quick wake up and shuffle through the downpour to the van, despite the lack of breakfast or coffee to greet us, the very first words I heard when I climbed, soaking wet into the Big Van were “Thanks for taking us camping, Mom and Dad!” And that’s why we will keep going, in the rain if necessary. Because it brings our family together for some nature and some adventure. (And although we’ve made it through the night terror stage for the most part, it seems that car-sickness is sticking around for a while. So there’s always that.)