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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Camping :: A comedy of errors

This summer we couldn't afford to fly anywhere to have a vacation, so we were stuck brainstorming ideas for things to do within driving distance. We got a tent, we armed ourselves with books on the best of east coast camping, and we planned to go in the fall so we could avoid the heat and humidity. 

Originally we were going to go in September. We got everything ready to go and then...the forecast said it was going to rain all week. Rainy hot humid tent = no fun, so we postponed. 

This month was full of unavoidable appointments and commitments, which really only left a one-week window of opportunity for a trip north. The forecast looked decent--one rainy day and then chilly, sunny days after that. Sounded good to us, so we packed up and drove to Tennessee. The drive up was uneventful. The kids watched movies. I worked on a little Christmas embroidery. 

Once we got to Chattanooga we took advantage of Art's Marriott points and stayed in a hotel for the night, so we wouldn't have to try to set up camp in the dark after a day of driving. All was going well. 

The next day we made our long, circuitous route to the campground. This place was literally in the middle of nowhere, but it was beautiful. We stopped at the ranger station to get a map and ask some questions, then finished driving up to the campground. It was awesome. A small river wound around the campground, and everything was blanketed in fallen leaves. The trees were in full fall colors, and the sky was brilliant blue. It was quiet and we scored a HUGE campsite right on the river. The kids ran around excitedly while Art and I started unloading and setting everything up.

Once our tent was up Art set up a makeshift "shower" (i.e. a tarp tied to trees) which Ilya wanted to show off.

 The boys and I looked for fallen wood for a fire, but we couldn't find any. So we ended up driving for 45 minutes into the little podunk town to buy some. That took forever. Once we got back we got the fire going, and I put together the shishkebabs for dinner. Everything was going so well. 

I took pictures of the kids and breathed the crisp mountain air. Everyone was excited. 

Finally we put the kids to bed and spent a little time alone by the fire, looking at all the stars. I could see the milky way which was awesome. A little later we turned in, and that's when we experienced the first hiccup. 

Our air mattress was halfway deflated. We rolled into each other and were wedged in the valley in the middle. And it was freezing. What felt nice by the fire was a totally different feeling in a cold tent. My teeth were chattering so hard I thought they might break. I got up and put on a sweatshirt over my pajamas, pulled the hood over my head, and tried to go back to sleep. But my already messed up neck was not liking being contorted at weird angles so I ended up rolling onto the hard ground to sleep. I could hear Art wiggling around on the mattress in discomfort as well, but eventually I fell asleep. And then Mal woke up crying. I finally fell asleep after that, and started raining. And raining. And raining. Thankfully Art had sprayed the whole tent with waterproofing stuff so nothing was dripping on us. But. All the side seams leaked. Which meant the whole perimeter of the tent was a giant icy puddle. Ilya woke up around 6am and said, "Mom. My whole sleeping bag is soaked." It was dark and cold and we spent a few hours huddled in the center of the tent waiting for enough light to figure out what to do. We brought the camp stove inside and made pancakes while the boys sat in one spot and played rock paper scissors and argued with each other. 

Art and I looked at one another. And then we decided to go for a drive. 

So we North Carolina. Foolishly we decided to take the "scenic byway" and it took us three hours to go about 100 miles. At one point we were so completely hysterically slap-happy that every winding turn we would burst into crying laughter. It was foggy and rainy and every road looked identical to the last. Eventually we got to Franklin, where we surprised my Dad and brother Dane by showing up, and spent some time hanging out with them. I'd left my camera in the tent so we didn't get any pictures, though. But other than those idyllic few hours of setting up camp the night before, the time spent with them was probably the highlight of the whole trip. We checked out my dad's art gallery, and then went out to eat with my brother and his friend John Mark. And then...we had to drive back to Tennessee because all our wet stuff was still there. 


We got back when it was dark, and it was still raining. Everything was wet. It was getting colder--in the forties and looking to get colder still--so we left the car running with the heater on full blast and used it as a big dryer. After a few hours our stuff was pretty dry, and we got everyone into bed. We threw handwarmer packets into everyone's sleeping bags but it was still pretty cold. And still raining. A second wet, cold night of tossing and turning and Art waking up every few hours to reinflate the air mattress left us feeling all the joy drained out of us. It was time to go. We told the boys we were leaving and they cried. 

"We didn't get to fish!"
"We didn't get to go on a hike!"

("I haven't had a shower or slept in three days!" I mentally added)

But there was just no way we could stay and endure more of that. It was in the 30's that night and by morning it was only 40. Nobody was having fun. It was time to go. As quickly as we could we packed our stuff up, and got on the road. I won't bore you with the details of the trip but I will say it involved whining, puking, and disappointed children sighing and talking about all the stuff they didn't get to do. We got home around 11pm and I've never been so glad to be home in all my time here. That was the best shower ever. 

The next few days we spent drying everything out, putting away all the food we didn't eat (we've been eating hot dogs for days since we got back) and apparently putting underwear on the outside of one's pants in order to look like a superhero.

Art spent a day sealing all the seams of the tent for next time.

And there will be a next time. I mean, this was not a good trip but you have good days and bad days and the same goes for vacations, right? We'll just hope that next time we don't have a vacation that seems more like something from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

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