The texts flew fast and furiously between family members. As the week wore on, the frequency intensified.
“Does someone have an extra sleeping bag we can use?”
“Anyone bringing bags?” Response: “I’m bringing trash bags.” Clarification: “Uh…the game bags?”
“Here’s a link to a spreadsheet to sign up for group meals. Each family will cook one breakfast or dinner.” We could count on Carl to get us organized.
“S’mores! I’ll bring that stuff!” Erik had his priorities.
“We’re running out of room. We travel with the kitchen sink these days.” That from Karen, mother of four.
“I think the whole point of car camping is to bring way too much stuff.” Little did we know just what Carl meant by that comment.
It was the first family camping trip since we took our kids to the Boundary Waters 15 years ago. That outing numbered 5 family members and required just two small tents. For this camp-out the same offspring spawned a total count of 9 adults, 7 kids and 2 dogs, including our Czech daughter, Pavla, and her two daughters.
Emanating from Ostrava, Duluth, the Twin Cities and Milwaukee we converged on Great River Bluffs State Park. Filling four campsites with six tents, we gathered to spend two days together in the great outdoors.
Camping with kids ranging from 3 months old to 11 years was pretty brave – especially when it was a first-time experience for all of those kiddos. Even the adults faced some challenges. Karen surprised everyone by cheerfully forgoing her careful hair styling for the weekend. Pavla agreed to the trip thinking we meant sleeping in “campers.” Despite the snafu in translation, she and her girls quickly adapted to the more primitive tenting conditions.
Anticipating this weekend, I’m certain we all envisioned sunny warm days and crisp cool nights. In reality, we arrived in high heat and humidity under ominous clouds, and barely got our tents up before the monsoon-like rains descended. At the same time, Rich and I discovered that a tent, two sleeping bags and sleep mats were still sitting on the floor of our garage at home. It was an easy decision to scuttle our dinner cookout and nestle into the nearest pizzeria for the duration. A quick detour via Walmart solved the missing tent problem.
Nobody slept well. Little bodies wiggled. Bugs bugged them. Night fears erupted. Young ones rose with the sun. Even those of us without youthful charges struggled in the heat. But it’s camping. It’s all part of the experience.
Although morning brought soggy conditions and stifling humidity, the group mustered on. Wads of mud collected on our shoes as we hiked. Bug spray permeated our pours. Clothing collected grime. A legion of lawn chairs drifted between campsites for meals. Pavla learned a new saying, “like herding cats.” And smiles persisted.A trip to the beach on the Mississippi River soothed our sweaty bodies and itchy bug bites. Ice cream cones on the return trip sealed the pleasure. Big kids blew bubbles for little kids. Erik and Katie gained favored status by sharing their new puppy. A reluctant campfire finally caught and lulled us with its mesmerizing glow. I basked in the revelation that my only requirement for the weekend was to sit, visit, play and drink in the presence of my family.The fact that the World Cup finals were scheduled for 10am Sunday morning gave little pause for concern to the sports enthusiasts in the family. At the appointed hour, those lawn chairs made their final pilgrimage to Carl and Chelsea’s tent site. A flat screen TV running off the car battery grabbed the local broadcast signal and game snacks graced the picnic table. Game on! Although I chose an alternate activity, walking the dogs with the moms and kids, I had to admire the ingenuity.Texts flew once again on the way home and signaling safe arrivals. Judging by the frequency of the term “great camping weekend” I’d say it was a success. I hope it’s not another 15 years before we do this again.