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Our Great Camping Adventure
I still remember a cold early December day, years ago. I was still living with my parents and was outside, hanging their Christmas lights. The day was cold and windy, but I figured I might as well hang the lights then, as it could only get colder the next week. I couldn’t wear gloves and still hold the lights and tie them down, so I worked without, my hands getting colder and the wind blowing through my hat. About halfway through the job, my father came out, warmly dressed, gloved, and carrying a mug of warm coffee. He took a sip from the cup, looked at my work, commented, “Yup, this is the stuff memories are made of,” and promptly went back inside.
Of course, he was right. I don’t remember hanging lights on any of the other warm (for the month), comfortable Decembers of any other year, but I remember that particular time. There is something to be said for challenging times making for better stories and memories.
I had reason to think of that again recently when I took my wife and children tent camping. It was a rather impulsive decision; the summer was drawing to an end and we had not been tent camping this season. I felt parental guilt about denying my children such an important part of their upbringing. So, I looked at the weather forecast–20% chance of showers that night– decided it was favorable, and made a reservation for one night only. We’d camp one evening and spend the next day at the beach. My wife even agreed to come. It all sounded so simple.
We arrived at the campground in the early afternoon. The man and woman in the check-in booth looked at me oddly when I told them I was checking in for the night, and I couldn’t figure out why. We pulled up to the site and I started setting up the tent. A light off-and-on shower began falling, but that was about what was expected. We ran into an initial challenge when I found the color coding on the tent poles worn through, making it harder to figure out which one went where as the rain gradually increased. Still, we made progress and the rain was still manageable.
The rain continued off and on as we cooked hot dogs and beans over a fire, went for a short walk, and began to be eaten alive by mosquitoes. We had the obligatory campfire, read some of Treasure Island around the fire, and then brushed teeth to put the kids to bed.
And then the clouds opened up. A 20% chance of light showers became 1.5 hours of pouring rain. In theory, the tent was waterproof, but we found theory one thing and practice another as water came in at the seams, creating puddles inside the tent. My son woke up an hour later with a soaked shirt (we found him lying in one of the puddles); my back was wet; only the 9 month old and the girls stayed dry. At last I understood why the people at check-in had looked at me funny. Apparently, the forecast had changed since I’d last checked it.
By morning almost everything was wet. We packed up, still made it to the beach for a couple hours, and then went home to dry everything out before it rained for another 3 days.
A disastrous vacation by any ordinary standard. But was it really?
It was certainly not comfortable or easy. The rain and mosquitoes made sure of that. It was a lot of work. And yet, when we got home, my daughter was already planning next year's trip. Even my wife, who’s idea of “roughing it” growing up was, in her own words, a motel without air conditioning, was planning to come (as long as I remember a tarp next time). The trip may not have been comfortable or easy, but it was still worthwhile. It was, as my dad might have put it, the stuff of which memories are made. More than that, there was something, not easy to explain, about the shared struggle and challenge, and getting through that together. Chesterton once commented that “an inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered,” possibly in this case at least, he was right.
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