Published for Allen Publishing – March 2011 (click HERE for the link)

The idea of stuffing camping gear and kids and food and entertainment necessities into and on top of a van and driving for four and a half hours made me tired.  But I plowed through the extra work and extra whiny kids by keeping my eye on the prize:  spending three nights camping as a family at the mouth of a beautiful mountain, swimming in a heated pool and hiking in the canyons.  The kids, having performed very little of the manual labor necessary to prepare for the trip, were excited.  I was too once we finally got on the road.

The campground exceeded expectations – gorgeous scenery, playground, heated pool, nice restrooms.  Dinner was perfect because it was cooked over a campfire and slightly charred.  As we were cleaning up and tucking in for the night, a few raindrops started to fall.  But we didn’t worry because the weather forecast had assured us that the chance of rain was less than ten percent – which basically means it won’t rain.  Plus we were the proud owners of a brand-new waterproof tent complete with rain fly.
We learned a few things.
A ten percent chance of rain just might mean that it will rain all night and into the morning.  Waterproof tents with rain flies only keep the water out for three and a half hours.  Puddles of water inside a tent are a huge deterrent to a restful night’s sleep.  Dirt paths and roads and campsites turn into muddy paths and roads and campsites in a downpour.  Pancakes and bacon cannot be cooked outdoors on a camp stove while it’s raining.  RV owners who cook pancakes and bacon in the shelter of their tiny yet very dry kitchens are looked upon with much envy and some malice by tent campers whose stomachs are growling as they trudge through muddy sludge to use the facilities.  The song “Singing in the Rain” does nothing to lift spirits as muddy camping gear is being crammed back into and on top of the van in pouring rain.  Wiping mud off of shoes with a soggy towel as kids are climbing back into the van is an exercise in absolute futility.
The very very very long drive home was uncharacteristically silent until my thirteen-year-old broke it by saying, “That pretty much sucked.”
I pretty much had to agree.
Except that I’m still glad we went camping.  At the very least, it gives us something to talk about.  Had we stayed home watching movies, we would have no memory of that weekend at all.  We now have all kinds of wet and muddy stories to rehash, remember – and laugh about. 
In the interest of full disclosure, I fully admit that it took a solid six months before I could in fact laugh.
I’m currently planning a Spring Break getaway with our family and really hoping it will go a little better – ok a lot better – than our camping trip.  But a perfect vacation isn’t necessarily the end goal.  It’s more about the experiences, whatever they turn out to be.
Here’s to memories of family vacations.   Even the muddy ones.