The Tale of Two Campgrounds

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Summer vacation is winding down for us. School starts next week for our little guy. Perfect excuse to get in an adventure! How about some backyard camping? Thankfully we have a large backyard, which helps with the illusion of roughing it in the great outdoors. With our little guy’s sensory issues we need to make sure a night in the tent hits all his comfort zones spots. And thankfully we can say it did. Isaac had a blast, “I love it!”

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Camping is not new to us. When our older guys were little we did quite a bit of camping. The two most memorable trips were one unforgettably cold weekend in January camping at Shiloh, Mississippi with our guy’s scout troop, and a family vacation in South Carolina.

What were those scout leaders thinking? Who in their right minds decides to go camping in January? What a shiveringly frigid weekend! The overnight temps were below freezing, which doesn’t make for comfort sleeping as our equipment was inadequate for such extreme temperatures. However, we did have an epic campfire, which felt gloriously warm, and despite the teeth chattering discomfort our guys had a great time, which was the entire purpose of the expedition.

The other memorable camping trip was the next year to Hunting Island, South Carolina in June!
Ahhhh,…those balmy temps were ever so appreciated! There is no two ways about it, camping on an Island is totally cool. The first night our campsite was nearly on the beach, only a huge dune separated us, and saved us!

Thank goodness for that dune! There had been a tropical storm only days before we arrived and the tide was high, which meant that that HUGE dune was the only thing between us and the undertow. Yeah, it’s slightly alarming to wake in the middle of the night to the sound of crashing waves only twenty feet or so from your tent.  Needless to say the next morning we moved a tad inland, which seemed safer.

Safer?

What is it about waking up in the middle of the night in a tent that leads to one not feeling safe? Maybe it was the sounds of a fight, shouts, screams, stuff getting thrown about, drunken feet running past your tent, and someone screeching, “Put that gun down!”

Wow! Does one ever feel vulnerable with only flimsy canvas between them and trouble. Not that anything happened. Camp security was there in no time, and then local, island police. We heard their walkie-talkies, the reassurance of their purposeful steps, the strobing lights from their vehicles, all was well.

Camping, like life, is a process. 

Okay, I confess in Shiloh we didn’t hang around for an extra night. We were new to camping, especially winter camping and we didn’t have adequate equipment. Hyperthermia is not a joke, and the weather reports were predicting plummeting temps, and chances of an ice storm. We garnered what fun we could from the trip and some important lessons.

1. Building an epic fire will make you very popular with others. Hello we were with a troop of scouts, but no one else bothered to build a fire and their camping equipment wasn’t any better than ours, except those in RVs, lucky them. Whatever, we were only too happy to share, even with the RV folks, it made the experience even more fun. And the experience was a blast! We had the campground to ourselves, we discovered coffee and hot chocolate taste a thousand times better outside when you are freezing, and the random snowflakes drifting down were breathtakingly beautiful in the woodland setting.

2. Be prepared for anything. Did we look at the sleeping bag ratings before we left? Nope, but only because we didn’t realize sleeping bags have ratings. Nor did we realize the extreme necessity of having a ground cloth inside the tent. Lesson, learned.

More lessons?
Of course, the process of becoming a camper is all about learning from your experiences. The regrettable January freeze out in Shiloh didn’t stop us from attempting our June camping expedition. Nor did the two unfortunate incidents in South Carolina keep us from enjoying the rest of our Hunting Island vacation. Not that we needed to in June, but we checked the sleeping bag ratings before we left the house, and invested in better camping equipment.

3.  Investments are worth the investment. Trust me, a ten-man tent for four people feels like a luxury suite with plenty of room to spread out and neatly store your gear. No one got cranky about having to climb over each other to find stuff. Important for a week’s worth of camping.
4.  Location, location, location.  It’s the newbies that always seem to make the most mistakes. Hello, there had to be a reason why that ultra-cool campsite right next to the beach wasn’t already taken. It had been a long drive, we were hot, tired, and ready to strike camp and get some grub, and clearly we weren’t thinking straight. Ocean, dune, tides, storms, no one was there to set us straight, but no one should have had to set us straight. When venturing into a new location – it was our responsibility to know what we would likely encounter. For goodness sakes we were camping on an island. Needless to say we learned, and we learned quick. Have you any idea how loud waves can sound crashing yards from your tent in the middle of the night? It’s loud, really, really loud.
5.  No matter what you do stuff will still happen. Like raccoons, exceptionally talented raccoons, who got into our cooler and plastic tub. How? I have no idea, I could barely lift the latch on that plastic tub, hence we thought our little guy’s pop tarts were safe. Did you know raccoons like pop tarts? And bacon and eggs, and loaf bread, too. The peanut butter jar stumped them. Ha! We got you there Mr. Raccoon, but it was a hollow victory, and a major pain to have to lock up everything into the truck cab. No one was happy about the food situation, not us, nor the sulking raccoons, but it was certainly a lesson in ‘go with the flow.’ — a lesson we’d desperately need about twelve years later when our little guy was diagnosed with Autism.
6. Every experience is a training ground. At the time, if anyone had told me camping in Shiloh in the dead of winter was going to be a help later in life, I would have rolled with laughter. How could shivering through the night with chattering teeth in two pair of pants, three shirts, two jackets, a hat, gloves, and wooly scarf, while encased in a sleeping bag teach me anything?

For one, I learned how much I loved my guys. Not that I didn’t already know, but it emphasized what I was willing to ‘cheerfully’ do for them. Make no mistake, we were frozen, but we had a blast that weekend, which leads into the most important life lesson camping has taught.

Happiness is a choice.

Our lives are free will. We get to choose how we respond to freezing campgrounds, wayward raccoons, mistakes made by ourselves, and others. Thank goodness that midnight campground fight didn’t escalate into gun fire! Boy, that night were we ever praying Psalm 91: 9-10 “If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent.” 

The next morning we woke with the dawn with the choice: go or stay. Home is safer, but you can’t experience the world from the shelter of four walls. The only way to expand your horizons is to step out on faith.

Faith is also a choice. 

Wouldn’t you just know it, but that next night I was once again awaken at midnight. Our youngest needed a ‘midnight break’ — oh dear,…just him and I wandering through the sleeping campgrounds to the spotlessly clean restrooms. Never have you seen such clean restrooms in a state park!!!! Come to find some of the RV residents cleaned them in exchange for their site. After the previous night’s rampage, there was something very comforting about the spick-and-span conditions of those restrooms. Hello, no one expects to find pristine restrooms at a campground, but that elderly couple who cleaned those restrooms expressed their concern for their fellow campers by what means they had. “Love one another, be kind to one another.”  Certainly it made a midnight restroom run with a nine year so much easier, especially since my little guy was wide awake.

“Let’s see the waves!”

Oh dear,…the let’s be brave,...let’s have faith talks with our little guys had borne fruit.

True, it’s not exactly prudent to peek over a sand dune at midnight to see crashing waves, especially when there is a full moon. But either you have faith or you don’t, and the sea didn’t sound stormy.

Have you ever peeked over a sand dune at midnight with a full moon nearly light as day? The tide wasn’t in and before us lay the pristine beach magically lit by the shimmering light that sparkled like diamonds. Okay I am being lyrical, but with the sand and the foam and the waves the moonlight was breathtaking! What an experience to walk on the damp sand with your little one in such a glorious setting with the stars over head, the moderate waves murmuring upon the sand, little crabs scuttling along the surf line.

What a memory!

The rewards of freezing in January? Or perhaps learning that camping like life is a process. Stuff happens, and sometimes it’s uncomfortable or unpleasant, but that doesn’t mean extraordinary experiences aren’t just around the corner.

Did I want to get out of the tent that midnight when my little guy was tapping my shoulder with a desperate, “Mama, Mama,…I gotta go!”?

Ah,…no,…no I didn’t, but boy am I so glad I didn’t give into fear. The campground was safe, on our way back to the tent with the hem of our pajamas slightly damp from the surf, we could see the patrol cars making rounds. Climbing back into our sleeping bags with our hearts singing with the extraordinary beauty we had just experienced we slept,…peaceful and unafraid.

Be brave.
Have faith. 

“Enlarge the place of your tent,stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back;
lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left,…” Isaiah 54: 2-3

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness, and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19

Are you going through a learning process in a wilderness or a wasteland at the moment? Take courage you are being trained for new experiences – some to help others – some to help yourself – and some so extraordinary the only response is to sing, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Psalm 8:1

God bless and keep you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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