Monday, May 12, 2008

Goodbye to Family Camping

We've had to make a difficult decision to sell our travel trailer. The economy has gotten the best of us, with gasoline prices skyrocketing, our little family budget has gotten squeezed. It seems everything has gone up in price, food (which we never seem to have enough of according to our teen sons), clothing (mom, I need new shoes!), and extracurricular costs--although we try to minimize, with a large family even one or two activities each puts us in the poor house. With a very reluctant heart, we've decided to sell our one large asset that was actually paid for in full! Anyone who knows our camping history might wonder why we are even sad about giving up family camping. I think it's not so much the experiences we've had--because for the most part they've been pretty awful (or funny if you're not experiencing them first hand). It's more the dreams of what our camping trips were supposed to be we mourn.

We started out with family camping because it was an affordable way to have a vacation and the kids always love it! We started 16 yrs. ago with a 3 year old, 1 year old, and me pregnant with our 3rd. We were roughing-it in a tent in June in Hershey Park , PA. Our first clue that maybe God was telling us camping would not be the way for us to make happy family memories was the fact that an hour after the tent was up and we were settling in, a vicious storm came through, including a tornado, ripping right through the campground! Do ya think we took the hint to end our camping way!!! We reset the tent, mopped up the mess and arranged the sleeping bags not to be in puddles and persevered. The next challenge was the train--about 100 yards from our tent, which ran about every 15 minutes through the night. Have you ever felt like a train was coming through your head....we didn't get much sleep! Later that summer, we tried more tent camping in VA. All was going well, I was cleaning up the picnic area, Mike had taken our 3 yr. old over to a sink to do dishes. I placed our 1 yr. old in the tent to play while I straightened up outside. After about 15 minutes I checked inside the tent to see what Kyle was doing. I could see him toddling around inside the whole time and knew there was nothing dangerous in there. Well, I was met with the most awful smell and saw my dear son literally covered from hair to toes with brown--his face and hands included. Evidently he had a stomach virus and his diaper had given out in the worst way! He thought it was a good idea to touch EVERYTHING in the tent. Clean up that night was not fun!

Do you think we took the hint....camping was not for us. Nope--instead we bought a small pop-up with electricity and running water inside. Now, I would finally like camping! We soon realized that no matter how long of a drought there was in any area, if we planned a camping trip there, it was sure to send torrential rain storms and flash-flooding to the area. Maybe that was God's plan for our camping adventures--to save the environment from lack of rain! Having 3 little boys and a baby girl in a small pop up while we worked to keep the rain from leaking in was not my idea of a relaxing vacation!! There were some funny moments. Like when Reid was 4 and couldn't wait to eat the marshmallows we would roast around the campfire. I had been up most of the night with Michie who was coughing and getting over a bad cold. I had finally gotten her quiet at 2 a.m. It was now 4 in the morning when I woke up to a little boy face about an inch from my own. "What's the matter?" I asked. " Can I have a marshmallow now?" "Reid, it's the middle of the night--go back to sleep!" "Pleeeease, can I have a marshmallow!!!???" I weighed the situation in my very tired mind: sleep vs. feeding my child an unhealthy breakfast & not winning healthy -nutrition -mom -of -the- year. It didn't take me long......"here have a marshmallow and GO TO BED!!" Two hours later came another call from across the pop-up "Help, I'm falling out of the hole!" again came the same cry. I decided to investigate this unusual request by sitting up & squinting my very tired eyes over to the other side. There I saw Kyle, age 6, from the shoulders up--the rest of his body, still in his sleeping bag, had slipped through the velcro that held the sides of the camper sealed. His torso & lower half were dangling out the side of the camper! We rescued him and laughed about how funny it must have looked to any early risers out walking by our home on wheels!

We continued with our dream of having fun while camping and with another baby on the way, traded in our small pop-up for a larger, 3-way pop-up that also had air conditioning. We did have one good trip in that one. We went to Niagara Falls with a stop in Watkins Glen, NY on the way. We really did have a nice time and it is one of our favorite family vacations. We still had struggles everytime we set up & took down at the site. It seems there was always some problem with leveling that would take us an hour to fix--of course this always happened either right at dinner time when we were all starving or as darkness overtook the night and we couldn't see anything. More than a few angry exchanges would take place between husband & wife & older boys, who never seemed to help quick enough. But for us, that was all becoming part of our camping life.We grew greedy after that one nice trip and thought we were such veteran campers, we decided to go for the gold!!

We traded in the large pop-up for a 33' travel trailer complete with air conditioning/heater, double bunk beds, bathroom w/shower,livingroom slide-out, and a master bedroom w/a queen size bed more comfortable than my one at home! Our camping dreams went wild! We could go to the beach, the mountains, the Grand Canyon, anywhere! And still have the comforts of home. Unfortunately, with a tow this heavy we had to trade in our mini-van for a 2500 Suburban, in other words, a gas guzzler!!! So, have we used our travel trailer for big adventures? We took a week at the beach in MD. It was okay. By this time our 3 oldest were all teens and if I thought we didn't have enough space in our house, living on top of each other in a home with a width of 10' was not cutting it. Brian, whose bed was the converted living room couch, would routinely lay down to sleep and then toss his dirty socks on the floor during the night. I'd wake up in the morning to start breakfast and have his stinky socks on the kitchen floor--which was 3' from his bed. "This is not your bedroom at home!" I'd yell. "You can't just toss your dirty clothes all over the place!!" Ugggg! I realized that the camper was a great idea--but bought about 10 years too late. Being anywhere in close quarters with teenagers was going to be a challenge. We drove across the country towing the camper when we moved from NJ to TX. Living in the southwest gave me hope that we would have fantastic camping adventures while exploring our new state and even going further west to Arizona & Colorado. I was dreamin' big!!!

We took one major trip to Disney World which had been planned before our move. God once again hit us over the head with the idea that maybe we were never to be a "camping family". We made it there okay--except for having to replace our air conditioner in the suburban in the Florida panhandle. I was challenged again to survive living for 10 days in close quarters with 3 strapping teen boys and cooking meals for a family of 8 in the teeny,tiny kitchen. As long as I was out of the camper, which was frequent in the Disney parks, I was happy. Then came the ride home. Once again in the Florida panhandle, we blew a tire on the suburban. It took an hour in the 95 degree steaming hot/humid afternoon to fix, but Mike was able to get us back on the road. Less than a half hour later, another tire blew. The hot road and pulling the camper was just too much for the old tires. This time we had to be towed. We had to spend the night in a hotel while all four of our tires were replaced. I couldn't wait to get home! The next day we said our prayers for safe travels and eagerly headed west. All was going well until we were about 1 1/2 hrs. from home. While driving over an overpass in a construction zone (no shoulders--just jersey walls), a tour bus speeded past us, sucking our trailer into his lane. For the next 50' feet, we bounced back & forth against the bus and the wall!! Mike kept us on the road by the grace of God. The angels were definitely protecting us that day! We had to find a place to pull over and wait for the police. It delayed us another 2 hours and then finally we made it home, but somehow we still didn't give up our dreams of a happy camping family!

It has been almost 2 years now and we have only taken two more small trips with the camper. We weren't able to bring it back east with us last summer because of the gas prices and our lousy mileage we get while towing. With gasoline prices continuing to go up, and our need for a more affordable family vehicle to use on a day to day basis, we've taken the camper in to a consignment lot. It has been a difficult decision which we postponed a month while we checked out last ditch options to place the camper locally at a lake resort on land that we could purchase. No deals have been met that we can afford and so it was with a heavy sigh that we let the camper go yesterday. How, after reading all this, can you think I would even be sad--well it 's the dreams of the experiences we'll never have that I mourn. I was so sure that our next camping adventure would be the one that would make me join all those other happy camping families I meet and I would be smiling from ear to ear as I said "Our family loooooves to camp"! I guess some dreams never do come true.