Camping with my family was just another part of growing up in Florida. I knew how to relieve myself in bushes and bathe in alligator-infested rivers before I could to read.
During my tween years, I was a member of a kick-ass Girl Scout troop. We camped across the country, crashed Boy Scout conventions, and beat them at their own competitions. (Yes, this girl whipped the boys canoeing, tent pitching, knot-tying, and lip-syncing to Madonna.)
I could gut a fish and even earned my hunter’s education certification. (Not that I’d EVER willingly shoot an animal—come the apocalypse, this girl will live off wild berries and palm hearts or something. Plus I couldn’t hit a target to save my life.)
But you get the point—I was outdoorsy.
I hadn’t spent a night in the wilderness (not counting the night I slept in my backyard hammock) for over twenty years.
And my husband had NEVER been camping—or the kiddo.
It was long past time to introduce my boys to the great outdoors.
So, when a Groupon popped up for a “campground resort” (a.k.a. KOA) practically around the block from kiddo’s soccer fields, I snatched it up. Though on the river and a part of a huge protected wildlife area, it was twenty minuets from home, and ten minutes from a SuperWalmart. Seriously. How rough could it be?
Being the ex-Girl Scout that I am, I made lists. I shopped for lanterns after carefully reading reviews. I dug through Pinterest for campfire cooking recipes. I forced everyone to pitch my parent’s old tent in the backyard so they had a clue what to do when I barked orders. I had this down.
The Morgan’s First Camping Trip was scheduled during Spring Break. The weather in late-March is usually gorgeous here in the Sunshine State—not too hot yet, but perfect for pleasant days at the beach and springs.The mosquitoes usually aren’t around yet to carry me away.
But this year, Spring Break was ridiculously COLD. Like we were running the heat at night. IN FLORIDA. Weather forecasters predicted a freeze night we were scheduled to arrive, so I pleaded with the campground’s office to push our reservation back a day, and we crossed our fingers for a speedy warm-up.
|Yes, this is the SAME tent as above. I won’t mention how old it must be.|
Upon arrival, the weather seemed glorious. The sun shined, the thermometer hovered in the 70s, and a dry breeze rustled the trees around the creek. We pitched the old tent without a hitch, unpacked, and explored. The campground centered around a huge old-fashioned Florida spring, and though the water remained at a chilly 72° year-round, kiddo was brave enough to play. It was a good day.
Did I mention we have always used a gas grill at home? We brought along a cute little portable charcoal grill for cooking. We planned to toss firewood in later for our campfire and s’mores. Uhm—execpt we couldn’t get the damn charcoal to stay lit. Even with the handy-dandy fire starters I’d crafted from cardboard egg cartons, dryer lint, and wax.
So, diner was a little late, and my boys were ready to go all wildman and eat the meat raw by the time I warmed our food. When we tried to arrange the wood to make a campfire, the logs were twice the size of the fire pit/grill. And we had no ax. Well, shoot. Have you ever tried breaking up wood with a utility hammer? Not how Honest Abe used to split logs.
Once the sun went down, the temperature dropped. Rapidly. And the winds picked up. By the time we decided to retire into our snug tent, we realized it was going to drop back into the 40s overnight.
Then I discovered I didn’t pack our sleeping bag.
I swear, I packed half the house in the car. I remembered the air mattress, the air pump, the sheets. But no blanket or sleeping bag to keep us warm.
Did I mention IT WAS REALLY FREAKING COLD?
Hubby offered to drive out to Walmart and buy us a new sleeping bag. Stupid, stubborn me refused. We came with what we came with. If we were in the “real” wilderness, we would figure out how to survive.
We layered every stitch of clothing I’d packed. Huddling under both sheets, the picnic blanket, the beach towels, and even the plastic table cloth, we tried to quiet our chattering teeth. Yes, I contemplated the whole bare-skin-to-skin method for warmth, but we were in public basically, with our snoring WARM kid not two feet away. I’d remembered HIS sleeping bag, complete with the zip-around-the-head warm hoodie.
We survived the freezing night, sleeping in freezing fits, as my frigid ass kept hitting the almost icy ground (turns out the air mattress had a slow leak, too.)
The next morning, we huddled outside, trying to light a fire for warmth in the wind.
We must have looked pitiful. So pitiful that our neighbors in their Mac-Daddy setup brought us some fresh wood to stoke the fire. (These pros pulled in with their fancy RVs and had canopies unfurled, fire pits roaring, steaks grilling, and booze flowing in less than ten minutes. I’m hooking up with them next time.)
Within hours, we shed our gloves and doubled-up socks and donned our swimsuits. We enjoyed a peaceful canoe trip along the gorgeous Wekiva River. Later, we waded through a clear stream to the springs, where kiddo constructed cities in the sand and the hubby and I relaxed with books and beer.
We survived. My boys say they even had fun. We’ll try again soon. I’ve already bought a new tent.
Now I just need to remember the damn sleeping bags.
Are you a camper or is a Holiday Inn your idea of roughing it?