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Sara Ahrens’ OffBeat: Family Vacation II — where we compete with the Griswolds in the outdoors

This year my daughter got her driver’s license and her first serious boyfriend. This combination has made this year a sad and lonely reminder that in a very short period of time, my daughter will move out and move on. Actually, she’ll probably drive away.

Thanksgiving Plans unfold — a little something for everyone in the family 

My daughter is not a hunter, which means this time of year there is a noticeable separation in our family. She has always been a sensitive soul, and I don’t think she would enjoy hunting. I love my daughter as a person, and I don’t try to change her. I find myself torn between finding a way to pursue my interests and spending time with her. Needless to say, when my husband and son suggested we go hunting over Thanksgiving weekend, I had my doubts. I think over the Thanksgiving holiday, being together with family isn’t optional so long as I control it. I knew my daughter wouldn’t come hunting. Then we decided to make it a camping trip, even though we had never gone camping as a family. I really wanted my daughter to come so I invited her boyfriend, too. I was surprised they agreed since they are more comfortable on a stage singing than roughing it. I think my daughter’s boyfriend is afraid of offending us, so he agreed to come. 

Lack of planning leads to disaster in the woods 

It quickly became obvious that we didn’t plan this trip very well. I got off work and planned to sleep a couple hours before heading out to our land with our daughter, her boyfriend and our dog. My husband and son decided they would leave early to set up the tent and to hunt. After barely falling asleep, I awoke to some argument between my husband and son. I have no idea what it was about, but my husband was already irritated and I wasn’t going back to sleep. I guess this ended up being a good thing, since I lacked some necessary gear.

After my husband and son left, my daughter and I packed for the trip. She then informed me that she doesn’t even own a sleeping bag. We realized that we would now have to stop and buy one. I began to pack food but then remembered I hadn’t bought groceries in a week. So we packed up the car and headed to pick up her boyfriend when I noticed the gas tank was on empty. In the end, I had to make three unplanned stops, which significantly slowed our arrival.

When we finally got to the woods I had just enough time to unpack and walk uphill to my stand before dark. As I made my way up to the top of our woods, I happened upon several deer near my stand. I had hoped to make it to my stand before they came in, but I was too late. I suspected that those were the last deer I would see since I had about 45 minutes of daylight left. I was right! I climbed out of my stand and made my way back to our camp area in the dark.

teens at campfire under blanket

Can you see her teeth chattering? Photo courtesy of Sara Ahrens

The temperature was dropping quickly and I found my family sitting around the fire. My daughter and her boyfriend looked cold and miserable. They were huddled around the fire under a blanket. It looked like my daughter was beginning to reconsider her apparel choice … skinny jeans. I offered both of them additional layers of clothing, which I had brought for them, since I know they do not own clothing appropriate for the outdoors but for some reason they would only accept hand warmers. It was cold and the fire would have been nice, if it wasn’t for the fact that it was incredibly smoky. It was impossible to get close enough to the fire to get warm, but far enough away to avoid its adverse effects. It didn’t take long until my eyes were red and burning, my sinuses were plugged, and my head was pounding. I was getting chilly, too, because I left some of my best gear at home thinking I would be sitting around a warm fire. The few items I did pack, I gave to my son to stay warm.

Once upon a long, cold, dark night …

As we sat around the fire, my daughter asked, “What time is it?” I assume she asked that because she couldn’t ask, “Are we there yet?” Both questions really mean, ‘I’m done and want this to end.’ When I told her it was only five-thirty. They were horrified! That emotion soon passed when my son began showing off the squirrel he had shot earlier. I guess he thought she couldn’t see it because he shoved it in her face. He does it even though he knows it will result in getting yelled at, which it did. My husband got angry and I began to wonder why I thought camping was a good idea.

children around campfire

That Mikey … an Energizer bunny kid. Photo courtesy of Sara Ahrens

I tried to change the mood, which was quickly turning negative and made dinner. We ate by the fire and talked. My daughter complained of a stomachache so as a last resort I began to play stand up comedy on my iPhone. It was all I could do to keep the mood bearable. When we could no longer stand the cold and the smoke we went to bed. I guess it’s like being sick … where all you want to do is sleep through the experience and wake up recovered.

I was certain that I would eventually get warm once inside my sleeping bag though I had never actually tested it’s effectiveness. It said was rated for 0 degrees, and it was going to get down to about 20 degrees so I should have been warm. My son then told me that he got the inside of his sleeping bag wet somehow, so I gave him my Heater Body Suit. I tried unsuccessfully to sleep, but I could hear everyone (except my husband) tossing and turning. After two hours I noticed I wasn’t warming up. My daughter then said she and her boyfriend were going to sit in the car because they were cold. (I found out later that I had mistakenly bought her a youth sleeping bag that was too small, so it only covered her to her armpits.) As I tried to sleep I began to worry my kids were going to get sick. I woke my husband and told him I was taking the kids home. I didn’t want him to leave because selfishly, I didn’t want to tear the camp down, but he insisted.

Who fed the dog that?

After tearing down and packing up, I drove home stopping at McDonalds to get us something to eat. We continued home, when we were eating I noticed a sour smell. I turned on my dome light and looked into the backseat, where I discovered our dog had vomited on the floor. I guess the good news is that he made sure to throw up on all three of our sleeping bags. We were still about a half an hour from home and I thought if I stopped to clean the car, I would make a bigger mess. We voted and decided to get home as quick as possible. I continued homebound gagging the entire way home, which had my daughter and her boyfriend cracking up and promising that if I were to throw up, they would too. That was strong motivation to keep it down.

kids camping

Camping isn’t always fun, but it can be funny. Photo courtesy of Sara Ahrens

Camping isn’t fun … it’s funny 

We finally got home at close to 4 o’clock in the morning. I cleaned up the car and went to bed. I was never so relieved to be home and in my bed! I wondered why anyone would go camping. It was a disaster, but then it dawned on me that even as terrible as the experience was, we had just created some of the funniest memories our family had experienced in a long time. I know there won’t be many more opportunities to do that, and I cannot wait to try it again when the weather breaks.

 

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