Tent Camping: If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.

About 6 months ago, I decided to make reservations at a campground near my family’s cottage, where we celebrate our annual family reunion on the 4th of July. There’s never enough room for everyone to sleep at the cottage, and camp reservations for the 4th of July weekend have to be made 6 months in advance or you’re screwed. I booked 3 nights on January 3rd for July 3rd, crossing my fingers for good weather.

Hello, my name is Kelli and I am a fair-weather camper. Hi, Kelli.

Cut to 5 months later, when my cousin sadly lost his battle with pancreatic cancer and a memorial was planned at my family cottage 5 days before our trip.

So off I went to check with the campground for 4 extra nights…

Sure, we’d have to switch sites mid-camp, but that’s not a big deal, right?! Even though we’ll be tenting it?! The hubs NEEDED and DESERVED a weeklong vacation. Something he rarely does. We’d be less than a mile away from our family cottage on Lake Michigan…

So, I booked it, and crossed my fingers, toes, and lips around a few beers for a week of good weather and attitudes.

I was completely sober at the time of booking, yet… I still don’t quite know what I was thinking.

I drowned myself in planning for everything from the time I booked that week to packing up the invisible jet like a Tetris game.

The weather channel app was stalked more than any social media app on my phone.

The forecast for showers scared me, but I focused on being there for my family and getting camp set up.

The first night, at around 4am, it happened… drip drip drop… POUR. Boom. Lightning. I laid in my metal cot scared our tent wouldn’t hold up… and, of being struck by lightning. But I was in fear alone, as the rest of my family slept through it.

I woke up the hubs… he assured me we were safe, yelled at me to shut the hell up and go back to sleep. Yeah. Sure.

Thankfully, the storm was mainly rainy, and not too bad, at least… compared to the next night.

The hubs and I got up with our kids and started to assess the situation while we both stalked the weather app again. The forecast called for more storms. The hubs even saw the potential for tornados. Why he told me this is beyond me. I was ready to pack it in. The hubs said “this is camping!” Good times.

So after forcing multiple IPAs in me, the hubs somehow convinced me to ignore the forecast and enjoy our day, visit family at the cottage and swim in lake michigan.

After that excitement, we came back to camp, lit a fire, made dinner, and my youngest and I braved the campground showers I know I’ve been watching a lot of OITNB, but these were a notch above prison showers! Living the DREAM!

The four of us snuggled and told stories around the campfire, then crashed after the sun finally went down — around 11p or so.

And now… a timeline.

2am
I wake up to wind, rain, thunder and lightning.

2:30am
My oldest crawls into the cot with me. Crying. So scared. I try to stay strong until the hubs starts yelling at me to go back to sleep… now I’m crying.

3am
Storm is building up instead of improving. In full-on tears, I beg the hubs to join my oldest and me in the van. We’d go to the cottage, but I freaked out wondering what to bring, what to leave. Plus, the hubs was being stubborn about not leaving the tent and I refused to leave them behind! GA! Stress!

3:05am
My oldest and I camp out in the van, holding hands in the front seats, wondering how my youngest was sleeping through all of this… and “why is daddy so crazy and mean at night?” Crying. Laughing. Talking.

3:30am
Screen tent implodes into itself. Chairs fly. Tornado sirens. Yes, I said tornado sirens. I text the hubs to get the fuck out of the tent and bring my youngest ASAP.

3:35am
We are no longer alone in our awakened state of fear — we see the entire campground run to the bathrooms. Already in the van, with my family, I drive. Yeah, I know. I’m such a hard core camper.

Party in the campground bathroom! Who brought the keg?!

4am
The hubs hears whines from all 3 of his girls: “we wanna go home!” Especially after seeing more storms in the forecast for the next few nights. (yes, I was still obsessed with my weather app) More of THIS insanity?! Nope! I assure my kids we’ll be home in about 12hrs. The hubs sighs.

4:15am
Park ranger gives everyone the go-ahead to head back to our sites. Storm is passing. The four of us sit in the van and joke and laugh at the bullshit we just endured.

4:30am
Rain ends. We go back into our tent… Where we all immediately and miraculously sleep until 8:30am.

8:35am
The bright sun drags our tired bodies out of our tent (that suffered ZERO damage! Swiss Gear FTW!!) to tear down the damaged bullshit from our campsite… mainly so we can get to our cooler, save the precious beer, and make some damn coffee before we pack up the rest of our gear and head home.

4:20pm
We arrive back home, safe and sound. Feeling like we had been gone for a week.

Some people have joked “will you ever camp again?!” Yes, of course we will! While I don’t know if I’d ever schedule a week of tent-camping again, I’d be game for a long weekend.

When the weather was good, we were really enjoying ourselves. Even when it was raining — we had some fun talking and playing old maid and connect-four together, instead of being stuck with our noses in electronics.

It was a surprisingly positive experience overall. The wind was so strong the 3 days we were there, the bugs were practically non-existent. We got to spend time with extended family at the cottage and enjoyed swimming big waves in Lake Michigan.

The campground itself was easy to navigate, and our huge tent rocked. We never got wet, and it more than held up through multiple storms and an effing tornado!

Last, but maybe most importantly, it was a character builder and bonding experience for all 4 of us.

Oh, and for those who thought we should’ve stuck it out for the week — a few more storms swept through the campground the next couple of days. We made the right decision. Even if it ended up being crystal clear and a perfect 69 degrees the rest of the week… we knew we made the right decision. We got to enjoy being home. Our beds felt like heaven. We went to the library, read books, napped, watched movies, went to parks, drank good beer, went to see fireworks… basically had some low key days and nights… it was nice.

I used my phone on a music dock quite a bit over our trip. This kept me from taking too many pictures… which is fine. The mental snapshots I have are awesome. And I will savor the following gems from our tent-camping adventures for many years to come.
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12 Comments

  1. Chrissy
    Posted July 7, 2014 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    I love this Kelli! I can so relate. I took my 2 younger kids camping alone last year in a tent. It rained both days, and I spent the nights awake alone listening to rain and missing my hubby. But I made it through and proved to myself I CAN get through things. And like I told the kids, it will be the camping trip they always remember!

    • Edie
      Posted July 7, 2014 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

      Oh my this sounds like me! We go camping and sure enough it’s all nice and dandy until the big storm rolls in. Even in our pop up I freak out like you wouldn’t believe and vow I will never go thru this again. Hating my husband at how cool he stays they the whole thing making me look like I’m crazy. And yet here I go back every year praying for nice weather. I hate those strong winds on Lake Michigan at night. I guess I’m a fare weather camper like you. Not even the beer will help no matter how many I drink lol 😉

      • Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:40 am | Permalink

        I grew up camping in a pop-up – I don’t think I would’ve felt any safer in that over these few days!! HA! However, I did enjoy the Lake Michigan winds — they kept the bugs to a minimum!! Win for sure!

    • Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Chrissy! Glad you survived your trip! It was a character builder and fun memory of survival for us for sure!

  2. ron
    Posted July 8, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Lovely story, Kelli. You did the right thing by missing the storms that were worse on Tuesday. Thanks for coming to Keith’s wake.

    • Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Ron! I have no regrets about being there for Keith’s wake. Glad we could swing that. In other news… I can’t believe there was a worse storm after we left! Crazy.

  3. Posted July 8, 2014 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    Oh goodness! We were at South Higgins Lake State Park for 8 days. This was the first year where we didn’t have a horrendous storm while up there but last year we had a horrible storm that my kid napped through where our whole camp site was under water and her shoes had floated over to pthe next camp site when it had stopped! Thank god for a pop up. No more tenting for me. Ever.

    • Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      BWHAHAHA! Hey, at least you survived! I camped a LOT at Higgins growing up!! After this experience, I did vow to never tent-camp more than 3 days unless it was between 50-80 degrees and mostly sunny. We had a serious case of RV-envy… Even if our tent rocked it like a hurricane.

  4. Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    You? Are a braver mama than I’d ever be!!!

    This is hilarious, awesome and totally scary.

    But? MAKING MEMORIES!!!

    • Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      HA!! Yes, memories for sure!! I know my oldest will never forget it. Heck, she is already changed — we came home and a spider was crawling across the kitchen floor. She just walked in, stomped it out, and kept walking. Survivor!

  5. Posted July 10, 2014 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    That is so crazy! We had rain every night for 16 except for maybe 2 and the winds were crazy too, but no tornado or tornado sirens…thank goodness. That would be really really scary! Especially if we had been at an outhouse only place. I mean how many people can you fit in there. We also experienced coin operated showers for the first time. That was fun! Glad you are all safe and sound.

    • Posted July 10, 2014 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

      You amaze me. Over 2 weeks?! AND it rained every night?!?? Wow. Thankfully, we had actual bathrooms with plumbing, but it was still a squeeze when those sirens went off! I don’t think I could do more than a weekend with only outhouses/pit toilets. I could write an entire post on public toilet adventures with my 2 little girls…

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    Kelli Williams

    Keeping up with 2 little girls, writing assignments, music gigs, the house, laundry, ETC, backwards, wearing ass kicking boots and a smile, without spilling my beer. Ok, ok, so I spill my beer, but my floors have never been more germ-free since I started putting a little alcohol on them. Who needs ammonia...

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