Our first ever girls camping trip was on the books.
We planned for it. We trained for it.
I learned how to back up and hook up the pop-up, empty black water, and chop firewood. I’ll be the first to admit, the timing was not ideal on any front, but by golly, we were determined to make this trip happen because we needed some time to laugh and relax.
We got one of those.
It was rainy all morning the day of and a cold front was blowing in as we scurried to finish up a hundred last-minute things so we could leave town – but, it was happening! We were flying by the seat of our pants (figuratively, because as Mary said, “But I don’t actually know where my pants are”) but by the time we FINALLY pulled out, the rain had let up. I was feeling like pretty good stuff cruising down the highway pulling that pop-up, passing fellow haulers on the road. I see your cattle trailer there. Nice. Did you see my pop-up? (insert fist bump emoji here)
We arrived at the perfect time to a sold-out campground full of brisk air and swirling fall leaves. I found our spot, pulled all the way past it like Calen taught me, “got in front of my trailer,” and backed that baby up flush with the driveway, perfectly situated on the first try (photo evidence at the top of this post because it is one of the very few things from this trip that I can say I’m proud of). Mary and I squealed as I got out of my car and she broke out the Girl Power song she had found especially for our trip. I tried linking it in my Instagram stories but it’s an obscure song sung by what sounds like a group of pre-teens and they didn’t have it. That’s okay, though, because Mary knows it by heart (at least the “girl power!” part and two other lines – come to think of it, those might be the only parts she knows. But she knows them WELL).
We set to work, Mary snapping pictures to commemorate our adventure while I unhitched the camper, leveled it, and put down the jacks. It felt like it had taken forever just to get on the road and it took a while to check in and all I could think of was how good it would feel to get camp set up so we could take a hike or kick back and relax.
We were so close.
And yet, so (so) far away.
We undid the latches, started cranking her up, and laughed when we noticed our Starbucks sitting on the roof of the rising camper. How funny it would be to raise the camper, only to look up and see our coffees sitting way up there! But bless its heart, the camper never would get far enough to take our Starbucks out of reach (I mean, partly because we would go to great lengths to rescue them, but in this case, it was because the roof never got a chance to go that high).
I grabbed our drinks as Mary took over cranking the camper up and a second later she said, “This is like (grunt), really hard.”
I smiled, because I know it isn’t easy, and said in a teasing tone, “Yeah, you gotta put some muscle into it, Mary! It’s not easy.”
Put some muscle into it, she did. A second later we heard the sound that brought all of our pop-up camping dreams to a screeching halt. A loud snap reverberated through the air as Mary’s head whipped up, her eyes wide as they locked with mine. And while Mary was confident that something “just got off track” and the camper would rise, I felt that a snap like that could only mean something was broken. It didn’t take long to discover one latch still hanging on for dear life in a corner of the camper – the one corner I did not walk around to physically check – and a quick peek underneath confirmed that the cable had snapped. Mary felt sure that we could still fix it (and we actually did give that a good go) but deep down I knew… the pop-up popped all right, but it would not be popping up.
By this time Crystal was halfway into her long drive and I started scrambling to find a plan B. Plan A had been so solidly planned out – except for the one small detail of a broken camper. I tried to find a cabin but they were sold out everywhere I checked. “Plan C it is!”
Mary and I drove the drive of shame back the way we had so gleefully come an hour before, with plans to run in to Walmart and grab a tent and a couple other necessities to replace the ones that were imprisoned in the pop-up. Then we could be on our merry way again and still set up camp before dark. What we did not account for was the Stew Festival happening at the same time as our girls trip (yeah, you read that right) and those stew people bought every tent in the surrounding area. Every last one. I walked around Walmart googling and calling every place I could think of that might sell tents while Mary – ever the optimist – browsed the end caps and aisles for a stray tent, and Crystal sat by herself at the campsite, waiting to hear what our course of action was. Nobody had any tents.
I hung up the phone after my last call and found Mary back in the tent aisle, holding a box the size of a toy flute, lips pursed in thought. I knew exactly what she was thinking.
“That’s a child’s play tent, Mary!” I said as I grabbed the box out of her hands and shoved it back on the shelf.
“I know, but I was just calculating the dimensions and figuring that if we get five…”
God knows I absolutely love her for that but stringing together 2 foot tall kiddie tents for shelter from the windy cold front just wasn’t gonna cut it.
We started the drive back to camp, empty-handed, both of us on the phone trying to figure out how to salvage this trip. We also didn’t know if Mary would have to rush home to her nursing baby at any moment, since before that weekend, she had never taken a bottle before (the baby, not Mary). There was a lot we didn’t know. It wasn’t looking real promising when Mary turned to me and cried out, “Put on our song!” And at a time when I felt like it was probably a really good time to cry, instead we were belting out, “There ain’t anything that we can’t do! There ain’t anything that we can’t doooooo!” There we were, both the “Girl Power” girls in Mary’s song and the girls who had just called their husbands and mom to help them out. Girl power, indeed.
It ended up that my brother and mom coordinated together to bring us a tent and soon mom was on her way.
And she would be on her way for a very long time.
In the meantime, we strung our site with white Christmas lights since that was one thing we could do, only to discover our electricity didn’t work. Crystal checked the 20amp outlets on either side of us and found they weren’t working either. We had a moment of silence as we stood in the chilly wind and stared longingly at the site across from us whose lights were glowing warmly from the travel trailer windows. There would be no heater. No lights. No pop-up. No tent so far, either, but we clung to the hope that one was coming. We did have firewood and food so we set to work on those while Crystal left to rescue Mom, who was now two hours into her hour-long drive to get to us.
It was dark when the tent arrived (along with a collection of survival guides and footed sleepers my brother felt were necessary to include) and we wasted no time setting it up. I gotta say, standing there in front of the tent with Mary and Crystal, I felt a swell of victory and triumph. I’ve birthed babies, I’ve run long miles, and I’ve stood in front of a tent in the bitter cold with two of the best girls I know (this was also the moment I realized this new setup meant I’d most likely have to pee in the woods in the middle of the night). I also just gotta say, God bless Mom.
We ate dinner by flashlight, Crystal gave Mom very clear directions to get her home (straight home), and a mere seven-ish hours after arriving to the campsite, the three of us were sitting around the campfire that I chopped the wood for, Crystal set up while we were tent searching, and Mary got blazing while were out looking for Mom (the first time we went out looking for mom – Crystal went solo the second time). Watching the flames flicker and realizing we all had a hand in it was a really good feeling. We did this. I mean, we broke a camper and couldn’t have gotten a tent on our own, but we built that fire and we kept going despite all the challenges. We needed each other to do that.
The three of us sat under towering trees and soaked in the warmth from the fire and finally – finally – got to just sit and talk for a little bit. It was… perfect. I looked over at our pop-up sitting forlornly in the driveway and then back at the girls with me, at the moon shining through the trees overhead, and my soul was full.
We never did go for a hike or a morning run or do any of the activities we had planned, but we did eat cookies that were big enough to double-fist, see a little more what we are really made of, and laugh until our sides hurt at Mary’s attempt to convince us footed sleepers are sexy (at dinner she had dubbed them birth control but when it came time for one to serve as her third layer, she was singing a different song. I’ll spare the details since this is public blog but her main points included “mystery” and “long zippers” and I laughed as hard as I’ve ever laughed in. my. Life.).
I can’t say I slept much but I can tell you that the sound of wind is kind of a pretty thing to try to fall asleep to.
And I won’t soon forget trying to warm up by holding our hands under the warm water in the bathroom (the only heat source) or pressing my head against the car window looking at everyone’s setups as we passed by thinking, “I, too, was once well-prepared for a camping trip. In a pop-up camper,” and then returning to our site to jump a car and make smoothies in our driveway (found out that by plugging in the camper to the 30amp outlet, we could plug things into the camper and get some power).
I’ll wrap this up with a picture from the morning after, which is going down as one of my favorite pictures of all time. We look like lumberjacks with all our layers on, and all I could think looking at us in that mirror was, “Our husbands are lucky, lucky guys.”
I drove away from our first girls camping trip with a bird’s nest the size of Texas in my hair, leftover makeup caked in the craters under my eyes, wearing almost every layer of clothing I brought, and a heart that couldn’t be more full. I had left home with the intention of getting away to relax for a weekend. I was going home with the same intention (to get away from our “relaxing” trip so I could recoup).
I thought on the way home about how sometimes we talk about life getting “interrupted” but really isn’t that what life is? Our best laid plans are constantly interrupted – that’s what makes it life, and it would be really boring otherwise. And also about how often people say that things going wrong is a sign that God is trying to keep you from something (or, on the flip-side, the devil is after you) but in reality, we get to choose what to do with our lives and some of the very best – the very best – things have to be pursued and fought for and not given up on.
I decided to stop at Starbucks on the way home, not quite sure how it would pan out in a busy parking lot pulling a pop-up, but feeling kind of like nothing else could surprise me at that point. When I walked inside in all my layers and clashing color combos, the barista looked at me, smiled and said, “You must be part of the Stew Festival!”
I had to laugh. Those people who bought all our tents?! Heck no. I’m just me. A girl who knows a little bit better now that you can plan all you want to and life will still say, “Here. Hold my drink.” And that when it does, you better hope you have people around you who will laugh with you. A girl who is learning more and more that she doesn’t have to respond to curve-balls the way she used to (you can take that curve-ball and run with it any direction you want). A girl who has learned she needs others, and that for all the people who criticize or judge or don’t show up, there are always ones that do and they are pure gold.
For the best chocolate chip cookie recipe ever, click here (recipe makes 3 dozen cookies unless you’re Mary; then it makes twelve).
To see a list of pop-up camping supplies, click here (note: this may help you slightly with tent camping but not fully).
To see our pop-up camper renovation, start here (And don’t worry, she will rise again!).
If you want to see Mary’s face the moment she popped the camper cable, you can see it in my Instagram stories “Camping” highlight here (she would like to credit her 8 month old for building her muscles enough to accomplish such a feat).