This weekend I attempted to demonstrate the wonders of tent camping to my two young offspring. Unfortunately, as most Pittsburghers are aware, this was NOT the weekend to go tent camping.
It seemed like a simple enough plan. Two guys, their four young daughters, a couple of tents, and enough s'mores to power a Girl Scout troop for weeks. My kids were very excited, this being their first experience sleeping in a tent that wasn't set up in the basement. We had our supplies ready, our juice boxes on ice, and our GPS coordinates entered. What could go wrong?
Well, for one thing, we failed to count on that predictable summertime weather in western Pennsylvania. Threat of rain + plans to do something outdoorsy = guarantee of rain.
After meeting at a local pizza shop for dinner, we all headed out in two cars to Cook Forest, about two hours away. The skies were clear, but it was one of those typical hot summer days that usually brings on a good whalloping of rain when you least expect it. We reached the campsite just after dark, and just as it started to rain lightly. Ever try finding a campsite in the dark while it's raining? It's about as easy as finding a lost penny at the bottom of a tar pit. Nonetheless, we found it just after that point where the girls began to get tired and cranky, wondering if we were ever gonna be there. You know how it goes.
We pulled in as the rains dissipated, and started to set up the tents while the girls proceeded to explore their surroundings by shining flashlights in each others faces. By the time I got my tent laid out, the rain came back. And this time, it brought friends. It was then I realized a crucial camping mistake, which is to ASSUME you remember how to set up the tent based on a foggy memory of doing it several years ago. Naturally, attempting this in the dark during a torrential downpour, With two children leaning over your shoulder screaming that they're getting wet, was not a pleasant experience. As I proceeded to set up the rain cover upside down, I started to wonder if parents of kids on the boat from the Poseidon Adventure felt the same way when it turned over.
Nonetheless, I got the tent set up keeping the inside relatively dry, managed to get the sleeping bags and the girls' things into the tent without completely soaking them, and attempted to lay them down for the night. Tried to, anyways. The girls sat staring at me, with fear in their eyes, as the thunder started. One began to cry in fright. The other just looked at me with an "are you serious?" look on her face. I explained to them that we were perfectly safe, and the thunder and lightning were far off, and that the tent would stay dry. Lucky for me, they were both exhausted enough that they fell asleep within minutes, each one with a death grip on one of my hands, while I lay wide awake for the next several hours listening to pouring rain and wondering if they felt I'd kidnapped them and were going to leave them in the forest as a very wet snack for the bears.
At around four in the morning, just as I began dozing off, Natalie tapped me on the forehead to inform me that one of her molars fell out. Well, at least there was that.
The next morning they recovered quickly from their night of terror, ate some breakfast, and were off to start the day. After quite a successful canoe trip down a lazy river, some go-karts, lunch, and a visit to a swimming hole, my buddy and I felt we'd probably redeemed ourselves from our attempts to permanently scar our children the previous evening. We made our way back to the campsite and cooked hot dogs and s'mores over the fire, and felt pretty good about ourselves. Then, the thunder returned.
This time we were prepared, and simply made our way into our now dry tents, just in time for yet another torrential downpour. It was then that my wife called me to inform us that the area was expecting severe thunderstorms until around one in the morning. Natalie began to cry again, and Jessica simply took on the same vacant stare that I remember Jeremy Piven having in the movie Judgement Night, when he realized that in a couple of seconds Dennis Leary was going to drop him off the side of a building to his demise. It was then that my buddy and I tossed in the towel and decided it was time to pack up.
We waited for this rainstorm to stop, made our way out of the tents, and began piling items into the cars. The girls, overjoyed with the idea of getting out of this god-forsaken place, were more than happy to actually help with the teardown and packing. And of course, just as we began to tear the tents down, the downpour began again. While the girls waited in the cars, the two of us finished packing up the tents while being drenched head to toe. When I finally sloshed my way into the minivan, one of my daughters greeted me with an outstretched arm holding my last dry shirt. She handed it to me and said, "maybe next time it won't rain."
That was all I needed.