Camping Fiasco

Anyone who read some of my blogs last summer (and for whatever reason is still reading them) may remember that I took my then-4-year-old daughter on a few overnight camping trips. Sleeping snugly in our "mini-dome," a tent barely large enough to hold a young child and an average-sized (save a stomach that needs to cut down on Sunday morning donuts) adult male, we bonded on a few Saturday nights in the great outdoors.

This past Saturday, we made – check that, were supposed to make – our 2010 camping debut. But a few obstacles got in our way.

Setting out early afternoon after lunch, Grace and I were excited. I knew it may be difficult securing a spot somewhere given it was Memorial Day weekend, but thanks to what I thought was some fairly savvy Internet research I found a spot in Cherokee, Iowa, that looked inviting. There was a good-sized looking playground near the tent-camping area, and a roughly mile-long trail that encircled the lake – perfect for a walk and/or bike ride (I shoved Grace’s Disney Princess bike, training wheels still attached, into my trunk). There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

Well, we got to Cherokee – about an hour and ten minutes’ drive, not counting a bathroom pit stop in Sanborn, Iowa – at about 2:45. The first thing G wanted to do, unsurprisingly, was play. So I parked the car near where I’d pitch the tent – a little further from the campground than I imagined, meaning I’d have to go over there with her as opposed to keeping an eye on her from nearby – and we headed over.

The playground was sweltering, with nary a tree to be found anywhere in the area. The equipment there wasn’t terrible, but there were only two swings – both for toddlers. I rebuffed Grace’s pleas to be placed in what we both call "baby swings," even though I knew these were the only things that could conceivably cool her off (It took a long time to convince her that she was too big for these, and I didn’t want her to regress … plus I didn’t know if I could possibly extract her from one when she was done.). After about 15 minutes, I told Grace it was time to leave the playground. It was hot, and I said we would need to go to town to get sunscreen before we even thought about going back.

We went back to the campground, and I began to look at setting up the tent. Except … this was not the mini-dome tent I was accustomed to. For my birthday last fall, Bec gave me an 8-person Coleman tent that marked a huge upgrade AND a commitment to more serious camping (I also got other good gear, including a stove from my in-laws.). The only problem was, upon taking the tent out of the box, I was completely overwhelmed by the size, poles, diagrams, etc. This wasn’t going to be easy to do myself.

In between trying to watch what Grace was up to – mostly playing some kind of "going camping" game in my car with one of her baby dolls – and trying to shoo flies away, I attempted to hunker down and convince myself that I could handle the tent assemblage. And that’s about when I heard a train whistle blare. Looking up, I saw a long freighter coming through the campground, and rolling past us at a distance of about 75 feet or so from where I’d plan to pitch the tent. No, I quickly resolved. This place wasn’t going to work.

I hurriedly packed up the tent, and Grace and I went into downtown Cherokee to look at our options and cool off (a bank downtown said it was 93 degrees). I should’ve noted the name of the place, but in the center of town there was a combination pharmacy/old time soda fountain business where we got cold, fresh-squeezed lemonade for dirt cheap. I asked Grace if she wanted to drive another half-hour or so with me to another camping spot in a town known as the "ice cream capital of the world," LeMars. She was game.

Grace slept most of the way to LeMars as I drove down Iowa 3 and eventually stumbled upon a campground at about 4:45. It was jammed with RVs and campers, and I called the phone number posted at the entrance to inquire about tent-camping availability. He said there was an area near the dumpster that we could share with another car coming from Sioux City.

This didn’t strike me as the best option, but I wasn’t ready to go anywhere else at that point, other than back to Worthington if this turned out to be a debacle. And that’s what ended up happening. The wind that had picked up made putting together the tent next to impossible for me to go it alone, and the people who arrived from Sioux City about 30 minutes later weren’t showing much interest in helping (to be fair, I didn’t want to be a buffoon and go over to them crying for aid). Grace had to use the rest room, and that must have been a good half-mile or so from where we were going to be. The near-the-dumpster location, of course, wasn’t great, either.

There was a nice, small lake where Grace and I sat on a dock and watched ducks for a while, but I knew this trip just wasn’t going to be. She cried and cried when I told her we were going home, but she recovered well in part on the promise that our next camping trip would include – for the first time – mom and Zachary, too. That’s tentatively scheduled for this weekend, weather and eventual tent assembly permitting.