The camper

I am not exactly Grizzly Adams.  With my minimal camping expertise, even modest adversity makes things . . . well, challenging.

We recently toured the “Domes and Dripstones” of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, a truly amazing place.  The beauty arising from our mountain heights is rivaled there by the silent depths of an expansive cave going on for 400+ miles.

For this excursion, we dug out our 3-year-old unused tent and “roughed it.”  We prepared every meal over the fire . . . except the Mexican place we stopped at – twice.  We slept in sleeping bags on the ground . . . or the kids did.  I found this really good deal on an inflatable mattress . . . .

I did have to walk 150 yards to the bathroom and use communal showers.  It was a throwback to yesteryear, I tell you, and we were practically living off the land.

Our last afternoon, my wife and I relaxed poolside while the kids splashed in the sun-warmed water.

“We have had the most perfect weather for this trip,” I remarked.

Within 10 minutes, dark clouds appeared at the horizon with distant booms of thunder.

Ever safety-conscious, I summoned the kids from the pool to head back to the tent, but estimated we had time for our autistic son, Jacob, to take a quick shower in the more private pool bathrooms, while I used the restroom on the other side of the building.  As I, um, got down to business while examining my phone’s weather app about the humdinger of an approaching storm, the lights went out.  I was horrified, imagining the state Jacob must be in next door with water pouring over his head in sheer darkness!

I exited in a flurry only to see our van spinning gravel, exiting the pool parking lot.  I stood dumbfounded, absorbing that Jacob must have finished quickly and my family had forgotten me!  I raced after the van, waving frantically, only to learn that my wife had sent my daughters to zip up the tent windows.

“Well, hurry back to get us!” I instructed and raced back to check on Jacob.  I banged furiously on his bathroom door but could barely hear his response over sounds of water running in the shower.

“He’s paralyzed in fear,” I surmised, continuing to yell for him to unlock the door.  After an agonizing wait, he finally opened the door.  Still panicked, I asked if he was okay.

“Great!  Just showering, Dad.”

Reality hit me.  The interior fan, not just the water, had been drowning out his responses.  The power was on.  Jacob was showering safely and contentedly, and I had just recently exited a bathroom with a motion sensor timer set to cut off the lights after a period of no detected movement.

Apparently time had slipped by rather quickly as I motionlessly examined the weather app from my throne, leaving me both literally and figuratively in the dark.

Mind you, I compiled this information only after racing from the parking lot in a complete state of panic, declaring to my wife and the stalwart few campers remaining poolside that lightning had knocked the power out, and causing a mad flurry of activity as even more laidback parents rushed their kids back to campsites to batten down the hatches.

Jacob completed his shower just as pelting rain announced the storm was truly upon us.  With no sign of a returning van, we flip-flopped back to our campsite amidst the thunder, lightning, and wind.

On the last hill before our site, my wife first and then Jacob wiped out in the slippery clay mud, coating themselves more thoroughly than the Colonel batters his chickens before the deep fryer.  An autistic kid who detests getting his hands dirty feels exponentially the same about his entire body being covered in mud.  Disaster!

Topping the hill, another shock:  No van!  Hysteria gripped me as I realized my technology-dependent teenager was driving blindly around the campground with no GPS service.

“It will be a wonder if we don’t all get killed in this storm,” I muttered, newly observing that our tent was pitched under the tallest trees around.

“We’re going to die, Dad?” Jacob inquired in sheer terror, suddenly distracted from his mud-coated body.  I assured him we were not.

My wife and Jacob entered the tent, and I trekked off to find the girls.  I jumped in the passenger seat,  informing my 16-year-old how exasperating it was that she was not where I needed her when I needed her to be there.

Back at camp, I got Jacob into the van but my wife continued stowing already soaked items in rain-protected areas.

“What is she doing?” inquired my daughter, knowing my wish to get everyone safely in the van.

“She’s trying to get herself killed by lightning!” I declared with more thoughtless exaggeration.

From the mud-covered creature in the back seat, “Is she going to die, Dad?”

Finally my wife surrendered to the elements and entered the van. As she closed the door, I breathed a sigh of relief and surveyed my “safe” family:  The youngest wide-eyed and silent, the oldest reeling from getting in trouble by following the precise instructions she was given, and Jacob, distraught to have his shower negated by a single wrong step but relieved that none of us did, in fact, die.

This is what memories are all about, folks.  Hopefully this one fades quickly.

© Michael L. Collins

This column originally appeared in The Mountain Press under the name “Panic in the bathroom, adventures in camping.”

To support mine and Jacob’s dream to publish a book someday, click here.


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