Depending on who you ask, the people who can math (Leslieann and Renae), or the people who want a better date for the story (Me), it is either the 16th, or 15th anniversary of an ill-fated camping trip we took (along with the also math-able Karen) to Tyler, Texas as part of a Baptist church outing.
Of the four of us, one had some camping experience, having once helped someone put up a tent sometime in the far past, but all of us piled into Leslieann’s Kia Sportage, loaded up with Karen’s brother’s loaned camping equipment and several backpacks full of enthusiasm, naivety, and sense of adventure. It’s a lot easier to do things when you are totally ignorant of the right way to go about them.
We arrived at the State park in time to pitch our tent in the one remaining campsite in a prime spot, facing the lake. We weren’t supposed to have that spot. You see, as the lone representatives of the Singles group, and as unmarried women who might be a temptation to the men in the family area (this was said out loud), we had been assigned a site that was about a mile away, down a cliff, in a literal ravine that was a steep climb back up to the rest of the Baptist campers, and the toilets. Still, since we were four girls alone, one brave husband took pity on us, and told us we could set up there for the night.
After helping us get our tent set up, he and the rest of the church group avoided us like we had the plague. Or free-range vaginas. You have to watch out for those because they will jump right out of an unwed woman’s cargo shorts and try to trap you into having an affair.
Aside from being treated like a pack of slavering succubi, we passed a pretty decent night for as hot and humid as it was. At least there was a breeze coming off the water.
When we got up the next morning, we were run out of the campground by the wives (and I mean they were hands-on-hips telling us we had to GO), and sent on our way down the ravine so that the other married couple (who had still not yet arrived) could take over our vacated space. Alone, this time, we managed to get our tent up in the curve of the cliff wall, under shelter of some massive pine trees, and we laid out our camp.
There were weenies to roast, s’mores to toast, coffee to make, and a lake to swim in. For the next few hours after lunch, we were fairly self-entertaining. Then, several things happened at once.
1. The temperature dropped
2. The wind kicked up
3. The campers at the campsite about 6 sites away from us started packing things up and moving them into their tent
4. It started pelting down rain
5. I got my period
You can guess which was the most troublesome for me. #5 meant I was scrambling up the ravine on the steep, cut out steps that were quickly turning into mud slicks, at some points on my hands and feet because of the angle, to make it up to the dingy, spider filled bathrooms before I could ruin my favorite pair of shorts. Once managed, I had to make my way back down the ravine to our tent, where we four huddled inside and listened to the trees rocking in the wind.
My first trip up the ravine wasn’t pleasant, but at least it was still light out. My second trip up, not only was I trying to navigate the dark of the woods with a penlight, I picked up a friend.
A raccoon came out of the bushes and took a sudden, serious interest in me.
Have you ever heard a lovesick raccoon?
My second trip up the ravine, I made in half the time because I had one chasing me. He stood outside the bathroom and chirped, trilled, and growled at me, while I cursed every married Baptist woman in our church. I did not mind changing campsites–we were having a better time on our own anyway–but I did mind being chased by wildlife.
That stinking raccoon waited for me to come out, and he chased me back down the ravine (laying cold paws on me exactly once), where I jumped into Leslieann’s car and hid until he disappeared, and I could lurch back into the tent. (You would be so grossed out by how I got him to dive into the woods, away from the car that I will not even tell you. I don’t think I’ve ever told the girls. I’ll leave it to your imagination.)
When I did make it back into the tent the wind and rain were really bad. A little scary. I found the girls discussing whether or not we should pack up and leave. We agreed that we would stay until the other campers down the way packed up. They seemed to know what they were doing, and if they were staying put, we thought it was wisest for us to do the same.
Weather alerts started bleeping out of the radio, warning us of flash floods and tornadoes in Smith County, wherever that was. With nothing else to do, and with the other campers hunkering down, we did the same. I took four Advil and got in my sleeping bag, hoping I wasn’t going to flood out anything myself, and I went to sleep.
I can sleep through anything. There’s this funny story about the time I slept through a tornado on a camping trip…
Somewhere in the middle of the night, our tent started flooding. Apparently, Leslieann and I can sleep with rain pelting us in the face. Karen and Renae cannot. So, the two of them got up, got out, and found the tarp Karen’s brother had loaned us. They took off their shoelaces and rigged the tarp to further shelter the tent, then took turns wanting to kill Leslieann and me as we snored away.
Well, I snored away. Karen said that at one point, she thought a tree limb had come loose and was falling to crush us, only to realize it was me. I have a deviated septum! I can’t help it! It’s part of my charm!
In the morning, we got up and went about our business of ablutions and breakfast. We all felt gross and tired, but we were fine. When we climbed the hill to the bathroom, we didn’t pay much attention to the disarray. I was keeping one eye out for the amorous raccoon. Karen and Renae could barely keep their eyes open.
Back down the cliff, later in the morning as we packed up to go, Karen overheard the other campers arguing. It seemed they had stayed out in the weather not because they were expert campers, as we had surmised, but because they were novice campers and they were “watching the girls.” If the girls left, they would leave. If the girls stayed–well, it couldn’t be that bad if a bunch of girls were waiting it out.
Oh, it was that bad.
Karen came back with that report, which had us rolling until the man who had helped us the first night came driving up. Some eight hours after the worst was over, the Baptists had remembered the four girls they’d cast out, and were coming to see if we’d blown away. Because, yes, we had just happened to be in Smith County, where a tornado touched down in a State Park–ours–and where the winds had been so strong coming off the lake, they’d blown down and sucked out a full tent and gear.
Guess which tent.
It was a good thing we’d moved! If the Baptist wives had allowed us to stay in their midst, we’d have been swimming.
Where we were, aside from the wet and the wildlife, we’d been safe as houses.
Sometimes, when I’m feeling unfairly persecuted, I like to remember this story and laugh.
Today, Renae, Leslieann, and I were laughing about it together.
(And because I love all three of you, I did not post the pictures I have of us on this trip.)