The Great Outdoors. God’s Country. The Wilderness.
Call it whatever you like, I have always enjoyed being outside…just not at night.
Growing up as a Boy Scout in California, camping was a common activity across the year. I loved swimming the inlets, tracking wildlife and whittling. Seriously, what boy doesn’t enjoy chopping big pieces of wood into smaller pieces of wood?
“But I could care less about waking up in the middle of the night freezing and with rocks poking me in the back,” I explained to my big boys as they pleaded for a Spring Break camping trip, “because that’s happened every single time I’ve gone camping.”
“I’ll take them,” Magan said.
“Oh really?” I said.
“I took Noah camping when he was little,” she continued. “It’ll be fun.”
Plans were put in place for Magan and the three big boys to venture to a local state park for one night “to see how we like it.”
A new tent was purchased. Supplies, in the form of hot dogs, marshmallows and donuts, were stockpiled, and Noah crafted what he called a “Survivorman” kit of flashlights, a wire saw, compass, knife and flint to be ready for whatever Mother Nature threw their way.
The foursome struck out on their version of the Oregon Trail late Sunday morning, arriving in time to swap campsites twice after park officials attempted to place them in the Bear Grylls “Pioneer” section as opposed to the more civilized “Tent/Trailer” sites that included power/water hookups and centralized bathrooms/showers. It also wasn’t far from the lodge and the wilderness “buffet.”
Halfway into their 2.3-mile hike of the nature trail, Simon’s fear of “leaving civilization forever” was only outmatched by Jesse’s cries of “the sand is too sandy,” “Dirt is too dirty” and “I’m tired, will you carry me,” so they trekked back to the dock.
Plans to play Sorry! were dashed after Noah accidentally brought the Chutes and Ladders game board with the Sorry! men and playing cards. So it was decided they would play Chutes and Sorry! instead.
“If it hadn’t gotten any better, I was going to suggest packing up and just heading to Disney World,” she said. “But the longer we were there the better it got.”
They spotted a large turtle, played catch, bottle flip and mini golf, before roasting hot dogs and making S’mores over the open flame.
Noah’s flint successfully started two campfires, and Magan’s water bucket successfully extinguished two campfires.
The only major excitement was the ambulance and law enforcement that came to the aid of a neighboring camper who had succumbed to heat stroke not long after dark. That prompted several “Should we stay or should we go?” text messages from Magan but, following a family council vote, it was agreed they would complete their expedition.
They had forgotten soap and shampoo, which explained the smell of breakfast hot dogs that hung low over the car, the house and four members of the family when they made it home.
We were only an hour removed from our Donner party returning over the 441 Bypass and home to the cozy confines of civilization but they all longed to return to “God’s Country” in the form of Little Ocmulgee State Park.
“Can I just stay there?” Jesse asked over an episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.
Magan had talked with some of our large-family friends, who agreed that camping had originally began as a cheap vacation but transformed into great relationship building.
“I noticed this morning the boys were more patient with each other, and got along better,” Magan said. “It was so neat to see.”
This world is full of distraction, and when you get down to it that distraction is all designed to draw us away from the most important relationship of all: Our relationship with God.
Magan and the boys’ camping trip aligned itself with Saint Paul’s call to the Romans to “…not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
As Magan proved, removing ourselves from this world makes it easier as a family to connect with each other and, ultimately, with God. That’s more than enough to draw me out of camping retirement. That, and maybe a camper.
Jason Halcombe has five sons and a daughter. He and his wife, Magan, are members of Immaculate Conception Church, Dublin.