Happy Campers

We’d be in Indiana right about now, maybe Illinois or southern Wisconsin. Our next stop was scheduled to be Lake Carlos State Park in Minnesota, en route to a family reunion in Dodson, Montana. They’ve been planning it for years, my husband and daughter, the two pioneering spirits in this family, and after months and months of wearing me down, they finally convinced me to buy a camper to make the long journey west.

“What’s wrong, Mom? Do you hate nature?” Rainey asked over a year ago when I scoffed at the idea of camping across the country.

“No, sweetheart,” I insisted. “But I don’t camp. I vacation.”

Camping to me at the time meant a lot of work, just with more dirt, bugs, and NASCAR fans. And the few times I actually tried it, something always went horribly awry. Like our first camping trip together when she was 18-months old and we slept in a teeny tiny tent — in the middle of Oregon’s worst wildfire. Or a few years later in Gettysburg, when I was six-months pregnant and soaked after it rained the entire weekend. Or last summer when we were caught in the middle of a tornado watch at a state park and had to hunker down in the camp store for three hours with our two-year old son who ran around poking everyone with marshmallow roasting forks.

Let’s just say my luck with camping hasn’t been great.

But Scott and the kids love it, rain or shine, morning sickness or not, puncture wounds and all. And I hate feeling like a party pooper. So when we received the invitation to attend the 100-year anniversary of his relatives’ homestead along Montana’s hi-line, I knew I was a goner. Resistance was futile.

He brought the 32-foot Grey Wolf home last month and, with her help, backed it into the driveway on the first try. The two of them bragged about this for days. I’d already endured dozens of online reviews, glossy brochures littering our nightstand, several Saturdays traipsing through RV lots and countless dinnertime conversations discussing towing capacity and dry weight. But now that we’d finally signed on the dotted line and parked this beast on our property, their excitement reached epic proportions, their pride palpable.

Surprisingly, though, I warmed up to it pretty quick. Turns out owning a camper is a lot like owning a home, and I had so. much. fun. decorating. I lined the shelves with non-skid liners and stocked the cupboards with s’mores supplies and other summertime snacks. I covered the mattresses with coordinating sheets and stacked beach towels in the bathroom. I loaded up on bug spray, sunscreen, board games, and biodegradable toilet paper. I printed camp-friendly recipes, activities, and coloring pages. I’m not even ashamed to admit that one day, when the kids were driving me the tiniest bit nuts, I locked myself in the camper and hid for over an hour. It became my happy place.

However, it hadn’t left our driveway yet. The real test was to take it out on the open road.

Happy Campers

Our maiden voyage was a few weeks ago when we joined some friends at a nearby campground. The weather forecasted warm temperatures, clear skies, and zero forest fires, and after unhooking our fully outfitted trailer at our campsite, we finally settled in to enjoy our first official camping trip of the season. But not 24 hours later, our son fell off the picnic bench and split open the back of his head, requiring a trip to the ER.

“I hate camping,” I muttered to my friend as I watched Scott drive off with Wesley toward the hospital.

She gave me a reassuring squeeze around the shoulder and told me to knock it off, she knows how dramatic I can be.

Thankfully, a few hours later, Scott returned with our stitch-less, happy boy. If he wasn’t going to let his gaping wound get him down the rest of the weekend, why should I? So it was a roaring semi-success, and with that one camping excursion under our belt, we felt ready for our cross-country trek to Montana.

A week before our departure date, though, Scott woke up and said, “I don’t mean to alarm you, but I’m having trouble seeing.”

“Did you put your contacts in?” I quipped.

“It’s not that,” he waved his hands around, testing his field of vision.

“Can you see this?” I joked and danced around half-naked from my shower.

“I’m serious,” he said. “You need to take me to the ER.”

Finally understanding the gravity of the situation, I threw on some clothes and sped toward the hospital with my husband. When we met my dad at the entrance of the emergency department, Scott said to him, “I think I’m having a stroke.”

An hour later his symptoms disappeared, his vision completely returned, and he was anxious to get to work for the day. But because he still had a dull headache and trouble remembering the events that transpired earlier that morning, they ran a battery of tests on him. Several hours, a thorough eye exam, and an MRI later, the doctors determined he’d had two strokes and admitted him to the hospital to try to find their source.

The next day they discovered a patent foramen ovale, a small hole in his heart that didn’t close properly after he was born, and although most people with PFOs never suffer complications, in Scott’s case, they think the two blood clots might’ve moved through the hole in his heart, traveled to his brain, and caused the strokes. We may never know if that’s the definite cause, and there’s no guarantee it won’t happen again, but to reduce the risk, his doctors recommended closing the hole.

The procedure only lasted a couple hours last Thursday and thankfully didn’t require open heart surgery, but it significantly altered our travel plans. Now instead of mountain pies and mountain views, we’re taking in medications and waiting rooms. Instead of bunking at the KOA, we’re on bed rest at home. The trip to Montana has been postponed indefinitely.

The kids are handling the disappointment well, better than expected actually, and maybe it’s because they’re just incredibly relieved their daddy is okay. I don’t blame them. I am, too. But I wish I knew the lesson behind all of this. I wish I could see the silver lining that makes it all make sense. Because I don’t. At least not yet.

But I know God is up to something good. He always is. And it helps to focus on what He blessed us with this week and, maybe more importantly, what He prevented. Lord knows I’d hate camping forever if my husband had a stroke somewhere in the badlands of South Dakota.

So for now, Scott and his rig are safely parked at home, in good condition and patiently awaiting their next adventure. And I’m learning to make peace with God’s provisions wherever we may be, whether that’s here or on the road, in the hospital or in my happy place. But I promise you this: when the time is right, when we pull that bad boy out of the driveway again, you’ll never meet a happier camper than me.