Wednesday, July 2, 2014

the time I went camping.

Everybody’s had one: a vacation during which everything that could possibly go wrong does, and when you think it can’t get any worse, sure enough, it gets worse.

This is the story of one such vacation.

Now, I love the outdoors. I didn’t always – I went through a several-year span beginning with my preteens where I was loath to set foot out into the sunshine, and you wouldn’t catch me wearing shorts if my life depended on it. Thankfully, that period was only temporary.

With the exception of a.) winter, and b.) doing yardwork, I love to be outside. James recently set up a hammock in the backyard, which is my new favorite place. I love going to the lake, I love bike rides, and I love exploring things like state parks, gardens, and rivers.

It’s also important to note that while I love the outdoors, I love the indoors, too. Sometimes, you just can’t beat lazing around on the couch watching Netflix. I am not as outdoorsy as some, and even though I’d like to be, it’s just not in my DNA.

But really, I do love the outdoors. However, when it comes to sleeping, I love the indoors more.

This past May, I went on a trip to Arizona with my mom and brother. My sister lives there, so we went to visit her. It was blazing hot, and one of the things I wanted to do was tube down the Salt River. We did just that – we rented black rubber inner tubes, brought a cooler, and spent a few hours floating down the river. It was a BLAST – most of the time, it was a perfectly relaxing lazy river, but there were some rapids that really sent you flying. Those were the best part, even if I did bang my tailbone on the riverbed more than once.

After the great time we had on the Salt River, I was on the lookout for river tubing closer to home. James suggested Lanesboro, Minnesota: it’s in the southeastern part of the state, and he told me grand tales of not only tubing down the Root River, but spelunking, kayaking, and interactions with the Amish population.
I was in! I’d never been to Lanesboro, and it sounded like the perfect way to spend a summer weekend. Double bonus? James (and all the Lanesboro websites) claimed that they had no bugs. NO BUGS. In summertime in the Midwest, that’s unheard of. It’s the Holy Grail.

Lanesboro sounded great to me… until James insisted that the only way to visit Lanesboro was to camp there. Excuse me… camp?! I hadn’t been “camping” for at least twenty years – and I say “camping” because we were in a camper at Lake Poinsett. Camper camping isn’t real camping. James said it was a tent or nothing.

I won’t say that I’ll try anything once, but I was willing to give tent camping a shot. After all, how bad could it be? My parents had both a tent and an air mattress for us to use, so our equipment costs were minimal. All we had to do was buy campy food (hot dogs and s’more stuff, obviously), and we’d be good to go.

Before we left for Lanesboro, James took the tent and the air mattress on a test run. Neither of them had been used in years, but the tent stood up like a champ, and the air mattress inflated in seven minutes flat.

James booked us a tent spot in the only campground with spaces still available. We had a spot by the river, and our nearest neighbors were several hundred feet away. It sounded great.

On Saturday morning, we headed east. Lanesboro is about three and a half hours from Luverne, so we got there in the early afternoon. Minnesota had been suffering from torrential rains for the past few weeks, so James called the campground to make sure that we’d still be able to tube down the river. “Oh yeah,” they said. “No problem!” Famous last words.

We arrived in Lanesboro, and it was blazing hot: perfect tubing weather. We checked into our campsite and asked the rangers when the next tubing shuttle was leaving. “Oh, there’s no tubing,” they said. “We haven’t been sending people out at all today.” The river was too high and was flowing too fast, so nobody was allowed out that day.

I was crushed. I had been looking forward to river tubing for weeks, and it was the number one reason I’d wanted to come to Lanesboro. James, ever the optimist, did his best to cheer me up. “Well, now we have more time to explore the town!” he said. “Maybe the river will go down and we can go tubing tomorrow!”

We wandered around downtown Lanesboro for a bit before deciding to try out the bike trail. It had gotten muggy by this point, and we quickly discovered that Lanesboro’s claim of no bugs was total bullshit. We were just a few feet onto the bike trail when we promptly were eaten alive by ravenous mosquitoes.
We did pause to take a picture in between bug bites.
James and I rode about seven miles of the bike trail before giving up. By that point, we were sweaty and covered in angry red bug bites, and we had been inundated with a gang of small children who liked to swerve in front of us as we were cruising down hills. We had felt a few rain sprinkles on the trail, so we thought we’d better head back to the campsite and pitch our tent. The SECOND we pulled into the campground, the skies opened up and it POURED. The universe has great comedic timing.

Dressed for warm weather, James and I were wearing shorts and t-shirts – it was mere minutes before we were soaked to the skin. (My sneakers would remain waterlogged for the remainder of the trip.) The wind was gusting, and James held onto the tent’s rain cover for dear life. The rain was coming down so hard that it blinded me, and the ground was rapidly turning into a swamp. We struggled and cursed, but finally the tent was standing – filled with water, but standing.
The tent is standing, but see
how sad and damp we are?
The rain showed no signs of letting up, so we had to change our dinner plans. We’d bought firewood and hotdogs and had every intention of roasting them over a campfire – which was obviously not in the cards. We changed into dry clothes (thankfully, we’d had the foresight to pack extra) and went back into Lanesboro to kill some time.
During the brief breaks in the rain, the sky looked like this.
Not very promising.
We killed enough time to last us until 9:30 (among other things, we accidentally crashed a gallery opening, made a townsperson angry by taking pictures of their rustic Jeep, and had the best shaved ice EVER), by which time the rain had not stopped. However, it had slowed, so we decided we might as well brave it and work on inflating the air mattress.

That damn air mattress.

The air mattress saw it fit to inflate within seven minutes at home during its test run. However, the air mattress didn’t show us the same consideration when we really could’ve used it. The air mattress flat-out (see what I did there?) refused to inflate. It would blow up to a certain squishy point… and then start deflating. Had the air mattress somehow sprung a leak in the last twenty-four hours? Did we have air mattress demons?

Whatever the cause, we never got the air mattress to inflate all the way. After thirty minutes and much wailing and gnashing of teeth, we cried uncle. It’s important to note that the air mattress took up the entire tent, and as it was still down pouring, James and I both wanted to be inside the tent. Of course, you don’t want to put any additional weight on the air mattress while it’s inflating, so we had to contort ourselves into the few spare inches of space around the edges of the tent. Inevitably, we stumbled, impeding our inflating process even further.

As we crouched around the air mattress, we drank our sad cans of summer shandy. Summer shandy is far superior when drunk out of a glass bottle, but assuming we’d be taking these in a cooler down the river, we’d bought cans. Anyway, we were drinking our summer shandy cans while trying to inflate the air mattress, and of course, I kicked mine over. Our sleeping bags, already soaked with rainwater, absorbed a lot of the beer, while the rest sloshed around in the tent.

By some miracle, the rain broke long enough for us to start a fire. We had paid six dollars for our firewood bundle, and by God, we were going to use it. We quickly roasted s’mores and wolfed them down before the rain began again.

You’ll remember that our campsite was located right on the edge of the Root River.
Looks nice, doesn't it? Looks can be deceiving.
With this new influx of rain, it was flowing fast and furious. James started to get a little paranoid and convinced himself that the river was going to flood and we were going to get washed away. I had enough faith in the campground staff that they wouldn’t let us camp by the river if that was a legitimate danger. Nonetheless, James checked with the staff, who assured him that they were checking the river every hour and would wake us up if it started to look suspicious.

But nooooooooo! That wasn’t good enough for James! It was after midnight when we finally decided to try and get some sleep – huddled under wet sleeping bags and doing a balancing act on a deflating air mattress, I wanted to just go to sleep and try and forget that day ever happened. James, however, had other ideas. He got up at least three times that night to check the river himself. Let it be noted that in order to get out of the tent, he had to climb over me – so whenever he got up to check the river, I was also awake. And remember how the air mattress was fairly flat? Well, when James was on the air mattress with me, his body weight inflated it enough so that I was on some decently inflated mattress. However, when he got up, that body weight vanished, and I came crashing to the ground. When James would come back into the tent, he’d have to climb over me again, and he also brought plenty of rainwater back in with him.

(James claims he doesn’t remember this, but twice during the night, he woke up and yelled, “That’s IT! I’m finding us a hotel!”)

Once James finally settled down, the quiet rush of the Root River was actually quite peaceful. The rain eventually did stop, and as the sun began to emerge, the tent became blazing hot. But that wasn’t what woke us up: it was the very loud, very Minnesotan fishermen looking for trout at 5am.

Around 7, we finally gave up on sleep and climbed out of our tent. The sun was shining, and it looked to be a beautiful day. We made our way to the bathhouse to take showers. I was the only one in the women’s bathroom, so I had the place to myself. As I am not at all a fan of community showers, this was ideal. This would prove to be my first (and, God willing, my last) experience with coin-operated showers. Yes: you had to pay for your shower with quarters: four minutes for twenty-five cents. I put in my two quarters and showered quickly. The lights in the women’s bathroom are motion sensitive, but it turns out that they don’t quite reach the shower. The lights went off on me in the middle of my shower, and for a second, I thought I was going to be murdered. (Because that’s what ALWAYS happens in horror movies. And this weekend was a horror movie.) I had to grope around in the dark for my towel and then wave my arms about until the lights came back on.

And when I left the bathroom, it had begun to rain.


James and I had planned to tear down the tent ASAP and get the hell out of Dodge, but since it was raining and checkout wasn’t until noon, we headed into town for breakfast. Our hopes of tubing that day were dashed, so we wandered around the shops and spent the money I’d brought for tubing – might as well support the local economy, right? Once again, the rain did not let up, so we took down our tent in the rain. And got soaked. Again.

After twenty profanity-laden minutes, the car was loaded up and we were ready to hit the road. We never did get to roast our hotdogs, so lunch had to be purchased in Lanesboro.

Our final order of business was to visit a cave. Lanesboro and the surrounding area have some caves to explore, so we stopped at the Niagara Cave. Its main selling point was its 95-foot waterfall, and that sounded like a sight to see. We bought our tickets to the cave… only to find out that the passage to the waterfall was flooded, so we would not be seeing that. Go figure.

Waterfall or not, the Niagara Cave was something to behold. 
It was discovered more than eighty years ago when some pigs fell through a sinkhole. It has 100-foot ceilings in places, and there’s even a wedding chapel inside. We saw fossils, stalactites, and stalagmites. 
See the super long stalactite? It's
estimated to be around 500,000
years old. They call him Gramps.
HOWEVER – the cave was 48 degrees. My only pair of jeans was thoroughly soaked, so I wore shorts. There was water POURING from the ceilings of the cave, and you could only dodge so much if it. By the end of our hour-long cave tour, I was a drowned rat once again.

This was the third set of clothing that had been drenched. In hopes of tubing, I had brought my swimming suit along. In a magnificent show of irony, that was the only thing that stayed dry.

On the way home, we saw a winery and stopped on a fluke.
This ended up being the best decision of the trip. The winery is called Four Daughters, and they have the best wine I’ve ever tasted. James and I shared a white wine tasting, and of the five wines, there wasn’t a single one I didn’t like. Four Daughters is not just a winery, but a restaurant as well: they employ seven chefs who make everything from scratch, including the crackers they serve. They have fancy dinners in the vineyard, along with yoga (while you drink wine, of course). James and I bought a bottle of white wine (La Crescent - SO GOOD) and are already trying to find reasons to go back there for more.

So even though camping was a total bust, there were a few bright spots: we saw a neat cave, got to ride our bikes, tasted some delicious wine, and I bought a skirt with bikes on it in downtown Lanesboro.
Just doing my part to support
the local economy.
But you know what?

I could’ve done all of these things while staying dry in a hotel.

Camping sucks.

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