It started off like any other camping trip, with Diana and me obsessively checking the forecast throughout the week even though it has no bearing on reality and is unpredictable as what color combination Keith will wear to CT. Next I scoured our camping box and wracked my brain to compose a Walmart shopping list. As always with Walmart trips, I thought of two more items I needed immediately upon returning home, thus requiring a second trip. I packed my hatch to bursting, seemingly defying the laws of physics, and stood back to admire my work and wipe grill grease off my favorite jeans (the ones I wear constantly).
But this camping trip was to be like none I’d experienced in almost six years of Xenos camping.
Neil arrived home from work and emphatically declared, “I can’t remember anything.”
Was he frustrated that he’d left some beloved piece of technology at work? Nope.
Neil, my camping partner and good little Indian extraordinaire, spoke because he knew exactly what I’d been thinking. He was going to miss the first night of camping, along with Mark and Fish, to attend a bachelor party, and I’d considered sending the cooler with him. But his determination to assume no such responsibility affirmed my previous decision to handle it myself.
Diana arrived, deposited herself and a few items in the Focus cabin, and we began our long journey to Mohican State Park.
“I don’t know how to start a fire,” Diana noted as we drove the winding, narrow road to the group camping site an hour and a half later. “I know the basic idea, but I’ve never actually done it.”
“I know, Sarah and I were just talking about that yesterday, how we both want to know but then never actually try to find out,” I concurred.
Finally we made it to the site, no thanks to the clueless blonde high school girls working at the camp office. “We’re not, like, affiliated with the group camp. I mean, we are, but like, I’ve never been there…”
The first to arrive, we set up my tent where we both planned to sleep the first night. My mechanically challenged self couldn’t figure out how connect the air compressor to the air mattress, but luckily Diana had more common sense than me. Then my phone rang.
“Hi, it’s Craig. I just wanted to let you know that we broke down.”
“Me, Nick, and Brian.”
Of course the NASA nerds travel in a pack. About halfway to the campground their spacepod broke down.
“Let me know if you need a ride,” I said at Diana’s suggestion.
Just then, a car pulled up to the site. It was Mandy and Sarah.
“This is funny because we were all talking about how we don’t know how to start a fire,” I observed.
“It’s like Survivor Woman!” Diana was excited at the challenge.
“Yeah, can suburban housewives survive without their husbands?” I challenged.
As Sarah and Mandy pitched their tent, Diana and I ventured out to find firewood. Although not very survivor-like, we thought the camp store was our best bet. We didn’t want to travel the long, scary road back, so we consulted the map and attempted a different route. Thirty minutes later we were nowhere near our destination, but fortunately ended along the route we’d come. Sara was blowing up our phones while Diana expounded on why the map was wrong, and just as we got re-oriented Craig called, asking if we could pick them up in Wooster.
I was upset, not because I didn’t want to pick them up, but because I didn’t want to keep driving up and down that winding ravine-bordered road. With a car full of supplies and wood, there was no way I could fit three astronauts and their gear into my two-door. My frustration led to a frantic conversation with Neil and expletives such as, “Why is there a fucking fat guy on a bike?” which he ignored but Diana found hysterical.
We purchased firewood, used the restrooms since the group camp has only outhouses, and were about to call Sara back when an familiar white car rolled up, containing Sara and followed by a park ranger.
When confronted for exceeding the 20 mph speed limit, she played the girl card with surprising aptitude. “I don’t know what I’m doing. I was lost and couldn’t find my way to the camp site and then I hit a pothole and almost fell off the cliff…” Despite her admission of additional driving faults, it worked and the ranger let her go.
Craig called back with a location and directions. Luckily we had two cars now, so the rescue squad wouldn’t have to return to the campsite to drop off stuff. Sara offered to get them, Diana joined her, and I made my way up the scary road alone, this time in the dark.
While the damsels swapped roles to rescue the engineers in distress, Mandy and I successfully started a fire, pitched Sara’s tent, and kicked back with well-deserved s’mores. Sarah joined us, and finally the men and their heroes arrived.
The bachelor party boys couldn’t wait till morning to come, so they rolled in around two a.m. I became aware of Neil’s presence as he blew up the air mattress with me on it.
The next day we canoed, an activity I was quite adverse to at first. Sarah, Mandy, and I shared a canoe. We immediately hit the bank and went into a spin, but with Mandy’s direction we got the hang of it soon enough. It was a blast, a great bonding time, and no one even got wet. We looked over to see Mark sitting in the bottom of the canoe, smoking a cigarette while Ryan and Fish paddled away. Neil was with Nick, who boasts over 100 miles of canoeing experience. Yet the wiry team finished last, “because we stopped to wait for you girls.”
More people arrived before and after canoeing with a total of twenty by the time we sat down around the campfire for Nick’s teaching debut, which he tag-teamed with Craig. Their teaching recapped a Servant Team Retreat talk on the motivation of grace versus the “I-should mentality.” It was followed by an insightful discussion and prayer, which saw a consensus of wanting to be excited about grace and motivated to radical Christian living that defies our tribal, comfort-loving tendencies.
“It’s really cool that you guys are out here,” Neil pointed out. “It shows you’re willing to leave your comfort zones.”
Late into the night, the conversation about grace continued informally between friends. As Neil heaped wood on the blazing hot fire, many of us felt the Holy Spirit fanning the flame in our hearts. As we move into adulthood, marriage, careers, and parenthood, we want to become increasingly radical in our faithfulness to the Lord. While the lures of compromise and comfort are subtle and appealing, we want to fight against the flesh and experience the joy of sacrifice instead. Big questions still remain as we seek a vision for where God is leading us, but we want to seek out steps of faith that will prepare us to build His Kingdom in Canton, Cambodia, or elsewhere.
So can suburban housewives survive primitive camping without their husbands? Yes. But the real test of substance remains as we follow God’s will. And you never know where that leads. Heck, maybe we’ll buy a duplex in the Amazon.