We head out in four trucks, three pulling campers and all heading down to a campground two hours away, air conditioning blasting to stave off the 90-degree heat. The usual litany of “did we pack enough food?” and “what did we forget?”
Our air conditioning goes on and off intermittently. I react in my usual princess hissy fit way and declare that I am fixing to die. I have the window down for all of 15 minutes of a two-hour trip, head hanging out the window like a dog. I complain bitterly.
It is not the first time it is noted that had I been part of any pioneer wagon train crossing the uncharted continent, I would have been unlikely to have made it far. I’m pretty sure they would have tossed me out the first day.
We pull into the campground, finding the spaces destined to be our home away from home for the long weekend. There is soon the sound of doors slamming, coolers sloshing ice, and the whir of rooftop air conditioning units.
As families and friends spill out of vehicles, there are effusive greetings and kids eager to explore the campground (and shirk setup duties).
Women traipse in and out of campers bearing dips and fruit “for snacking.” The men crawl around and under the campers, forever fussing with a latch or a dial.
The sweet smell of wood smoke mixes with charred meat. Watermelon juice drips everywhere. Wine is sloshed into plastic cups. Sometimes we add ice. We are classy like that.
The kids will open and abandon endless drinks all weekend. The parents will complain, yet again, about the waste.
This is a non-lake weekend, so the boat stayed home. We feel lost without it.
Instead, our adrenaline junkie crew will take part in aerial adventures. They will take on a two-hour obstacle course hung high in the air. There are safety harnesses and the need for gloves. Nothing about that sounds fun to me, but Mr. Wonderful and the Wonderkids love this sort of thing. Ditto almost all of our friends.
I can never decide if I have the best peer group ever, or run with a bad crowd. I hold water bottles, hats and take photographs. The sun is blistering, but the laughter is memorable.
The river is more my speed and style. The brackish yet not unpleasant smell of river water mingles with the less pleasant but necessary smell of rental life jackets.
We launch into the water and float not-so-lazily on the stream. The river is high and paddling is scarcely necessary. That’s good because I don’t relish working on vacation.
For seven miles, we need only to steer clear of logs and other watercraft as the current pushes us along.
Our group becomes separated early and most of the trip is spent trying to catch up to or wait for lagging group members. Two mobile phones are lost to water when kayaks and canoes overturned.
I’m proud to say I finish the trip without falling in. I excel at sport that mainly involves sitting still and floating.
We coordinate simple communal dinners and wonder anew why hot dogs never taste as good at home as they do over a campfire. Cold pasta salad, fruit, and the crunchy salt of chips leave us all certain we can’t eat another bite. That lasts until the ice cream comes out.
There are fireflies and campfires and late nights of low murmured talk punctuated by raucous laughter. We have a history among these friends.
We relish the freedom of grown or nearly grown “children.” They are free to roam while we reminisce about the days when they could not. Volleyball, go-kart racing and seemingly endless rounds of mini golf fill the next three days. We take long walks and short naps.
We contemplate selling the big homes with big yards and living on the road. I’m a writer. I think I could hack it. The rest of them have productive grown-up type careers that make running away from home difficult.
Every year, a new memory is made. Summer is not finite and, as in all things, the days are long, but the years seem short. Despite the cost in time and money, I love every bit of that effort and energy it takes to make these memories happen.
All too soon, we will reverse the process, pack it up, and trundle it all back home. We will be sun burnt, bug bit, and haul in leftovers and laundry.
Better yet, we will count the days until we can do it again.