Keeping Those Campers Happy

VACATIONS. We spend half a year saving, making reservations, and planning for them. So why do we sometimes feel short-changed? Or at the least, we find little disappointments creep in. The accommodations are cramped, the meals a little too mundane, travel too hectic. Most of all, we never seem to have enough time to cram in all the sights and excursions we had planned on. And if you have young children, all their disappointments have to be taken under wing as well, making for a rather ruffled week.

Our family vacations have been no exception. When our oldest son was almost two we spent a couple of glorious weeks in a rustic cabin, rented from someone at work, that came complete with a rowboat. The first nice day we set out for what we thought would be a leisurely jaunt around the fringes of the nearby lake. Life-jacketed, with my husband taking up the oars, me at the opposite end of the boat, and Daniel sandwiched in between us, we shoved off. Not the most experienced sea-faring couple, we got off to a somewhat shaky start. After rowing about 200 yards, Daniel's little gasps of delight turned into wailing shrieks. We turned around and paddled home. So much for his first boat ride.

We headed west for our next vacation, to a land of cactus, jack rabbits, and of course, cowboys - every little boy's paradise. The highlight of our trip was a visit to Old Tucson, a famous outdoor movie studio that promised to recapture the glory of the Old West within the premises of its mock pioneer town.

Upon arrival, after duly washing the dust out of our mouths with lemonade, we headed for a cowboy outfitter's shop. With our sons in felt cowboy hats and marshal's badges, we were ready to see what this town had to offer. We explored the many antique-filled shops set up to give the feeling of traveling back 100 years in time, clunking along wooden sidewalks, looking both ways before stepping onto the dirt road to make sure a stagecoach wasn't about to rattle through. We watched the town's actors and stuntmen perform a staged bank robbery, complete with shootouts. But what interested our younger son the most were the dirt roads. At one point, while crossing, Peter tugged away from my grasp, plopped down in the middle of the road, started piling up some dirt with his hands, and refused to budge. He wasn't too impressed with the Grand Canyon, either.

Our vacation two years later found us back east in the middle of a wet spell. It rained so much we all became very familiar with the inside of our tent, appreciating the double stitching that held up for the duration. We noticed a couple of worn spots we vowed would get waxed and waterproofed if ever we saw the sun again. When the rain did stop we found ourselves in a mudhole and spent the remaining half of our vacation in a laundromat.

We fared a bit better our next vacation. The weather held up and we were able to venture from our campsite to a couple of state parks farther up north and went on a couple of day hikes with our boys (now totaling three).

As planned, we spent one night at an inn. That night we were up quite a bit comforting our baby, and when I returned to bed sometime around 2 a.m. I thought I heard a noise outside. I mentioned to my husband that I might have left a small bag of groceries in the back of our pickup - nothing much, just a half loaf of bread and some munchies. As seasoned campers we were usually wary of raccoons and such and were careful not to leave food or garbage accessible to them. But because we were so close to a main road and had heard semis roaring past us all night I had somehow thought we were safe.

I ran out to the balcony in my stocking feet to try to catch a glimpse of the critter and thought I saw a rather large shadow. As Michael scrambled to put his sneakers on I whispered, ``There's definitely something out there and I don't think it's a raccoon.'' Grabbing a flashlight he cautiously went downstairs and I crept down behind him.

Sitting there, filling up every inch of our pickup bed, was a bear, too busy eating to notice us at first. The flashlight caught his attention but he wasn't about to be dethroned as long as there was food left. He looked up at us as if to say, ``Are you kidding?'' Michael got a bit closer and was able to shoo him away. He exited the pickup and went off in a kind of reluctant half-walk, half-run fashion, stopping every few steps to glance back at us. When we didn't budge he finally headed into the woods. It suddenly started raining and thundering and we both sighed as Michael said, ``I can't believe I just did that.''

The next morning, while serving our French toast, our host asked us if we'd had a good night, wondering if the storm had awakened us. Michael and I just looked at each other and smiled and said, ``No, not at all.'' We were too embarrassed to let her know we had been foolish enough to leave food out - and even more embarrassed to admit we'd actually tried to scare a bear away with a flashlight. We were both wondering how we should break the news to the kids.

Our boys weren't shocked or amazed. They didn't wonder if the bear was too close for comfort; they weren't impressed with their father's bravado. Their only concern was that we ``let the bear eat our cookies.''

So, what's in store for us next vacation? We're not sure yet. But we'll try to keep the disappointments to a minimum.

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