Disaster Averted at Memorial Park
As I walked down the aisles of Costco, collecting the items for the upcoming camping trip, I realized how mundane shopping for thirty people had become. I’d done this so many times that I could do it in my sleep. Even though the menu was chosen by the students, it usually was the same, year after year…hamburgers and hot dogs, barbeque chicken, pancakes, etc. typical camping food.
I laughed at all the mothers who worried about their children eating enough while away on a trip. That was never an issue, as even the most finicky eater seemed ravenous by meal time. There must be something to being in the great outdoors that makes them hungrier that normal.
As I loaded the the groceries into the van, I could see that the weather was cooling and rain looked like a possibility. I hoped not…we were leaving the next day and I couldn’t imaging camping with thirty children (ages seven and eight) in the rain.
The next morning I arrived to work early so I could double check that all the supplies were packed and have time to do my bus inspection. Soon the first few students arrived with their sleeping bags and duffel bags, lining them up along the hallway before coming inside. There was the usual excited talk about who was sleeping in who’s tent while I spent the morning reassuring some parents that I didn’t think the rain would be where we were camping but I would stay in contact with the school if any changes in plans were made. Experience on my side, the mothers relaxed and kissed their children good-bye, promising to collect them in three days.
When everyone was present we loaded up the vehicles and headed off to Memorial Park. So far the weather was holding, barely. By the time we arrived at our site, it was lunch time so the kids broke out their backpack lunches, a requirement for the first day. After eating, the kids spent the next hour setting up their tents while I set up the kitchen.
Once the class had received their basic camp orientation they were allowed to have some free exploration within the camp boundaries but it was a bit cold so many just bundled up and chose card games near the kitchen or reading and talking in their tents over exploration. A few were getting ready to prepare the first meal…hot dogs and hamburgers.
As the burgers were cooking it started to drizzle, eventually getting heavy enough for the card players to pack up their games. The picnic tables were getting quite wet as the drizzle turned to a light rain and I began to plan an alternative place to eat. In the heavily wooded forest, the trees seemed to offer the best protection so I laid out a tarp on the ground and all the children ate their burgers and dogs sitting on the tarp. Since we had barely finished setting up the tents, it seemed best to wait out the weather and hope for improvement.
By the time they had finished eating there was a steady rain and many of them were in wet clothes so I sent them all to change into something dry. More than half of them changed into pajamas and happily played games in their tents. I went around to collect their wet clothes and pretty much left them to entertain themselves, they seemed to be quite happy despite the rain.
Occasionally, I made rounds to each tent, visiting and checking on how they were doing. A bit later we sang songs as their voices emanated from their canvas caves the adults smiled with amusement. The rain came down steadily, even as the light grew dark and flashlights began to appear one by one. It wasn’t even 8 o’clock when the limited activity and the sound of the rain gradually lulled them to sleep. Withing fifteen minutes the campground grew quiet.
The rain continued to come down steadily and for the remainder of the evening another teacher, myself and three parent helpers watched and monitored the rain hitting the tents. At one point some of the tents seemed to be getting water near the edge so we dug trenches around each tent…ten in all. About every fifteen minutes I would go in to each tent to make sure that it was still dry inside and that the children were warm. On one occasion I found that the rain had breached one of the tents and a puddle had formed along the left wall. There were three boys inside, sound asleep. I found a few tents with room for one more and transferred the sleeping boys one by one.
By 1 o’clock the rain had stopped…Yes…now we can get some sleep…I just hope it lasts till morning. Maybe things will dry out by then.
I awoke to the sound of children’s voices and the sun beating down on my tent. Smiling and hopeful…I got up to make coffee. I could hear the three transported boys wondering how they got into a different tent than the one they were in the night before.
The sun was warm, the tables though wet were beginning to dry out. Drops no longer dripped from the trees but the clothes that we hung up the night before were still wet, as were the tents. Maybe things will dry out. I thought. By the time we finished breakfast, I was less optimistic. Things were drying but not fast enough. The ground was still soaked and many of the kids clothes had become damp overnight.
I gathered the class up and let them know that I thought we should go back to school even though we weren’t expected back for another day. They were disappointed but few argued to stay and they headed off to pack up their things.
Normally I am a camp Nazi about the condition of their tents. Part of camping is learning how to pitch a tent, keep it orderly and do chores such as cooking and cleaning after meals. Camping is about becoming more self sufficient and taking care of yourself. But today, the tents were still damp and the remaining clothes, still in their bags were damp too. I knew it would be too much to expect them to do this on their own so all of the adults helped. We didn’t worry if the clothes were being packed in the wrong bags the only thing that was of real importance was that they were getting packed up. We rolled the tents into small bundles which were too wet to package in their tidy little bags.
After packing up the kitchen we headed for home.
As we got back into civilization I noticed it was time for lunch and realized that the food was buried beneath sleeping bags and tents. I was trying to see if there was a place nearby that we could stop off at when I saw a Kentucky Fried Chicken that had a laundromat adjoined to it. I thought how perfect…we could eat and do laundry.
The kids piled out of the vehicles and we went inside to eat. While we ate I told them about my idea to have them do laundry and they loved it! So we pulled all of the duffel bags out of the vans and dragged them into the laundromat. I sent one of the parents to the bank next door to get rolls of quarters while I had the kids load up the machines. A few of the patrons quickly joined in helping the kids work the machines.
For the next several hours we went back and forth from the restaurant to the laundromat. The management of the restaurant happily let us occupy most of the inside eating area as they watched the kids run back and forth to check on their laundry. We laughed about how surprised their parents would be when they came home with clean clothes in their bags. When the clothes were dry the kids lined up side by side folding them and putting them away and as usual there was a pile of underwear and socks that seemed to belong to nobody. I would have to wait for the “moms” to come and claim them.
Saying goodbye to our new friends we packed up once again and headed for school. I had alerted the school of our planned early return and they had called the parents to let them know as well. When we got to school the kids unloaded the vans, put their bags in a neat little row and hung their sleeping bags on the fence to dry. I grabbed as many people as I could to set up the wet tents on the playground so that they would dry out quickly. The rest of the day was spent playing games and eating snacks, my room resembling more of a sleep over party than a classroom.
As the parents arrived to pick up their kids, each child proudly proclaimed that they had washed all of their clothes! Not one word was mentioned about having to come home early or it being a bad trip. By the time the last parent had arrived the camping gear had been put away and the tents, now dried were disassembled and put away. All in all, not a bad trip…disaster averted…adventure created.