“Whatever happens, don’t bail.”
That was the advice from my outdoorsy brother who feels most at home and at peace hiking into a mountainous wilderness and staking a tent somewhere off the grid.
But that’s not exactly us. Truth be told, we prefer a mountain cabin — four walls, comforting wood stove, and a bed — to the ruggedness of a tent.
And so, when I told my brother last year that we were taking our two-year-old twins camping for a night in Evergreen, Colorado (just 30 minutes from our home), he gave me simple advice: “whatever happens, don’t bail.” In other words, don’t pack up your tent and drive the family back home at the first sign of distress!
Well, we made it with flying colors through our first camping trip in Evergreen last year, despite a very loud donkey at a nearby farm that “hee-hawed” throughout the night.
With one successful night under the stars to our credit, we ventured out farther this year — to the Great Sand Dunes National Park in southwestern Colorado. Arriving in the afternoon, we set up our campsite and headed straight into the Sand Dunes.
What are the Great Sand Dunes? Mountains of sand as soft as you’ll find at any beach, sculpted by wind to form peaks reaching 750 feet high. We didn’t expect to hike very far into the Dunes because we thought our kids would soon say: “Carry me! My little legs are tired.”
But something happened…they outpaced us up the Sand Dunes. Half-running, half-scooting up and down mounds of sand, they quickly reached a sandy peak and then another and then another. It was one of those rare moments as a parent where you sit back and smile, knowing that your planning and hopes aligned for a brief moment.
Of course, on the hike back to our campsite, we carried our kids a good ways, but we were all in good spirits after exploring the Dunes. I started a fire (a primal source of pride for any dad), while Sarah de-sanded the kiddos before dinner.
And then the wind started. At first, it was just a minor annoyance when it became impossible to sit near the fire without smoke rapidly changing directions into whichever area we placed our camping chairs.
But the real fun started when we crawled into our tent for the night. The wind intensified, making our nylon tent ripple and wave like a flag. And then came the wind-blown sand, working its way through the vents of our tent and covering us in a thin layer of sand.
Sarah and I looked at each other, both of us wondering if it made sense to spend the night in a hotel in nearby Alamosa, Colorado. And then I remembered my brother’s advice: whatever happens, don’t bail.
We didn’t bail. We made it through a windy, sand-filled night with our kids sleeping better than mommy and daddy.
When we awoke with the sun, it was a perfectly still morning — no wind and clear blue skies. We crawled out of our sandy tent to bask in the crisp morning air and enjoy bagels for breakfast.
But instead, swarms of hungry mosquitoes awaited us. They too liked the still morning air.
Sarah and I looked at each other for a second time: should we head into town for breakfast? But again, we didn’t bail.
Instead, we hiked a few hundred yards from the forested buggy campgrounds to the soft sands of the Dunes, where no mosquitoes buzzed. We laid down a mat in the sand, felt the warmth of the sun, and enjoyed a family breakfast in the quiet stillness and majesty of the Sand Dunes.
And I smiled. Without the winds, there would be no Sand Dunes. Without the mosquitoes, we wouldn’t have enjoyed a breakfast picnic in the Sand Dunes.
We’re glad we didn’t bail. In camping and in life, the rough spots sometimes pave the way for happiness.