Summer Camping (Mis)Adventure, Part I: Arrival
“Whose stupid idea was it for us to all go on a camping trip, anyway?” Sara muttered, the grumble carrying through the tepid, crawfish-scented air of the church van all the way to the driver’s seat. The air conditioner had given up the ghost half an hour into the trip, and the smell never did leave the vehicle after Stanley Johnson’s “Crawfish Broil for the Homeless” two months ago. Add six high school girls to the mix, and you get some very unhappy campers.
Rebekah slowed to a stop at a red light and glanced into the rearview mirror. Sara was glowering in the back seat, her hostility enhanced by the girl’s heavy eyeliner, purple hair, and dog-collar choker. At the other end of the seat, looking like she was trying to shrink into the corner, sat Dinah, small and quiet, with her thick black braids hanging around her face and her baggy green sweater making her appear even smaller than she was. In front of Dinah was Tammy, her long legs stretched out in front of her and clad in adidas shorts. She narrowed her almond-shaped eyes, frowning down at the handheld game she was playing. Sharing a seat with Tammy was Leah, leaning against the van’s window with her nose in a book, absently pushing her long brown hair back into its braid. And in front of her on the smaller bench seat sat Leah’s younger sister, Rachel, her high-heel clad legs crossed as she popped chewing gum, listened to her ipod, and texted her boyfriend.
“The light’s green,” Miriam said, and Rebekah started. She smiled at the girl in the passenger seat, who pushed her glasses up on her nose and frowned down at the church’s clunky old gps system. “You need to turn right up here, I think, if you don’t want to get us lost again.”
Rebekah forced back a sigh and pressed down on the accelerator, easing the van into the right-hand lane of the highway. For at least the thirtieth time since they’d left the church that Thursday morning, the college student and assistant youth group leader wondered if this would all really be worth it. It had seemed like a great idea to take the girls in the church’s youth group out on a camping trip to get to know each other. They would be able to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation, and hopefully would be able to communicate with each other without the distractions of internet, telephones, tv, and video games. She loved these girls, and she believed that if they could only get past the barriers that divided them, they could give each other the love and support that they needed. Right now, though, they were six girls living in their own worlds, with no interest in coming together as a family.
She turned right onto a heavily forested, hilly road, slowing down to dodge potholes. Then, about a mile in, she saw the weather-beaten wooden sign declaring “Zion River Campground.” She turned the van into the gravel road beside the sign. They were finally here, and there was no going back for another 24 hours.
Rebekah had to drive around the campground twice before she found the site she’d reserved. Number 7 was tucked away at one end, separated from the rest of the campground by a clump of trees. At least they would have privacy.
The girls tumbled out as soon as the van stopped.
“Finally!” Rachel said, dropping her headphones around her neck. She sniffed at her shirt and grimaced. “And I still smell like crawfish. Eww.”
Tammy stretched her arms over her head, then leaned over to stretch her legs. Dinah wandered to the edge of the campsite, looking up at the trees around them, and Leah sat down on the bench of the site’s picnic table, still buried in her book. Sara scowled indiscriminately at them, the van, and the campsite.
“It’s not that bad,” Miriam sniffed, looking down her nose at Rachel. “And it’s kind of tacky to complain about someone feeding the homeless, you know.”
Rachel bristled and whipped out her phone, then stared at it in disbelief. She strode frantically around the campsite, then wailed. “We don’t have any cell reception here! We’re in the middle of nowhere, with no connection to the world!”
“You’ll be fine without your phone for 24 hours,” Leah said gently, trying to soothe her sister without looking up from her book. Rachel shot her a dirty look.
Rebekah suppressed yet another sigh and tugged open the van’s back door. She forced a bright smile at the girls. “Let’s go ahead and set up camp, and then you can all go on a hike while I get us some lunch together.”
Tammy helped Rebekah slide out the large tent bag, dropping it onto the gravel-covered ground. Rebekah unzipped it and stared inside, biting her lip and trying to remember how to set up a tent. She hadn’t gone camping since her family used to go when she was a kid, before her dad…
“You should lay out the ground cover first,” Dinah said softly, slipping up beside Rebekah. She pointed to a folded tarp. “There.”
“Thanks,” Rebekah said, grinning warmly at the petite black girl and getting a shy smile in return.
“You just lay this out where the tent’s gonna go, right?” Tammy asked, tugging the tarp out of the bag. She shook it out and looked around, then started dragging the tarp under the trees.
Sara snorted and grabbed the other side. “You put it in the gravel, not in the woods,” she said.
“Oh,” Tammy said, doubtful. She looked at Rebekah. “Won’t that be super uncomfortable?”
Rebekah shook her head. “You won’t even be able to feel the gravel through the tent. And this way we can sink the tent stakes into the ground.” With Dinah’s help, she pulled the tent itself out of the bag, the fabric large and heavy. Leah read one last sentence, sighed, and put her book down on the table, coming to help them.
Miriam and Rachel stood to the side, looking on and scowling. Then they looked at each other, and their scowls deepened. Miriam crossed to the bag and pulled out a bundle of rods. She shoved it at Rachel, then pulled out another bundle for herself. “Here,” she said. “You unfold them, then snap the rods together like this.” She demonstrated.
Rachel rolled her eyes. “Whatever.” She followed Miriam’s instructions, though, a spark of interest showing in her eyes.
Tammy helped the other girls pull the tent into position over the ground cover while Sara pulled the tent stakes and a rubber mallet out of the tent bag. Rachel and Miriam finished snapping together the support rods, and with the others’ help they threaded them through the slots in the tent for them, making the heavy fabric billow up into a proper tent. Sara circled the tent, hammering the stakes through the tabs in the tent’s corners and into the gravel. Then they all straightened and backed up, sweating slightly as they looked at their handiwork. Everyone had at least a tiny grin on her face, even Sara.
Rebekah looked at the girls and smiled. Maybe this wasn’t such a terrible idea, after all.
*Thanks for reading! Check back next month to find out what happens next on the “Summer Camping (Mis)Adventure”! And to see how it all got started, click here.*
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