A Birthday Adventure


We were brainstorming ways to celebrate our eldest son Gavin’s 11th birthday.

Over the last couple of years we’ve been changing our focus to giving the gift of an experience, rather than buying more stuff.

I might have been the one who mentioned camping as a possible option.

Gavin immediately seemed intrigued by the idea, and we googled feasible destinations.

He decided  Hanging Rock State Park might be a neat place to visit for the weekend.  I made an online reservation and added it to the calendar.


The first weekend in October arrived quickly.  We crammed our 12 passenger van full of sleeping bags, tents, chairs, and food.

And…we were off!

We left the Raleigh area on a Friday around 2pm,  giving ourselves plenty of time to set up camp before sundown.

Our little circus arrived in Danbury, NC about 3 1/2 hours later. We found our group camp site and then continued on, up the road a little, to purchase firewood.

Finally, it was unloading time, which required several trips of walking the 300 yards to and from the van, with arms overflowing.

Once all the gear was transported, Maddie and I started on the smaller tent while the boys conquered the larger one.

I immediately turned things into a competition.

“We must get ours up first,” I motivated Maddie, “They don’t stand a chance.”

The smack talk continued as we chose a relatively soft, acorn-free zone to erect our tent, and got to work.

We made one small mistake which was quickly resolved, and then the tent was up.

It did not sound like things were going as smoothly for the boys just 15 feet away.  I glanced in their direction and saw only nylon, still lying flat on the ground.

It was beginning to get dark and we had no lantern…nor was the campfire yet lit.
It was then that the park ranger arrived to educate us and collect our remaining campsite fees.

Our children welcomed him by pointing their many flashlights directly into his eyes.

I’m not sure if we ticked him off with this unappreciated greeting or not, but he began sharing that group campsites are not intended for families; thus the absence of working toilets, he pointed out.

He explained that our campsite was frequented by wildlife, including bears and racoons with opposable thumbs.

He described a smaller bear that had made several recent appearances in our neck of the woods. He reminded us to stay inside our tents if we became aware of nighttime prowlers.

He warned that we must remove all food from the premises whenever we left camp or retreated inside the tents.

He detailed how these animals would turn everything upside down in search of food…and how they proved very resourceful in their ability to open coolers, tents, or anything else that stood in their way.


He must have seen the fear in my eyes, because now he thought it pertinent to share about the Copperheads.

We needed to keep little ones right by our sides at all times, with flashlight in hand, he cautioned.

He informed us that only last week two small boys and their dog had been bitten; then reminded us not to worry because nobody in the state of NC has ever died from a Copperhead bite.

And by the way, he continued, 911 does not work out here. If anything happens, one of you stays with the victim and the other starts driving until you get cell phone reception.

He quickly moved on to collecting the $16.00 dollars that we owed him, and then he was gone.
He left us standing there in the dark, eyes wide-eyed and mouths agape.

Things grew a little more intense at this point.

That park ranger had sent this mom of 7 into a mild panic!

Really…I was a wreck!

I shouted out orders to…

“Stay close!”


“Hold your brother’s hand!”


“Watch the girls!”

Then I turned to my spatially-challenged husband… and let him have it.

“What is wrong with you?”

“What is the trouble?”

“How can I help?”

“Are you even following the instructions?”

I failed to understand how so much time had elapsed and yet it appeared that zero progress had been made on his end.  We needed this tent up NOW, apparently the lives of my children depended on it!

I received the “You Need to Chill Out” lecture and then we proceeded to raise the tent as a team.

(In his defense, the instructions were really small, very unclear, and printed on a tag the size of a postage stamp.)

Now that shelter was acquired, we desperately needed a campfire to help illuminate this dark corner of the Earth.  Duff redeemed himself at this task and we sat around the brightly lit fire eating cold, leftover pizza.

Will this family of country bumpkins survive their first night in the wilderness?  Stay tuned for the rest of the story….

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