Memories Made & Lessons Learned: our first RV camping trip
September 16, 2017
***I know, I know. It’s been a while. I could give you my long list of excuses, but honestly, they’re not that good. I am just happy you’re still here even though I am not posting regularly right now. I have plans to change that in the next few months, so please continue to be patient with me as I figure out how to do this blogging thing well. Thanks, friends!! 🙂
My husband and I spent some of July and the better part of August making upgrades and modifications to our new-to-us fifth wheel. For a month straight, nearly every spare minute was used to paint, clean, seal or caulk something. We managed to remove or cover up most of the unattractive décor, but we still have a few big projects and a lot of small tasks to finish up before it’s all said and done. Sometime in the next couple of months, I hope to do a post about the improvements we have made so far. In the meantime, if you’re curious, you can see a few Before & After photos on my Instagram. (Go ahead and follow me while you’re over there!) Now mind you, the pictures do not reflect the finished product, but they will give you a sneak peak at the changes we have made up to this point. Before we begin our official journey in the spring, I will post a comprehensive look at our RV remodel, as it will for sure be completed at that point.
Although we aren’t planning to go full time for several more months, we wanted to finish most of the updates while the weather was still nice. We would really like to get in (at least) a couple of practice runs before the cold Iowa winter arrives. I work so much better under a deadline (even if it’s self-imposed), so we scheduled our first camping trip to coincide with the August 21st solar eclipse. Since we are currently living just a few hours’ drive from where the edge of the path of totality was, we decided it would be fun to go down and check it out. By the time we made that decision, it was far too late to make reservations at a campground inside the path, and we knew it was too risky to just show up somewhere hoping to get a spot. So instead, we found a state park located about halfway between our hometown and the edge of the path that advertised several spots available on a first come, first served basis. We had no idea if we’d actually be able to get one of those spots on a Friday afternoon, but we decided to give it a go. My husband had a few other options in his back pocket just in case (or so he said), so we made plans to leave on the Friday afternoon before the eclipse. You know I am genuinely excited about something when I, a perpetual planner, say things like, “Plans, shmans” and “We’ll just figure it out when we get there!”
A few days before we left, we had finished enough projects in the RV to make her usable, so we started walking through the process of getting her ready to pull and camp. Among other things, we had new tires put on the rig, cleaned out the tanks with a bleach solution and dumped them at a local campground, practiced pulling, turning and backing up into tight spaces, and loaded the camper with enough food and necessities for three nights away. We printed an RV checklist from the Internet because we are total newbies and because, well, lists. Then, on Friday afternoon, the five of us headed off for our first family RV camping adventure!
We were all in agreement about the weekend – we LOVED it!!! We had tons of fun and made so many memories! My husband and I observed that we felt so at-home in our fifth wheel despite the obvious size difference from our previous sticks and bricks home. That was good for our hearts. Among the many noteworthy things that occurred on the trip, our youngest son learned how to ride a bike without training wheels and demonstrated a level of independence that we have been longing to see in him! In fact, we were able to watch all three of our kids blossom and shine in different ways as they interacted with new people, made new friends, and embraced the expanded freedom they were given. And although our plans to drive a little further south to view the total eclipse were deterred by the weather forecast, we stayed at the campground and saw the moon almost completely eclipse the sun, which was still pretty cool.
In addition to creating countless fun memories, we learned A LOT. I know I’m leaving out so many details, but here are the biggest takeaways from our first RV excursion:
If you have the tendency to get car sick, do not look at your phone while in a truck pulling a fifth wheel down a bumpy highway. Seriously though. Ugh.
Check the shower for leaks before actually taking a shower. Thankfully we discovered the leak after just one shower, but it was still a bit distressing to see water pooling on the floor of our bedroom! We were able to caulk the bottom of the shower after returning home and have had no issues since.
Bring a fly swatter and lots of wet wipes. No matter how many times you tell a child to close the door, it is going to get left open a time or two. Or fifty. And when the door is open, in come the flies. It’s like they know we have children so they wait by the door for the inevitable opportunity to get inside and buzz around our heads. Also-kids are so, so dirty. Dirty hands and feet leave dirt on everything they touch. And when the living quarters are so small that you can pretty much touch every wall while standing in one spot, the dirt becomes noticeable much more quickly than it would in a bigger space.
Check the forecast before going to sleep. The second night we were there, I woke up to a lot of wind outside. I suggested to my husband that he should put the awning away, but he sleepily decided that it would be fine. A couple hours later, when the wind had really picked up, he had no choice but to go outside and roll it up. In the pouring rain and howling wind. In his underwear and a raincoat. Lesson learned.
Check your data plan for caps on roaming data. Of course, I wanted to document our first adventure on Instagram. #firsts #rvfamily Unfortunately, the amount of roaming data our current plan allows is next to nothing. I did not know that and used it up in the first 3 hours. And, of course, there was no campground WiFi to speak of, so I was completely without internet service for the rest of the trip. Oh well. #latergrams
Don’t be too quick to react to a person or situation. While this isn’t limited to the camping experience, it may have been the most important lesson I learned on our trip. We will come into contact with a lot of different people on our upcoming travels, and I needed a little reminder that I want to be the kind of person who gives the benefit of the doubt. And even when the doubt is removed, which is often the case, I want to be the kind of person who extends grace to others. The story of my humbling learning experience is a little long, but I think it is worth telling:
Our site was located right next to the playground, which was great because we could let the kids play and were able to keep an eye on them from inside the RV. The second day we were there, my husband and I were relaxing in our chairs when my youngest son came abruptly through the door saying “Some boys are taking a video of Aubrie and she’s really upset.” WHAT!? We quickly headed out to the playground to see what was going on. As we approached, there were three teenage boys sitting on the bench, one looking down at a phone. Our daughter was nowhere to be seen. Two of the boys began walking away from the playground as my husband started asking if anyone had seen our daughter. The boy with the phone remained near the bench as we looked around, also seeming to scan the playground for her. I saw her hiding inside the equipment and asked her to come out; she was visibly upset and adamantly refused to tell us what happened unless we went inside. Once there, she cried and said the boys were taking a video of her and had said something mean about her. Oh boy. Mama bear emerged right on cue. I marched back to the playground armed with a sharp tongue to chastise the punk kids who would dare hurt my 7-year old daughter’s feelings. I have encountered mouthy teenagers on more than one occasion, so I prepared myself for a rude and disrespectful response. The two boys who had walked away were starting to come back toward their friend on the playground, but once they saw me and the stern look on my face, they averted their eyes and changed direction mid-stride.
The young man with the phone had stayed on the bench, so he was the one who got hit with the interrogation. “Are you videotaping my daughter?” I snapped at him as if it were the 90s and videotaping was still a thing. “My daughter said you were making fun of her while she was riding her bike.” I was taking a tone with him, by golly. The boy was clearly flustered and told us that, while they were talking to someone on a video chat, one of the boys had joked that there was a savage little girl riding her bike on the playground. He further explained that this was said after they had watched her continually run over a water bottle that was on the sidewalk in front of them. So, while it appeared the boys were not trying to be mean, and were not actually taking a video of her, our sweet and sensitive daughter was humiliated and crushed by words and actions she had perceived as unkind. “Well, she is only 7 years old, and she is extremely upset by whatever happened.” I said this, fully expecting the boy to start arguing with me and defending himself and his friends. But, to my great surprise, with tears welling up in his eyes, he asked if he could apologize to her.
I was completely caught off guard by his compassion and obvious soft heart. I didn’t really know what to say other than, “Well, yes. Actually, that would be great.” We went to the camper to get her while he sat down on the bench and waited for my husband and daughter to return. He apologized to her, and then they were able to have a nice conversation with him where they learned that his name was Derek and that his family was just at the campground for the day visiting friends.
We spent the rest of the day exploring around the lake and helping our youngest improve his new-found skill of riding a bike. I kept thinking about the what had happened and so regretted the way I had handled it. I had assumed the worst about these kids without giving them the chance to explain the circumstances, and I had treated Derek with contempt instead of extending grace. My husband and kids saw him later in the evening and had a friendly exchange with him, which only increased my angst about what had happened. I felt so bad and wanted to apologize for reacting out of my preconceived judgments. I was still thinking about it when we went to bed that night (actually prepared for the storm that pounded us with wind and rain) and when we got up the next morning to go to church.
One of the first things they did in the worship service we attended was to have all of the kids who were going back to school come up on the stage for a time of prayer. [Side Note: Aubrie, our child who both follows rules and values prayer, walked up on the stage with about 50 other kids despite my whispers that she did not have to go up. She stood in front of a room full of total strangers while the pastor prayed over the upcoming school year. We were so proud of her bravery!] While all the kids were walking back to their seats, one of our boys whispered, “There’s Derek!” And sure enough, there was the boy from the playground that God had used to reveal sinful attitudes in my heart. I made eye contact with him and smiled, and he looked surprised to see us there. After the service, the Lord graciously gave me the opportunity to apologize to him for my hasty reaction and allowed us the chance to commend him in front of his parents for his kindness and the respect and maturity he had demonstrated the previous day.
That experience was a good lesson in humility and a great teaching moment for our kids. First, I should have approached the whole situation with an open mind and should not have jumped to the conclusion that these kids were delinquents. I would want my own children to be given the benefit of the doubt under similar circumstances. Second, even if they had been the punks I had thought them to be, I shouldn’t have entered the scene with my claws out. While I did not cuss him out or scream at him or anything, I certainly had not demonstrated to Derek the grace and love of Jesus. Even the troublemakers of this world need grace extended to them; maybe even more than most. I’d had an opportunity to neutralize a situation with a kind word. Instead, a 14-year old kid being scolded by an adult was the one to accomplish that.
I am thankful for a patient, loving Father who, in His wisdom, brought Derek into our lives to gently teach me this lesson. Next time a situation like this arises, I pray I will be quick to model for my children how the Lord responds to our own delinquent hearts: with care and compassion and grace. Always grace.