Memories….Campers, ribs, and dips! Oh, my!

Creating a happy childhood takes some work and planning. Like yours, my kids don’t know how great they have it. When we are young, we are oblivious to the planning, packing, money, sweat, and stuff, lots of stuff, it takes to make a trip and experience happen. It is A LOT of work, and Bo and I are always baffled at what we are doing wrong every time we go on a trip.

Why does it take 4 hours to pack on a good day? Why do we need so much food? How do we accumulate so much crap that we think we need!? It is amazing. Meanwhile, the kids sit back and wait to leave. All they have to do to grab their I-pads and they’re set. No remembering the sunscreen, toothbrushes, and cameras. No thinking through all the possible weather scenarios. No, doing all the laundry before and afterwards. They are simply along for the ride, and this weekend was no different.

We were invited to go camping with a large group of families in Elkmont. The fireflies will be syncranized, the children will ride bikes and play in the creek, and the adults will sip beverages by the campfires. All will be peaceful and simple in the Smokies, or so it would seem! So it is with all the other families but nothing is simple with the Hamiltons these days so friends take warning (and take note if you’re thinking of inviting us on a trip!).

The day before we left, I spent well over $200 on groceries just for camping. I just got a little overzealous about all the chips and dips we would need for the group happy hour that our friends were hosting. Then, Bo spent another $140 on meats and such to complete the order for 2 days of camping.

Before we left, we took long showers to prepare to be without for several days. Yet, after hauling everything down to the street, back and forth, to pack the borrowed truck, we were both drenched in sweat. I was convinced we wouldn’t be able to fit it all, with all of Anna’s babies, the 3 coolers (that wouldn’t even hold all the drinks I bought), the camping gear, and smoker, I figured we’d have to take 2 cars but Bo made it work. At the last minute, Bo grabbed the tarp when I pointed out it might could rain. By the time we hit Maryville, sure enough. It was pouring down rain but we got the ‘stuff’ covered just in time.

As we arrived, the rain had stopped so Bo could get to work setting up the borrowed pop-up camper in the dry. We were thrilled to have a camper this year as last year, we barely slept all crammed in one tent and sleeping on gravel. But, this year, we just knew it would be a game-changer with the fancy camper (thank you, Scott and Amy)!

Bo got to work, cranking and unzipping, muttering under his breathe from time to time (his mutters are not pretty words, by the way). Friends walked by our site to sense his frustration and sent for back-up (thank you, Randy Fields!). The set-up wasn’t all that bad (easy to say when you’re not doing it, I guess!). The camper provided 2 mattresses so boys were on one side and girls on the other. With the shelter and softer bed, I was destined to sleep better. Right? (wrong!)

I’m way too nuts and I imagined there was a bear creeping up to the camper every time Bo snored and boys repositioned, shaking the camper ever so slightly. And, no, this isn’t the first time camping but it always seems like it by the crazy things that go through my head! And, knowing I couldn’t just easily get up to and use the bathroom anytime I wanted just made me need to pee more. Anna and I were already making a potty run at 12:45 when she awoke with growing pains. I had to search through Bo’s bag to find the Motrin and so she wouldn’t continue to groan and wiggle all night, and off we went for this second potty break. Eventually, I did sleep some, I think….maybe? But, not much by the way I was feeling in the morning. I was super grumpy, like not-want-to-speak-to-anyone grumpy. Without my fresh cup of Starbucks French Roast, I just wanted a change of scenery so I suggested a hike.

Brody was a big N-O, Bo said sure, and Anna said yes first and then no. After waiting 2 hours for everyone to eat breakfast and decide that hiking wasn’t going to be fun, I was fed up and Bo told me just to go ahead and go. Finally, I thought, and I zoomed off with the truck making a bee-line for Charlie’s Bunion.

Bo says it was approximately 45 seconds later that he realized I drove away with his baby, the smoker, in the back of the truck. The whole deal was he wanted to go hiking but also knew he had to be back by 2:00 in order to get those ribs smoked just right. He had also committed to smoking 6 racks of ribs and wings for 2 families so people were depending on him for dinner. He was panicked ,so it’s told,  and he took off like a bat-out-of-hell on the bike, zooming out of the campground to try to stop me. I never noticed or saw him.

He said he made it out of the campground pedaling like mad before realizing he’d need a car to catch me. So, he turned around and about puked from the adults beverages from the night before and this sudden burst of exertion. Yet, he needed that smoker so he quickly asked for a friend’s car keys and phone, which she trustingly handed over. He zoomed off again, and then picked up the phone to call me. Her phone was passcode protected….so, he had to turn around for the second time and come to the campsite to get her to unlock it, thinking he could just call me and I’d have cell service and pick up. -No such luck.

He grabbed a friend for this scavenger hunt and took off for the third time to try and find me, calling my phone (which was in the camper all along) over and over. John and Bo thought they knew where I was going but weren’t sure so they drove to several parking lots, even entering the one I was parked in only to leave and return, to finally find the truck and the smoker.

Meanwhile, along this lush, scenic trail, my mood was slowly turning around. It’s wasn’t until I  got to the overlook, 4 miles in, that I too realized that the smoker must be in the back of the truck under the blue tarp. Oh, &%$#, I thought, knowing Bo would also be flipping out. (I was right.) So, I took off practically jogging down the trail to get back to the truck to get back to the campground to deliver the smoker that would cook the ribs that would already be late getting started!

By the time I made it back to the car, with no water bottle or food mind you on this 8 mile hike, I was exhausted but happy to see that Bo must have found the truck and recovered the smoker! Whew!….


(left on my windshield)

I returned to the camp relaxed and happy with ribs smoking away. Anna was temporarily lost but that’s just a little side-story. Laughs were had, lots of meats were smoked, and the kids were happy, like nothing had happened. The dinner was amazing thanks to the Eddins and that precious smoker, and the evening was relaxing. More bike rides, trips to the creek, hanging in ‘ENO-city’ (which was around 20 hammocks full of kids) treats and more treats. The pictures show fun, friends, and fellowship…..But, boy, the real story. Nothing seems simple with us lately!


Bo was in a full-on sweat when he went to break down the camper the next morning. Step-by-step tedious work to get that thing compact. In the midst of holding in his curse words which was a very big accomplishment for him, the Hulk must have gotten a little too aggressive and ripped the sink off the wall inside the camper. Now, he had to go back home only to open the camper back up and repair the damage in order to return the thing the way that it was loaned to us in mint condition. It was basically an all-day process by the time he broke it down, set it back up, repaired the sink, washed the truck inside and out, and returned the camper that afternoon.


Did we have fun? hmmmm. I think so? I know it was fun-ny.

I write this not to tell you how crazy we really are (as you have probably already figured that out!). But, if your trips sound at all like this, you’re not alone! And, if you’re one of the thousands of American families that are working your butts off to make a memory, you sometimes wonder. Is it fun? Sometimes. Is it exciting? Maybe. Do you come back feeling refreshed? Probably not. But, is it worth it? Totally. Just look back on those sweet photos! Happy vacationing, all!




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