Tuesday, August 11, 2015

And We're Floating... Inside a Tent

The homestead. February 2008.
It sounds weird when the words tumble out of my mouth.

"We packed up our camping gear, drove down to Seattle from Vancouver, put all that camping stuff on a plane then camped at Walt Disney World. Yeah, Orlando in Florida. That one."

It might have been easier to have those words come out had it just been me and my wife since it reduces the gear factor to a large backpack. Two people camping after a long plane ride doesn't seem weird. (Mercifully we left all the cooking equipment in Vancouver -- we made use of the Walt Disney World "Dining Plan.") But at the time of the trip we had three kids along for the ride, which exponentially increased the amount of stuff to bring. Extra clothes, shoes, a big tent, sleeping bags, air mattresses... And none of them were really at age where they could handle more than a wheeled suitcase and a "fun size" backpack, which meant Jennifer and I were left to lug everything from place to place.

So, you might be able to imagine us arriving at Fort Wilderness Resort. Haggard from an early departure in Seattle and a 6 hour flight, arriving at our campsite in the dark, hungry, irritable. I'm pretty sure my shirt was torn but at least the cut above my right eye had finally stopped bleeding.

Comparing Fort Wilderness Resort to "real" camping is a bit of a stretch. Camping to me is marked with pit toilets, sharing the lake with sucking leeches, and hour upon hour of driving to finally reach a spot we can start to relax. (The wind-up to get "back to nature" and start "relaxing" seems counter-intuitive because it takes so much frantic energy to get there in the first place.)

The Fort Wilderness Resort is high end camping. (Hell, the word "resort" is right there in the name.) There are nearby laundry facilities, two large pools, hammocks, relatively flat campsites, small lizards, a couple of shops. Very nice! But arriving in the dark after so much travelling, there was really only one thought in my mind: My God, I hate camping.

I dug out a flash light from a bag and the kids sat at the picnic table, watching my wife and I try to find the tent. That was the easy part. Within about 10 minutes we almost had the tent fully assembled. The only missing piece was the fly, the layer of the tent that keeps off the rain, provides some privacy, and cuts the wind.

The fly was in my hands when the first drop of rain landed on my head.

"Dear, could you throw the tarp on the bags," I said absent-mindedly. "I just felt a raindrop."

I'm convinced that Mother Nature is constantly trying to kill us but she also has a bit of a twisted sense of humour because the word "raindrop" was barely out of my mouth when the sky literally opened up and started dropping torrential rain on us.

"Rain" is underselling what happened. It was like suddenly having a million Olympic-sized swimming pools dumped on us. And it didn't stop! It kept coming!

Known for my "Women and children first" responses to most emergencies, I started jabbering, "Run, run! Find shelter! Kids go with Mom! She'll make sure you're safe! Just DON'T LOOK BACK! THERE'S NOTHING YOU CAN DO TO HELP! Dad loves you!"

Admittedly, it may have sounded like a slurry of guttural profanity to the untrained observer.

Jennifer and the three kids scrambled off in a tumble of arms and legs to the closest set of bathroom/laundry rooms to get out of the rain.

And I stood there trying to remain calm and not lose my temper. But the rain was reconstituting my rage.

Like a really angry tapioca.

I struggled to get the fly on the tent thanks to the wind that kicked up. Half blind with fury and the sheets of water taking care of the other half of my sight, I flailed around for what seemed an eternity but managed to get the fly on the tent. My shoes full of water and my cell phone fried in my pocket, I slopped my way to the Safe House. I took the opportunity to curse Florida.

We were all soaked to the bone. A child whimpered.
I'm pretty sure some Disney Cast Member put
this notice up as part of an elaborate psychological
test to see how far they could push me.

No one else was in the large laundry room. We were to discover soon after that  most of the campers at Fort Wilderness were locals with RV's and trailers that bailed the moment the weather turned to shit.

"Bail" is an interesting description because a mere handful of minutes later, the rain let up and I squished out to our campsite.

I pulled back the fly and shone the flashlight into the tent to reveal about 3" of water inside. Oh, this is just perfect. My shoes literally squirted water as I walked back to the laundry room.

"It looks like the suitcases and other bags are okay, the tarp did what it was supposed to," I took a breath, leaned against a dryer with the look of a man that just outran a pack of zombies. "But the tent... it's full of water."

Now, at this point in the story I should remind you that I was desperate. I needed to sleep. We all needed some sleep. How would we enjoy our relaxing vacation otherwise? I started trying the under-counter cupboards to see if there might be anything useful inside, like a bucket. All of the cupboards sported locks, but one of them swung open to reveal a heavy roll of paper towel with about 8 miles of towels. I casually glanced around the room to see if there were any security cameras. None. I walked out of the laundry room. Casually. In the dark, with my shoes now making a distinct slurping noise. And, of course, a massive roll of paper towel under one arm.

After some indeterminate amount of time passed, I managed to dry out the tent floor enough to "move in" and get the tarp installed over the tent for added protection from the elements. Exhausted, everything a little bit damp, we fell asleep.

That wasn't to be the end of our experience with Fort Wilderness though. On another night during the fourth or fifth wave of rain, my oldest daughter said, "I think I'm floating."

And she was. The rain was angled in such a way as to allow water to collect in one corner of the tent which then lifted her air mattress.

One entire night was dedicated to a plague of mating frogs. I wish I kidding about any part of that last sentence -- even ear plugs didn't help. And on another night the wind was blowing so strongly that I was certain we'd wake up in another state. I laid awake staring into the blackness and cursed the outdoors, cursed Florida, and swore that we'd never do this again. If someone so much as suggested camping or getting back to nature, they'd get a punch in the throat.

So, yeah, it was pretty much like camping anywhere else.

I found a hammock!

And just to offer some balance to this horror story, Disney World was actually a lot of fun!

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