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Survival of the Fittest – A Mom’s Camping Journey

October 7, 2009 Family Travel No Comments

Three things I once said I would never do: drive a minivan, camp in a RV, or vacation with my in-laws.

So here I am, spending a week of motor home and minivan bliss with the entire Payne clan. Today is Day 1 of “The Golden Anniversary Reunion Tour” celebrating the senior Payne’s 50 years of wedded bliss. Shoot, they’ve been together almost as long as the Rolling Stones.

All seventeen of us have circled our various trailers and Cruise Americas in a pine forest campground flanking Lake Tahoe. We are not far from Donner Pass. If you recall, the Donner Party ate each other. They were probably having a family reunion too. So far we are only showing signs of baring fangs, chewing and spitting…and we still have seven days to go. Darwin’s theory of “Survival of the Fittest” is coming to my mind.

Day 2. I’m a tent camper. So I was anticipating some RV luxury for once. Yes, we had a shower, lights, and a toilet. But we are not “hooked up,” which apparently means we are on borrowed time. Tonight, everyone made jokes about the “black handle” of doom. I can’t wait.

Day 3. This place is unbelievably crowded, bumper to bumper. We go to take a hike at Fallen Leaf Lake and have to park so far away that we are too tired for the real walk and settle for $10 boat rides and ice cream cones.

Fireworks in Lake Tahoe are great for indecisive types. We could see them or skip them on July 3rd, 4th, or 5th. They ought to call it “Independence  Season.”  Also, some of us have trouble staying awake past nine. Latitude favors late owls with fireworks at ten. My tired kids were begging for the earlybird barge off Doheny.

Day 876. We had dinner at my brother-in-law’s house, which is conveniently located right here in the campground. He works under pioneer conditions for the State Parks system. Arnold should give the guy a big fat raise. Just my opinion.

Anyway, after seducing us with a loaf of “Auntie Rose’s Dang Good Banana Bread,” his wife hauls out an axe the size of my middle child and starts splitting wood. I’m starting to get a major inferiority complex.

Day ??? There is a $1000 fine for leaving food unattended. I have a new respect for bears’ keen sense of smell. Amazingly enough, they can even detect a rack of barbecued ribs wrapped in tin foil and inadvertently left overnight in the depths of a gigantic propane grill.

At four in the morning, the average adolescent bear has lots of peace and quiet so as to figure out how to pop the lid on that grill. As I lie awake until sunrise, I have lots of time to curse the Payne in charge of KP and bless the Payne who works for the state. Hopefully he will work his magic if any ticket-writing rangers appear.

Day Whatever. All these sisters-in-laws are keeping this place hopping. One of them, now called Annie Oakley behind her back, nearly had a shootout with the tent-trailer camper in space #39. The other sister-in-law has feet that resemble an African elephant’s. No, in case you were wondering, this isn’t normal. Her sunburned, mosquito-bitten ankles are purple, pus-filled, and doubled in size.

My brother-in-law, the EMT, recommends amputation when he sees her tootsies poking out like little skewers. This brightens everybody up since the possibility of a handicap placard increases the likelihood of the rest of us getting a parking spot at Emerald Bay. A token disabled relative certainly comes in handy on the heavy-use holiday weekends.

Day The End is Near. So much for luxury. The rental motorhome’s shower wouldn’t work and the battery won’t hold a charge. We were forced into the tough choice between a few minutes of electricity or cold beer in the fridge. Good thing I brought my booklight.

Thankfully, this campground has public showers available for 2 ½ minutes per quarter. My oldest airily announces she needs at least 15 minutes to wash her hair. Three minutes of shampooing and twelve minutes of standing like a zombie. Instead, she gets two coins and has to shower with her sister. Today, four vans of teenage girl athletes pull in ahead of us. I’m sure they are shower zombies too. We give up and go home dirty.

It’s over, finally. I called my mom to let her know I was home safe. She reminded me their 50th anniversary is approaching, and she and dad have high expectations.

I recommended divorce.


Jody Payne

Mom Living Out Loud

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