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Children / Colorado Livin' / Family Travel / Humor

A bear, hail and other camping calamities

This summer, my family spent two weekends camping—in a TENT—in two separate forests, with two different groups of friends. Back in January we were asked to go, and our friends made the reservations for two consecutive weekends. We feel fortunate to have good friends, and spending a weekend away “unplugged” sounded like a great idea as I sat by my space heater warming my pretty feet.

Our first weekend was up at Rocky Mountain National Park. The site was gorgeous and we arrived only after about a four-hour drive, that normally takes us one hour. There was an accident in Boulder and we were re-directed to Longmont. Then we had to stop and eat since it was dinnertime, and then we sort of got lost in what looked like Longmont, but we aren’t really sure.

My husband Billy stopped about this point, to ask a nice man for directions—at a LIQUOR store—and just FYI, I wouldn’t ever do that if I were you. Sure, the guy gave us directions, but I’m pretty sure he was inebriated, and thus the four hours. After a great first night of not sleeping at all, we stumbled out of our tent to a beautiful blue sky. We had our routine camping breakfast of Hostess doughnuts
while my friend Amy made fancy breakfast burritos.

We went on some beautiful hikes, and the kids had a blast. Later that evening, right about the time you’d sit by the fire and quote movie lines, a very frantic park ranger came running into our site asking for all the adults to listen up. He proceeded to tell us there had been a “300 lb bear spotted just down the way, who had gotten a food reward (tell me, who doesn’t love a FOOD REWARD?)
and to keep all the little ones close by.”

Then he ran off to the next site to spread the terror.

Anytime I hear information that might be life-threatening or very serious, my reaction is to giggle inappropriately. I began to do so, and looked around to see whom else hadn’t developed good coping skills. Right away I saw my ten-year-old son Jack had begun to turn white and rock himself into the fetal position.

We gathered all the children and figured it would be smarter for us to tell the other kids who hadn’t heard the bear news, rather than to allow them to get their information from Jack, who was now in full on panic mode. The others seemed concerned, but only Will joined in Jack’s freak-out parade.

This was about the time when Billy and I realized we had to come to a decision about where to spend our night. The options were: 1) In a tent taking turns holding Jack and Will quietly whispering calming words about not being eaten alive by a bear, or 2) In our own pillow-topped bed without frightened children.

We pulled into our driveway around midnight, carried kids to their beds and fell into ours, thankful that we had gotten home safe and without a bear claw hanging onto the back of our van.

We had high hopes for the next camping trip. We talked for five brief days about realistic fears, and how bears are more afraid of us than we are of them. Jack seemed to have forgotten about the bear, and was more focused on the fact that we were going to camp with his two best friends, whom we call “The Sovereign Brothers.” Not only were his buddies going this time, they had a pop-up and had invited Jack to join their family one of the nights we were together.

We headed in a different direction this time, 1.5 hours away to Mueller State Park. We arrived with our friends and began to setup camp. If Billy has his “Grizzly Adams” on, we can set up camp in about thirty minutes. This is because we pack light and only take the basics. The Sovereigns took a bit longer, as they had coolers full of fancy drinks, and 4th of July decorations to put up all over camp while my kids had water, and some day- old Rice Krispie Treats.

That night we took the kids to a talk given by a park ranger about bears and mountain lions. Jack complained about going but I told him, as any good mother should, that education is power. We enjoyed the talk, but could tell the clouds were moving and needed to get back to our sites in case of rain. We sat around the fire and roasted marshmallows as it began to sprinkle.

Within minutes Debbie made us all come in the pop-up to stay dry. This included their family of five, our family of five, and oh, did I mention our dog Spencer?

The boys were in heaven with their DS games, and Paige, Will, and Faith found some games and coloring. The adults played dominoes and tried to talk over the sound of the rain. And hail. Did I mention the hail? Oh my goodness. I can’t even describe to you how loud it was coming in and hitting the top of the pop-up. We had to yell in order to hear each other over the tiny table.

At this point we realized that our four-man tent was not going to be adequate shelter. Mark and Debbie graciously insisted that we sleep in their pop-up, all ten of us together, and the dog. We hemmed and hawed a bit, but knew it was our only option for a dry night. We laughed our heads off at our bonding experience and you can only imagine the kind of sleepless night we all had in that camper.

You know I’m not usually one to name names, but there were several “snorers.”

We did stay dry, until about 3 a.m., when the condensation began to drip on us periodically. I like to compare it to water boarding, but Billy tells me that’s a slight exaggeration, and offensive to liberals.

The next day was absolutely gorgeous. We hiked, talked and we watched the kids play…just had a really refreshing day. The weather was amazing and our tent was perfect for the second night out. We were a little sad when it was time to head home. Sure, it meant my digestive system would start functioning again, but it also meant laundry, errands, and me obsessively cleaning the kitchen
floor…I’d much rather sit under a wide open sky and watch my kids try and count the stars.

Did your family go camping this summer? Please share your experiences!

Lisa Repenning hasn’t slept well in ten years. She hates her hair, but loves her three kids. Lisa recently decided to return to school for a Nursing degree and hopes to never climb Mt. Everest.


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  1. I’m trying to determine what my note to self should read.

    Note to self: to never go camping?


    Note to self: never go camping with you. 🙂

  2. You have great camping stories! We love camping, and we always have an adventure. We went two weekends in a row this year, too!

    Our most memorable camping fiasco was last year when the queen sized air mattress we were sleeping on popped in the middle of the night…the same night it rained and stormed…ALL night…and I thought our tent was going to blow away. Literally. Although it sucked sleeping on the hard, rocky ground, that was one of our most fun-filled camping weekends over all.

    My hubby is always uber-paranoid about the bear/food situation. We hang our food in those special bags and he never allows even a single morsel anywhere near our tent.

    Here’s to a leak-free tent, a healthy sense of adventure, and never ever smelling like peanut butter! 😉

  3. LOL about the waterboarding! That’s my one and only memory of childhood camping — getting dripped on.

    You’ve not convinced me to try again ;-).

  4. I haven’t been camping since childhood. Maybe because I remember that every experience included something sort of nightmarish?

    My dad was fishing at a nearby lake. He cast the line, but it flew back into his face. The entire barbed hook went through his cheek. It was a Sunday, in the middle of nowhere. He drove to the nearest tiny town, found a dentist (couldn’t find a doctor) who numbed his face and clipped the hook, pulling it free.

    My dad and sister were fishing (different trip) and out in our boat when they were flagged down by a man in another boat. They paddled over to see what was happening only to discover a dead man lying in the bottom of the boat. He had a massive heart attack, we later learned.

    My brother, who was three at the time, was playing in the cab of our pickup truck when we were packing up to leave our campsite. We had borrowed a pop-up camper from our neighbor. All of a sudden, the engine roared to life. Somehow, he put the truck into reverse and it backed partially over the flattened pop-up, destroying it.

    There are many more minor camping stories of doom. I am in no hurry to go camping.

  5. That’s what I love about camping, you get to get a break from all the technoly and techy stuff and just get down to the basics and simplicity of life. There’s nothing that can compare to really just relaxing, having fun, eating, cooking and sleeping. Why can’t life be just that way?

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